By Brad Carroll
The New York Yankees finally hit a roadblock in their two-week long stretch of series victories by losing two of three games to the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite the series loss, which broke a string of five straight wins, the Yankees still reside in first place in the AL East, holding a 2-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays, 3.5 games over the Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles and 4 games over the Boston Red Sox.
The Yankees have an important stretch upcoming, however, with a four-game series against the Orioles followed by a nine-game road trip that could change their fortunes over the next couple weeks. Here is a closer look at a key early-season matchup with a divisional rival, as the Orioles come into the Stadium for four games starting Thursday.
Baltimore Orioles (12-13, 4th Place AL East)
at New York Yankees (17-11, 1st Place AL East)
Thursday, 7:05 p.m.
Chris Tillman (2-3, 6.23) vs. Nathan Eovaldi (2-0, 3.81)
Friday, 7:05 p.m.
Miguel Gonzalez (3-1, 2.59) vs. Adam Warren (2-1, 4.78)
Saturday, 1:05 p.m.
Wei-Yin Chen (0-1, 2.83) vs. Chase Whitley (1-0, 0.75)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.
Bud Norris (1-3, 9.75) vs. Michael Pineda (4-0, 2.97)
After five straight series wins, which included victories in 13 of those 16 games, the Yankees ran into a team that has already proven to have their number this season. The Blue Jays took two of three from the Yankees leading into this matchup, breaking that series win streak. Toronto has now won two series against the Yankees this season, going 4-2 overall. The Orioles lost both games of a quick, two-game series with the New York Mets, scoring just three runs combined. Before that, Baltimore had won five of their last six games.
Three Yankees Storylines
1. CC Sabathia doesn't start in this series, but he's someone all Yankees fans are talking about right now. Sabathia lost again Wednesday to fall to 0-5 with a 5.45 ERA this season. He has been terrible, a shell of his former ace self. I don't believe manager Joe Girardi will take him out of the rotation, at least not for a while, out of simple respect for what Sabathia has done, but the calls to move him to the bullpen have already gained steam. Unlike other players on the Yankees who have collected huge paychecks for little return, Sabathia has more than earned his money. He's old and as close to done as you can get as a starting pitcher, but how many teams would love to have that kind of pedigree and, hopefully, potential to be a big-game performer as a fourth or fifth starter? Look at Sabathia that way, and he's not so bad in the rotation. But if his current pace continues into the All-Star break, it may be time to make a change.
2. In his debut game Wednesday night, Jose Pirela had two hits, a single and double, starting in place of Stephen Drew at second base against Toronto. Those two hits bring him within 11 of Drew, in 24 less games. Drew is hitting .163 with a surprising four homers and 10 RBI this season. One game doesn't make a season, but the time is now for Pirela to take Drew's job.
3. Chase Whitley gets his third opportunity to prove he's worthy of a spot in the Yankees rotation, starting what could be an important swing game Saturday afternoon against the Orioles. Whitley was fantastic in his last start, allowing no runs on six hits over seven innings, striking out six. He took a no-decision, however, as the offense couldn't back up the strong performance. Whitley won his first start against Tampa Bay, allowing one run on six hits in five innings. Possibly, down the line, he could be the guy who replaces Sabathia.
Three Orioles To Know
1. Talking about the Orioles always begins with Adam Jones, who had a 4-for-4 game Sunday against Tampa Bay and is batting a league-leading .383 this season. He went 1-for-7 in two games against the Mets heading into this series, so the Yankees might be catching him on a downswing. Or, he's ready to break out with another huge series. Either way, Jones is a threat every time he steps to the plate.
2. Chris Davis was one of the few Orioles who actually contributed offensively in the brief series against the Mets, going 3-for-8 with a home run. He has a four-game hit streak. Remember, Davis hit 53 home runs with 138 RBI back in 2013 before dropping down to 26 homers and 72 RBI last year.
3. Steve Pearce, who has done well against the Yankees in the past, is struggling this season, hitting .180 with two homers and nine RBI in 19 games. He's 1-for-his-last-10. He was sick Wednesday, but did strike out in a pinch-hit at-bat. He should be good to go for Baltimore against the Yankees.
The Yankees hit the road for nine straight games, starting with four against Tampa Bay Monday night.