By Brad Carroll
The New York Yankees did exactly what they had to do this week, they swept the Chicago White Sox and finally built some momentum heading into a very important road trip. The Yankees may not have gained any ground in the wild card race, as they still trail the Mariners by 3.5 games for the second spot, but they made up three quick games in the AL East division race, and trail the Orioles by six games with 34 to play.
Even better for the psyche of the team is the way they got victories in the final games of the last two series. Brandon McCarthy's masterpiece in the series finale against Houston set up a momentum swing that carried through sweeping Chicago. In the finale against the White Sox, Brian McCann hit a three-run, pinch-hit, walk-off home run in the 10th inning that hopefully continues the trend heading to Kansas City and Detroit.
The next four games could put the Yankees in great position to make a run to the postseason, or could end up being a giant setback. We first look at the one-game the Yankees will play in Kansas City Monday. We'll have full preview coverage of the Yankees-Tigers series when the Bombers board the plane Monday night.
New York Yankees (67-61, 6 games back AL East)
at Kansas City Royals (72-57, first place AL Central)
Monday, 7 p.m.
Michael Pineda (2-2, 2.05) vs. James Shields (12-6, 3.28)
Playoff Picture: Even though the Yankees have just the one game in Kansas City, Monday is an important day for the playoff picture. The Orioles and Mariners, the leaders in the AL East and second wild card, respectively, are both in action Monday as well. The Orioles are home to the Rays, while the Mariners are home to the Rangers. If all goes well, the Yankees can be in great position heading into their big series with Detroit.
Momentum: The Yankees have a ton of it now, winning four straight games and knocking off three games in the AL East race along the way. McCann's heroics Sunday afternoon should make playing a stop-over game in Kansas City more bearable. Kansas City is one of the hottest teams in baseball, going 17-5 in August. They haven't lost a series since getting swept by Boston July 18-20. The Royals own a two-game lead over the Tigers in the Central.
Who's Hot: For the Yankees, Martin Prado went 10-for-25 with two doubles, a home run and seven RBI over the past six games. McCann's three-run, pinch-hit home run was the game-winner against Chicago Sunday. He has a hit in each of his last three games. Pineda allowed just two runs against Houston and one run against the Orioles in his two starts since returning from the disabled list, both no-decisions. For the Royals, Alex Gordon has three home runs and four RBI over his last seven games. Josh Willingham had a five-game hitting streak snapped Sunday. Before that, he went 8-for-17 with two homers and three RBI. Shields has won three straight decisions and hasn't allowed more than three runs in his last nine starts.
Who's Not: For the Yankees, Brett Gardner is 3-for-22 over his past seven games. David Robertson blew the save Sunday, allowing a game-tying home run in the ninth inning, his third of the year. For the Royals, Norichika Aoki is 0-for-14 over his last five games.
Looking Ahead: The Yankees travel to Detroit for a big, three-game series with the Tigers, who are ahead of the Bombers in the wild card race.