By Steve Silverman
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Note to Yankees fans: It will not be this easy the rest of the way.
The Yankees still play in the American League East and despite their 9-game winning streak, they are not going to run away and hide from the rest of the division. Right now, it looks like the Yankees are tons the best with almost no weaknesses, but there are two factors to consider.
The first is that no team is as good as it looks during a winning streak. Bounces, breaks and every flip of the coin or roll of the dice is going the Yankees’ way. That didn’t happen earlier in the year and there will be times later in the year where a bang-bang play at the plate or a split-second umpire’s call will lead to frustration instead of back slaps.
The other factor – and probably even more important – is that they are simply running roughshod over the National League. The American League has had the advantage for years in interleague competition, and that edge is not abating this season. With one more week of interleague competition left, the American League teams are plus-24 over their National League counterparts.
The Yankees seem to have the biggest advantage. Whether they step on the field against the Mets, Braves or Nationals, there’s some form of intimidation. The Yankees know they are better than those opponents and those opponents know it as well. That’s got to be worth at least a run – or perhaps more – per game. That the Cincinnati Reds were able to take 2-of-3 from the Yankees in a May interleague series says plenty about that team’s ability. It would not be a surprise to see the Reds make a long run in the postseason this year. They weren’t intimidated by the Yankees and that’s remarkable for a National League team.
But when the Yankees come back to earth, they will have at least two A.L. East opponents to be concerned about. The Tampa Bay Rays have become that consistent thorn in the Yankees’ side. Joe Maddon is the best manager in baseball by a significant margin. His team lacks power and big-name hitters, especially when third baseman Evan Longoria is not in the lineup. But the Rays have top-level starting pitching and a consistent bullpen. They know how to win and they don’t quit. Come September, they will be pushing the Yankees hard.
The Baltimore Orioles have served notice that they are no longer the division’s doormats. They are only 1 ½ games behind the Yankees and Buck Showalter has found a way to turn potential into productivity. Adam Jones already has 18 homers and will turn around any mistake pitch while Matt Wieters is one of the best catchers in the league. The pitching has been surprisingly effective, and if they are going to falter this season, that’s likely to be the reason.
Don’t expect the Yankees’ traditional rivals to be in the mix this year. The Boston Red Sox just are not the same team they have been for so many years. In their recent series with the Chicago Cubs – the worst team in baseball by a wide margin – the Red Sox looked less than ordinary. They had no fight as they were shut out in the first game of the series and were pushed to the limit in their two victories.
Injuries have taken a toll as Jacoby Ellsbury has been out nearly all year with a shoulder injury and Carl Crawford has not been able to play with a wrist injury. The pitching has been well below par and the team seems unable to get past last September’s collapse even though the management partnership of Theo Epstein and Terry Francona has been replaced by Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine.
The Yankees are in the midst of an impressive streak as players like Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter do the expected. It won’t remain so easy the rest of the way. The team from Florida won’t go away but the team from Massachusetts won’t be invited to the party.
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