By Brad Carroll
The New York Yankees put their series loss to the Toronto Blue Jays behind them quickly this weekend, winning three of four games from the Baltimore Orioles to reestablish themselves as the team to beat in the AL East. The Yankees moved eight games over .500 after a Sunday afternoon that saw Michael Pineda establish himself as the clear ace of the staff, striking out 16 batters over seven dominate innings to beat the Orioles. He was just two strikeouts shy of the team record of 18 set by Ron Guidry in 1978. The 16 tied David Cone and David Wells for second most.
Pineda's performance was especially important with the Yankees needing someone to take Masahiro Tanaka's place at the top of the rotation, not to mention avoiding a split against a team that came into this series after getting swept by the New York Mets. The Yankees got both of those and hold a three-game lead in the division against a team they begin a four-game series with starting Monday night. Here is our insider's look at an important series, even if the calendar reads mid-May.
New York Yankees (20-12, 1st Place AL East)
at Tampa Bay Rays (17-15, 2nd Place AL East)
Monday, 7:10 p.m.
CC Sabathia (0-5, 5.45) vs. Alex Colome (2-0, 1.80)
Tuesday, 7:10 p.m.
Nathan Eovaldi (3-0, 3.97) vs. Chris Archer (3-4, 2.59)
Wednesday, 7:10 p.m.
Adam Warren (2-1, 4.65) vs. Nathan Karns (2-1, 3.79)
Thursday, 7:10 p.m.
Chase Whitley (1-1, 3.06) vs. Matt Andriese (0-1, 5.40)
The Yankees are 7-3 this month and 17-6 since starting the season with a 3-6 record. They've won six out of their last seven series, jumping from a team thought to be DOA at the beginning of the year, to one being the favorite to win the division and contend for a world championship. Of course, the season is still very young. The Rays are 5-5 this month and come into this series after splitting four games with the Texas Rangers. Before that, the Rays took two of three from the Red Sox. Tampa has been a win-one, lose-one team for most of the season.
Three Yankees Storylines
1. From the mastery of Pineda to the winless Sabathia, the Yankees go from one extreme to the other Monday night in the series opener. Sabathia is 0-5 this year with a 5.45 ERA, numbers foreign to him for a great majority of the former ace's career. He's struggled so greatly this season and last that many fans have begun the pleas to move him to the bullpen, and when that talk begins, the real thing can't be that far off. So, Sabathia's start Monday night is huge for a number of reasons. The obvious is to get off the snide and win for the first time, but there is also the need to build confidence and convince everyone, even if for just the next five days, that he still has the ability to win games as a starting pitcher. Tampa isn't a good place begin, though, as Sabathia is just 4-8 in 18 starts at The Trop. For the record, even if Sabathia loses again, I don't believe he'll be taken out of the rotation. That is a ways away.
2. If Carlos Beltran can get his bat going, this Yankees team could be special. It hasn't been that way during his Yankees career, but maybe the last three games against Baltimore is a sign of things to come. Beltran went 4-for-9 with a double, home run and four RBI. He added two walks in Sunday's game. Over the last 10 games, Beltran's average has moved from .162 to .210. A batting average that low isn't anything to get excited about, but at least Beltran is starting to show some life in his bat. The Yankees need it.
3. The arrival of Jose Pirela has been great for the Yankees in two ways. First, Pirela is 4-for-11 (.364) with a double in three games. Second, Stephen Drew, who could lose his job to Pirela, has been buoyed by the arrival as well, going 6-for-19 (.316) with a run scored and two doubles over the past week. It would be great if Pirela was the starting second baseman going forward, but if his presence means Drew will rise to the occasion as well and perform at a high level, than there won't be any complaints from the Yankees nor their fans who the starter is.
Three Rays To Know
1. Evan Longoria is back to his old self and that's great news for the Rays, and bad news for everyone else, including the Yankees to start the week. Longoria did go 0-for-4 Sunday, but before that, had a five-game hit streak, going 8-for-22 (.364) over that span. He had multiple hits in three straight and had three home runs and seven RBI overall. Longoria is up to .292 with four home runs and 12 RBI for the season.
2. Asdrubal Cabrera is a familiar name to baseball fans, but after playing all but a half-season with the Cleveland Indians, he's on the Rays now. The switch hasn't been so kind to the 29-year-old, however, as he's hitting just .205 with a homer and nine RBI in 32 games. He batted in the three-hole for a while, but now hits seventh. Cabrera had a solid series against the Rangers, going 4-for-11 with a run scored, two doubles, a homer and RBI.
3. Archer, who pitches Tuesday, has owned the Yankees in his career, with a 5-0 record and ERA of 1.93 in six starts. This season, Archer's ERA is there (2.59) but he hasn't been able to turn that into victories, with much of the blame going to the Rays' offense when he pitches. In his last start, Archer allowed five runs in just 3.1 innings, losing to the Rangers. That's two straight losses for Archer.
The Yankees head to Kansas City for a three-game weekend series with the Royals.