Yanks-Rays Amidst Frenzied AL East

Handicapping News: Yanks-Rays Amidst Frenzied AL East

Boy did the American League East race turn into a burnburner! All three teams at the top heap will be playing Monday afternoon as MLB celebrates the Labor Day holiday with a jam-packed schedule that features almost all day games.

Here's where things stand at the top of the AL East heading into Monday...

AL EAST
NY Yankees 76-57
Baltimore 74-59 (2 games back)
Tampa Bay 73-61 (3.5 games back)

The Yankees visit Tampa Bay for three games Monday-Wednesday, then head to Baltimore for FOUR this Thursday through Sunday. Is it possible that the Bronx Bombers, who have seemed like a lock to win the division could fall back into a Wildcard spot? Heaven forbid...could they fall all the way out of the playoffs?!

There's no reason to hit the panic button yet. But, it is worth remembering that:

  • This isn't a healthy Yankees team right now...and things seem to get a bit worse every day. We're not talking about the juggernaut of June and July. We're talking about a makeshift lineup that's just trying to hang tough and weather the storm until healthier bats return. Treading water may not be enough if the Orioles and Rays stay hot. Sinking this week in particular would be terrible because every loss for the Yanks would be a win for a team that's chasing them.

  • In ROAD series against playoff contenders since the All-Star Break, the Yankees were swept in Chicago (three games), swept in Oakland (four games), and split four games at Detroit. That's 2-9 away from home vs. quality...and they're about to play SEVEN road games vs. quality this week.

  • The Yanks just lost two of three AT HOME to Baltimore, getting outscored 17-8. They had to rally Saturday to steal a nailbiter in the middle of two large losses. If you play like that at home against Baltimore, what are you going to do on the road against Baltimore and Tampa Bay?

Things could get very interesting this week indeed. Or, the Yankees could re-establish their dominance and knock at least one of these teams out of the Wildcard picture with a dramatic September sweep. Oakland is well-positioned now after a torrid couple of weeks for one of the two Wildcards. Had you noticed that Oakland now has the same record as the Yankees?! Should either Tampa Bay or Baltimore falter...it's the losses are going to be painful indeed.

Here are the projected pitching matchups for New York-Tampa Bay...

MONDAY AFTERNOON (televised by MLB Network)
Yanks: Sabathia (13-4, 3.40 ERA)
Rays: Shields (12-8, 3.91 ERA)

Shields has been in great form of late, and is pitching better than those numbers would suggest. The Yanks have to be happy that Sabathia's spot in the rotation falls in such an important part of the schedule. He'll be able to pitch this weekend in Baltimore too. Given the recent form of Shields, you'd have to call this a toss-up. The game will have a playoff feel to it, that's for sure.

TUESDAY (live in prime time on ESPN)
Yanks: Garcia (7-5, 4.90 ERA)
Rays: Cobb (8-8, 4.39 ERA)

Here each team is going with its most vulnerable starting pitcher. There won't be a playoff feel because these guys might not start games in the playoffs! But, it will be a good tester because the pitchers basically cancel out and it's another "may the best team win" scenario. You'll have a very good sense of the relative strengths of these current lineups after Monday and Tuesday are in the books.

WEDNESDAY (live in prime time on MLB Network)
Yanks: Kuroda (12-10, 3.04 ERA)
Rays: Moore (10-8, 3.58 ERA)

We've talked often about Kuroda pitching much better than his won-lost record this season. He's shown some signs of fatigue in recent starts. It's very important for the Yankees that he stay in Cy Young contending form during this brutal schedule stretch.

While all this is going on, the Baltimore Orioles will be trying to avoid a letdown/lookahead within a Yankees sandwich on the road against the Toronto Blue Jays. If Cinderella is going to the ball in October, this could be the week that she earns her invitation.

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