By Brad Carroll
The New York Yankees finally won a game, beating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 Wednesday to break a three-game losing streak. The win gave the Yankees just a 2-5 record over their last two series, a stretch that put the final nail in the coffin for the team's postseason chances. Despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars this offseason, the Yankees will miss the playoffs for the second straight season.
To make matters worse, Derek Jeter will end his Hall of Fame career without getting one more opportunity to play ball in October. It's a sad, painful reality for all Yankees fans.
The only thing the Yankees have left to play for this season is second place in the AL East, if that really even matters. The Yankees play a four-game series starting Thursday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, who also watched their wild card hopes die over the past week. The Yankees and Blue Jays are currently tied for second in the division.
Besides that made up battle, there is one game that is definitely must-watch. Sunday afternoon at the Stadium Masahiro Tanaka will make his return to the mound after more than two months on the disabled list. Tanaka had a successful outing Monday against minor leaguers and now will get to test his injured elbow in a real game. He'll be held to 70-75 pitches.
The decision to start Tanaka is an interesting one, as the Yankees have nothing left to play for this season, so it would appear a giant risk to have the Yankees ace pitch and risk further injury. But if it helps Tanaka prepare for next season, than it's a positive step for a player the Yankees desperately need in the rotation.
Here is a closer look at the four-game series between the Yankees and Blue Jays, which begins the final homestand ever for Jeter.
Toronto Blue Jays (77-74, 6 GB of second WC)
at New York Yankees (77-74, 6 GB of second WC)
Thursday, 7:05 p.m.
Shane Greene (5-3, 3.56) vs. RA Dickey (13-12, 3.84)
Friday, 7:05 p.m.
Hiroki Kuroda (10-9, 3.81) vs. Mark Buehrle (12-9, 3.40)
Saturday, 4:05 p.m.
Chris Capuano (2-3, 4.55) vs. Marcus Stroman (10-6, 3.80)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
Masahiro Tanaka (12-4, 2.51) vs. Drew Hutchison (10-12, 4.51)
Playoff Picture: This had the potential to be a big series with serious wild card implications, but both the Yankees and Blue Jays have struggled to close out the season, making this a battle for second place in the AL East and not much else. Both teams are six games behind the Royals and Athletics for the two wild card spots with 11 games to play. The Mariners are two games back and the Indians are five back of Kansas City and Oakland.
Momentum: Before winning Wednesday night, the Yankees had lost five of their last six games to drop out of the wild card race. They lost three of four to the Orioles and two of three to the Rays. The Blue Jays have lost five of their last six, including four games in a row. Toronto dropped out of the playoff race after losing two of three to Tampa Bay and then getting swept by Baltimore.
Who's Hot: "I'm 1-for-my-last-2, guys, I'm hot," Derek Jeter said after breaking his 0-for-28 slump with a base hit Wednesday night. ... Dellin Betances is the Yankees new franchise record-holder for strikeouts by a relief pitcher in one season. He struck out two in an inning of work against Tampa Bay Wednesday to reach 132 strikeouts this season, two more than Mariano Rivera, the former record-holder. ... Kuroda, who pitches Friday, allowed just one run on six hits over seven innings in a no-decision in his last start. ... Greene, who pitches Thursday, has allowed two earned runs over his last two starts, a win and loss. ... Capuano, who goes Saturday, threw six shutout innings, allowing just two hits, in his last start, but settled for a no-decision against Tampa. ... For Toronto, Jose Reyes has a five-game hit streak, going 8-for-21 (.381) over that stretch. ... Edwin Encarnacion also has a five-game hit streak, going 6-for-19 (.316) with a double, two home runs and four RBI over that span. ... Dickey, who pitches Thursday, has won four straight decisions and three straight starts.
Who's Not: Brett Gardner is 0-for-18 over his last five games. ... Jacoby Ellsbury is 2-for-20 over his last five games. ... Brian McCann went 0-for-8 against Tampa Bay. ... Reliever Esmil Rogers allowed three runs on two hits in just a third of an inning in his last outing Tuesday night. ... For Toronto, Ryan Goins is 1-for-20 over his last seven games. ... Jose Bautista went 1-for-9 with no extra base hits in three games against Baltimore. ... Hutchison, who goes Sunday, allowed six runs in 6.1 innings in a loss to Baltimore in his last start. ... Buehrle, who pitches Friday, has won just once in his last eight starts.
Looking Ahead: The Yankees play the final four home games of the season starting Monday night against the Orioles. It's also the last four home games of Jeter's career.