For the last six weeks, the Yankees had played teams outside the American League East division, including wrapping up a long West Coast trip where the Yankees finished 5-4. However, the Yankees real test lies starting this week as they’ll face opponents that they’re quite familiar with, considering they play them about 19 times a season.
Starting tomorrow, the Yankees will play three against the Toronto Blue Jays, then three against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees will then fly to Toronto and play three games against the Blue Jays. After an off-day next Thursday, the Yankees will come back to the stadium and play three against the Boston Red Sox. Finally, the Yankees will play three games against the last place Tampa Bay Rays, but don’t be fooled: the Rays are able to beat the Yankees–just not the rest of baseball. If you caught the pattern here, the Yankees will play their American League East rivals for 13 games in the next 14 days, and it’s the Yankees ultimate test as to whether they’re contenders or pretenders this season.
“You don’t want to make too much of it, but it’s obviously an important period when you’re going to see the teams that we’re going to see,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s a huge stretch against East Coast teams. You have a chance to make up ground and put distance between other teams and yourself. I think it’s really important.”
The American League East race hasn’t been particularly close: the Blue Jays have a 4.5 game lead over the Yankees coming into this series, and the Yankees are in second place by half a game at this point. The Yankees are hoping they can get back on a hot streak and make the division a tight race, and they’d like to get the momentum rolling before the All-Star Break.
“Every stretch against AL East opponents is big, but it would be nice to take a couple series,” Yankees closer David Robertson said. “There’s definitely opportunity to separate yourself from the rest. You get hot, maybe mix in a sweep and win two or three series in a row, you can jump to the top.”
Luckily, the Yankees can get off to the right foot by sending out Masahiro Tanaka tomorrow night, who is 4-0 with a 1.21 ERA in his last four starts. The Blue Jays have seen Tanaka before, only becoming the second team to face him twice. But, the Yankees are going to need more than Tanaka to vault themselves to the top of the AL East division: they’re going to need everyone to click and get on a hot streak. The Yankees showed promise during their short four-game win streak on the West Coast; they’re going to need that luck again to outlast their opponents.