By Brad Carroll
Who would have thought at the beginning of the week the New York Yankees would win just one of four games against the Tampa Bay Rays and it would be CC Sabathia that would deliver the lone victory? Well, that's what happened during a series loss to the Rays, which saw the Yankees offense explode in the opener only to go completely silent the next three nights.
The Yankees still reside in first place in the AL East after dropping three of four, but the lead is down to just one to those same Rays. The Blue Jays, Red Sox and Orioles are all four games out. While it's too early to worry too much about the standings, the Yankees do have an important series with the first place Kansas City Royals this weekend. Come Monday, the Yankees could have a solid grasp on the AL East lead, or might be looking up at the Rays.
Here's our in-depth look into the three-game series in Kansas City.
New York Yankees (21-15, 1st Place AL East)
at Kansas City Royals (22-13, 1st Place AL Central)
Friday, 8:10 p.m.
Michael Pineda (5-0, 2.72) vs. Chris Young (2-0, 0.78)
Saturday, 7:10 p.m.
CC Sabathia (1-5, 5.20) vs. Danny Duffy (2-2, 5.67)
Sunday, 2:10 p.m.
Nathan Eovaldi (3-1, 4.14) vs. Edinson Volquez (2-3, 3.19)
The Yankees had a stunning finish to their four-game series in Tampa Bay, losing the final three games with their bats going silent. The Yankees scored just five runs in those three, which followed a series opener where the Yankees won after scoring 11 runs. Maybe playing in the mausoleum known as Tropicana Field, with crowds of just 10,000 giving the place little juice, was the reason for the struggles. Either way, Yankees head to Kansas City on a losing streak. The Royals have won four of their last six games, but come into this series having split a four-game series with the Texas Rangers. Before that, the first-place Royals won two of three from the Tigers.
Three Yankees Storylines
1. What happened to the Yankees offense? After exploding for 11 runs and five home runs in the opener against Tampa Bay, the Yankees scored just five in the last three, getting shut down by guys named Nathan Karns and Erasmo Ramirez. The Yankees got just five hits in the series finale, with the only run coming on a solo shot by Alex Rodriguez in the ninth inning. Needless to write, but if the Yankees don't wake up on offense against Kansas City, they'll get swept out of the building and first place in the AL East might be a distant memory. The Yankees get slow-throwing Young, who allowed just three hits and no earned runs over six innings in a no-decision against the Tigers in his last start, in the opener.
2. Pineda, who starts an important series opener against Kansas City, is not only the clear ace of the Yankees, but has worked his way into the conversation as best starter in the American League. When the Yankees traded Jesus Montero to Seattle for Pineda, it was met with a lot of skepticism. It didn't help either when Montero had a big first season in Seattle and Pineda missed two straight seasons with injury. But fast forward to 2015 and Montero is nowhere near the big leagues and Pineda is a rising star. He's a perfect 5-0 this season and had one of the best starts in Yankees history last go-around, as he struck out 16 in seven innings, allowing one run in beating the Orioles. That was tied for second most strikeouts by a pitcher in Yankees history and just two shy of the all-time record set by Ron Guidry. And he only pitched seven innings. It may have taken a while, but Pineda is everything the Yankees could have hoped for when they made the controversial trade.
3. Chase Whitley suffered a potentially serious elbow injury against Tampa Bay Thursday night, which could result in an extended stay on the disabled list. It could cost Whitley the opportunity to ever get back into the Yankees starting rotation. "We won't know until [Friday], but there's obviously concern about this," manager Joe Girardi said. "It's in that area you don't want to talk about. He's been trying to tough it out, and we had no inkling that he had an issue. So we'll just have to wait until [Friday], and then we'll know." The good news is the Yankees have Chris Capuano ready to take Whitley's spot in the rotation.
Three Royals To Know
1. Eric Hosmer has two doubles, two home runs and seven RBI over his last seven games, hitting .345 during that span. He's second in the AL with 29 RBI, fourth in both slugging percentage and OPS and sixth in batting average at .333 this season.
2. Alex Gordon has been even better over the past week, batting .364 with four doubles, a home run and three RBI. This is Gordon's ninth season with the Royals and he's good for about 20 homers and 75 RBI a year. He was the second overall pick of the 2005 draft.
3. Volquez, who starts the finale Sunday afternoon, hands out a ton of walks, with 12 coming over his last 14 innings. That benefits a team like the Yankees, who at least historically, like to work counts and get pitchers out of the game early. They can accomplish that against the veteran Royals pitcher who hasn't won since April 20. Volquez has pitched for six teams over his 10 seasons.
After a day off Monday, the Yankees play two games against the Nationals in Washington.