Don’t Look Now, But Here Come the Yankees?

Two weeks ago the New York Yankees were left for dead, and for good reason. A 6-12 slide out of the All-Star break left them one game over .500, 11 games out of first and seven games out of a playoff spot. It looked as if the season were on the verge of being sunk especially after the team was embarrassed in San Diego and swept in Chicago by the dreadful White Sox.

Since that disastrous road trip, however, they’ve pulled off a 11-3 run to inch closer into the thick of things again. They took two of three against the reigning American League champions on two walk off hits by Brett Gardner following blown saves by Mariano Rivera, who is not immune to the Titan Miguel Cabrera much like the rest of baseball. They took three of four from the dreadful Angels and took two out of three in an emotional series at Fenway (although a sweep would have been a serious game changer and a three game bite on the Red Sox’ division lead instead of just one. After sweeping a four game set against Toronto they’ve now won five in a row ahead of a huge series in Tampa Bay.

Honestly, it’s not really absurd to say A-Rod getting plunked by Ryan Dempster on Sunday at Fenway is inspiring this team. Girardi got fired up, Alex got his revenge later that game which sparked the winning rally that game. Even David Ortiz admits Dempster may have woken a sleeping giant.

How have they done it? They are finally healthy and their offense has gone from being historically awful to extremely potent. Over this 11-3 stretch they’ve scored 83 runs (5.93 per game). With Granderson and A-Rod back and healthy, re-acquired Alfonso Soriano having a week for the ages this past week and Derek Jeter on his way back from another, this lineup is looking bullish after being bearish for the entire season.

They’re only half a game from leap-frogging Baltimore in the chase and 3.5 games behind Oakland for the second wild card, but they haven’t inched much closer to Tampa Bay, who is also red hot. They have their chance now. Of their final 37 games left in the season, 28 are against AL East foes, eight versus Toronto, six versus Tampa Bay, seven versus Baltimore and seven versus Boston. They are done playing the Rangers and Athletics, the two teams competing for the West crown with the runner up a likely wild card berth, so the division may be more of a realistic target than beating the AL West runner-up at the moment.

This will start with this weekend in St. Petersburg against the Rays. It’s probably the biggest series of the season and the Rays know it, they know the Yankees coming. They adjusted their rotation to throw their three best pitchers against the Bombers. Friday Hiroki Kuroda takes on the rookie Chris Archer (130 ERA+, 1.11 WHIP). Saturday two former Cy Young lefties butt heads yet again as a struggling CC Sabathia takes on the resurgent David Price (116 ERA+, league leading 5.58 K/BB rate). The finale stars the also resurgent Ivan Nova (2.30 ERA in his last eight starts since returning to the big leagues) against Alex Cobb (134 ERA+, 1.15 WHIP). If the Yankees are going to take this series and continue their roll to a potential playoff berth, the starting pitching HAS to get it done, especially Sabathia.

Anything less than two out of three is unacceptable. A sweep of the Rays although unlikely would do some serious damage and make some big time noise throughout the American League as it would bring them to within two games of the wild card. Also this weekend Baltimore (1/2 game ahead of New York) plays Oakland and the Red Sox visit the absurdly hot Dodgers, so the Yankees will make up ground on whoever loses these series assuming their do take care of business at Tropicana Field.

This is the stretch run for the year. It’s do or die time for the New York Yankees. Every game is Game 7.

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