TORONTO -- Things have changed since the last time the Toronto Blue Jays played the New York Yankees.

The Blue Jays were reeling after going 8-17 in April as they opened a three-game series on May 1 at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees were sitting at 15-8 entering May and were 21-9 by May 8.

This time, as the teams begin June with a four-game series at Rogers Centre, the Blue Jays are the hot team. They finished May with an 18-10 record after completing a three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds with a 5-4 victory on Wednesday afternoon.

The Yankees are still in first place in the American League East; but, after losing 10-4 to the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday night, they have dropped seven of their past 13 games and are 9-11 since May 8.

The Orioles ended a seven-game losing streak by beating the Yankees in two of three at Camden Yards.

Back on May 1, the Blue Jays won the opening game of the series 7-1, but the Yankees won the next two 11-5 and 8-6.

On Thursday, the Blue Jays (26-27) have a chance to reach .500 for the season, a prospect that seemed unlikely a few weeks ago. They could also make inroads into the Yankees' lead if they can win the series.

"I don't think we're looking at who we're playing as much as how we're playing," said Blue Jays reliever Jason Grilli, who got the win on Wednesday. "The Yankees are facing a different club than they did the first time around."

The Blue Jays hit 48 homers in May, which is one thing that has improved after the hitters struggled in April.

"The Yankees are coming to town, we've got a four-game set and we're playing good baseball right now," Grilli said. "To hit the .500 mark and go over that would be kind of a big hammer to put a nail in right now. When you get this train going, people know. They've raised two banners here. There's a reason why."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said, "They're playing extremely well. They're hitting home runs. They've got everybody back. It's going to be tough, but it's never easy when we play them, especially in that building."

The Blue Jays started the season 2-11.

"We could have buried ourselves," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "A couple guys went down and the guys that were filling in kept us afloat and did a nice job.

"Hopefully, from here on out we play good, steady ball the next six months and see where it takes us. There's no doubt we're playing good baseball. We anticipate it being a tough four games. They're the front-runners."

The Blue Jays will start Marco Estrada (4-2, 3.15 ERA) in the series opener against CC Sabathia (5-2, 4.42 ERA).

Estrada is 1-0 with a 1.29 ERA in one start this season against the Yankees and 4-2 with a 3.48 ERA in 11 career games (10 starts) against them.

Sabathia is 15-9 with a 3.54 ERA in 27 career starts against Toronto and is 8-6 with a 3.59 ERA in 17 starts against the Blue Jays while with the Yankees. He is 7-3 with a 2.91 ERA in 12 career starts at Rogers Centre.

The Yankees' lead in the division is two games over the Boston Red Sox.

The Blue Jays are fifth in the division, 5 1/2 games behind the Yankees.

"You understand that we have a long ways to go, but we've played pretty well," Girardi said. "I think that's important and you want it to continue.

"I think each and every day our guys get more confidence because of the way we've been playing. There are some players who have had to make adjustments. We've missed players for three or four weeks at a time. We've been able to survive that, so I'm proud of where we are right now."

Yankees outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury is eligible to return from the seven-day concussion disabled list. He took batting practice Wednesday. He will not be activated Thursday, but could be at some time during the series in Toronto.

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius was given the game off Wednesday, one day after being hit on the left hand by a pitch. He is expected to be back Thursday. X-rays on the hand were negative.

"His hand was swollen (Tuesday) night; it's a little bit better today," Girardi said. "We figured a day off would probably help. Your concern is it's not at full strength and then all of a sudden your swing changes a little bit. It can mess you up."

Gregorius is batting .307/.336/.439 with three home runs and 18 RBIs in 29 games this year.