By Brad Carroll
Beating up on the Tampa Bay Rays is one thing, but doing something close to it against the Detroit Tigers, baseball's best team, is a whole other challenge. That is what the New York Yankees are up against for four games starting Monday night. The Tigers have lost just twice this entire season, while the Yankees needed the three-game sweep of Tampa just to reach .500, so this will be a true gauge of exactly how good the Yankees are right now and could be going forward.
Here is our in-depth look at the series, which comes before another huge matchup on the horizon, as the red-hot Mets come to the Stadium at the end of the week.
New York Yankees (6-6, 2nd place AL East)
at Detroit Tigers (10-2, 1st place AL Central)
Monday, 7 p.m.
CC Sabathia (0-2, 5.68) vs. Alfredo Simon (2-0, 2.03)
Tuesday, 7:08 p.m.
Nathan Eovaldi (0-0, 4.35) vs. Kyle Lobstein (1-0, 5.40)
Wednesday, 7:08 p.m.
Adam Warren (0-1, 4.82) vs. David Price (1-0, 0.40)
Thursday, 1:08 p.m.
Masahiro Tanaka (2-1, 3.94) vs. Anibal Sanchez (1-2, 7.71)
For the first time all season, the Yankees have some real momentum heading into a series, and they are going to need it against the Tigers. The Yankees not only won their first series of the year this weekend, they swept the Rays for the first time ever at Tropicana Field, putting together a complete effort in all phases, from pitching to hitting to defense. With the three-game sweep, the Yankees reached .500 for the season and jumped from last place in the AL East to a game behind the lead in second place. The Tigers, on the other hand, have had momentum since Opening Day. Detroit started the year with six straight wins and have lost just twice overall, holding a 10-2 record, the best mark in the majors. They've won four of five heading into this four-game series with the Yankees.
Three Yankees Storylines
1. Alex Rodriguez is just two home runs shy of Willie Mays on the all-time list, and more importantly, kicking in a $6 million bonus the Yankees have to pay A-Rod for reaching that "milestone." This is already a huge storyline, and will only get bigger when it actually happens, as the Yankees will look terrible if they continue their stance of refusing to acknowledge the mark and withhold payment. If the Yankees threaten to take A-Rod to court over the bonus, what will happen to his on-field production? A-Rod is by far the best player the Yankees have, batting .316 with four homers and 11 RBI, and if he stops hitting, there will have no offense to speak of. It's going to be an interesting time if and when A-Rod reaches Mays.
2. Is Didi Gregorius as bad as he has played this season, or is there hope the young shortstop can turn his brief Yankees career around? Gregorius has been terrible on offense and in the field, with even Stephen Drew being immensely better, that much is known. But the Yankees and their fans have to hope there is something more to Gregorius' game then what everyone has seen. This four-game series against Detroit could be big for Gregorius, as if he continues to struggle, he could draw the serious wrath of the Yankee Stadium crowd come Friday night.
3. Going against the best team in baseball with your third, fourth and fifth starters in the first three games isn't a recipe for success, but it's something the Yankees will have to deal with. Sabathia, Eovaldi and Warren will start the first three games before Tanaka takes the mound in the series finale. If the first three don't improve greatly from their pedestrian, at best, performances, with a combined 0-3 record and ERA in the high 4's, Tanaka will be pitching to stave off a sweep Thursday afternoon. Sabathia will have the first chance to prove he still has what it takes to be a pitcher to count on, and set the Yankees up for a series victory. If the Yankees lose three of four, or worse, they will limp into their big series with the Mets, who just happen to hold the second best record in baseball.
Three Tigers To Know
1. Miguel Cabrera could be the best player in baseball, and he has the early-season stats to prove it. Cabrera is batting .426 (seriously) with five doubles, two home runs and 10 RBI in 12 games. He went 4-for-10 with two doubles and an RBI against the White Sox heading into this series. He's reached at least 100 RBI in 11 straight seasons and is a former Triple Crown winner.
2. David Price, who pitches Wednesday night, has allowed just one run and 13 hits in 22.1 innings. He has struck out 20 and walked just five. Obviously, he will pose a huge challenge to the Yankees hitters. The Yankees and general manager Brian Cashman are lucky former pitcher Shane Greene isn't starting in this series for Detroit, as he is 3-0 with an 0.39 ERA. He was part of the deal that brought Gregorius to the Yankees.
3. Yoenis Cespedes had a huge game for Detroit Sunday, going 2-for-4 with two home runs and six RBI in a 9-1 victory over the White Sox, Cespedes, the former Red Sox, is batting .300 with three homers and 10 RBI on the year. The Tigers lineup is loaded with big hitters.
There's no rest after completing a 10-game road trip, as the Yankees play the rival Mets for three games starting Friday night at the Stadium.