The just-completed road trip was a tough one for the New York Yankees. Due to a rain out, the Yankees only played nine, finishing 5-4. They played their best games in the middle of the trip, when they swept the Seattle Mariners. Otherwise, they were at the mercy of the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland Athletics. All things considered, even if they lose the make-up game to the Royals, a .500 record isn’t the worst.
The real test, however, is on the horizon. After an off-day today, the Yankees play their next 15, and 17 out of 26, games against division rivals before heading into the All-Star Break. Going into today’s off day, they are at 35-33, tied for 2nd place with the Orioles and 4.5 GB of the Blue Jays.
In a 162 game marathon it’s always dicey to say any one stretch is make or break. With that being said:
This upcoming stretch is huge for the Yankees. Huge.
If they have a repeat of the Royals or A’s portion of their road trip and lose 2 out of 3 of each game, they could find themselves in fourth place, ahead of only the Tampa Bay Rays who are having a horrendous first half.
If they "repeat" the sweep of the Mariners, they could soar to the top of the division and control their own destiny heading into the second half.
If they just tread water, playing .500 ball, they could wind up no better or worse than they are now.
There’s no easy landing point in these 17 games. The Orioles and Blue Jays have shown just how good they are over the past 2.5 months and, for as much as the Rays have struggled, they always seem to give the Yankees trouble. The story is similar with the Boston Red Sox, who now have Stephen Drew in the fold.
Their biggest problem before the road trip was the hapless offense but, with the return of Teixeira and Beltran, the line-up seems both longer and stronger. It still suffers from inconsistency but hopefully they will benefit from a return to the friendly confines of their home park, as 12 of those next 15 games are in Yankee Stadium.
As for the pitching, some of the fill-ins for the rotation are prone to rough outings and Masahiro Tanaka is about to face more teams for the second time, providing another test for the young right-hander, who has passed all the others so far, but can still only pitch every five games.
Joe Girardi always says one of the best things about a veteran team is that they never get too high or too low. They will need that attitude over the next 2-3 weeks, because they will surely face some tough games.
Now would be a good a time as any for the Yankees to decide what kind of team they will be this year: a slugging powerhouse or an eke-out-a-run offense that relies on 6 IP from their starters before turning it over to their shut down--but, sometimes overworked--bullpen. They are going to need that clarity over this very important stretch.