By Brad Carroll
The New York Yankees made a big statement to everyone in the Big Apple and beyond this weekend, but mostly to all those providing static that this was a Mets town now. Those wishful-thinkers got a dose of reality after the Yankees continued their own red-hot stretch by taking two of three from the Mets, who had entered the series with baseball's best record.
The Yankees powered their way to victories in Game 1 and 3, losing the middle to Matt Harvey, as CC Sabathia was roughed up in a start that could signal the beginning of the end for him. Everything else is looking up for the Yankees, who have now won eight of their last 10 games against some of the best teams in baseball, meaning the wins are no fluke and the AL East suddenly has an early favorite.
Of course, it's still April, and there is a series on deck against a team that could argue it is the best the East has to offer right now. So, in late April, we have a battle for first in the division as the Yankees host the Tampa Bay Rays for three games. Here is our insider's look at the early showdown.
Tampa Bay Rays (11-8, 1st place AL East)
at New York Yankees (11-8, 1st place AL East)
Monday, 7:10 p.m.
Nathan Karns (1-1, 5.32) vs. Adam Warren (1-1, 5.40)
Tuesday, 7:10 p.m.
Jake Odorizzi (2-1, 1.65) vs. Chase Whitley (Career: 4-3, 5.23)
Wednesday, 1:05 p.m.
Drew Smyly (0-0, 3.86) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (2-1, 3.22)
The Yankees kept their positive momentum after beating the Mets Sunday night, 6-4, winning the very-important Subway Series, taking two of three. It allowed the Yankees to keep their stranglehold on New York baseball for a little while longer, and end what had been a remarkable run by the Mets, as they had won 11 straight games before entering the Stadium. Even though nobody will say it publicly, you know the Yankees wanted to win that series in the worst way. Overall, the Yankees have won eight of their last 10 games, against the Rays, Tigers and Mets, all teams at least tied for first place in their divisions. The Rays, who were swept by the Yankees at home already this season, have won five of six since then, including winning the last five in a row. They've taken two of three from the Red Sox and swept three from the Blue Jays heading into this series.
Three Yankees Storylines
1. No matter what the Yankees hierarchy wants you to believe, Alex Rodriguez is their most marketable and must-see player. It's not even close. Every time A-Rod steps to the plate, all eyes are on him. Nobody is going to the concession stands. Nobody is going to the bathroom. Nobody is changing the channel at home. Better yet, people would actually tune in specifically for those at-bats. A-Rod is A-Rod again. All of that makes the Yankees contention they will refuse to pay Rodriguez the bonuses that are in his contract, five $6 million payments for reaching home run milestones, including the one most likely to happen soon, needing one homer to reach Willie Mays, completely ludicrous. The first milestone home run could come as early as Monday night, as Karns, the Rays starter, has given up five home runs in 23.1 innings, one of which came from Rodriguez himself. If it happens there will be fireworks in more than one way.
2. Before the Mets series, we wrote if Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira continue to bring the power, the Yankees could be title contenders again. We also said they would both need to increase their batting averages, especially Teixeira, who was under .200 heading into the Mets' series. Well, both continued their amazing show of power, especially Teixeira, who is finding new life after a Yankees career that has been disappointing to say the least. Teixeira went 5-for-11 with three homers and five RBI against the Mets. He's second in the American League in both home runs (8) and RBI (18) and is third in slugging percentage. He also raised his average 46 points during the three-game set, standing now at .242. If Teixeira continues hitting this way, he could be the team MVP.
3. If the Yankees have the lead at the end of the seventh inning, the game is over. At least that's the way the season has gone so far. With Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, the best 1-2 bullpen punch in baseball, it's nearly impossible for the opposition to complete a late-game comeback. Betances has allowed five hits and no runs in 10.1 innings, striking out 15. Miller has allowed no runs on two hits in 8.1 innings, striking out 16. Those are amazing numbers and give the Yankees an edge very few teams enjoy.
Three Rays To Know
1. James Loney went 4-for-10 with two doubles, a home run and three RBI against the Blue Jays. It was his first games back from a stint on the disabled list, which cost him all but one game this season before the Toronto series. Loney has the pop in his bat to be a menace to Yankees pitching.
2. Smyly, who starts Wednesday against Tanaka, has had success at Yankee Stadium, holding a 1-0 record and 1.17 ERA in three career appearances. If the Yankees don't get to Smyly, who came off the disabled list against Toronto Friday, allowing two runs on four hits in 4.2 innings, taking a no-decision, it could mean a series loss to Tampa. That could ruin a great deal of momentum as the Yankees hit the road right after.
3. Who leads the Rays in home runs and RBI? It's Steven Souza Jr., who has four homers and 11 RBI in 18 games this season. He's had just one hit in his last three games, however, and is batting .254 on the season. But he's proven already to have the power to make up for a pedestrian batting average.
After a day off Thursday, the Yankees play three against the Red Sox in Boston.