By Brad Carroll
Here are the three biggest storylines facing the New York Yankees as they play a four-games series with the Oakland Athletics this weekend.
1. Add another milestone to the long list of them for Alex Rodriguez, as he passed Lou Gehrig Wednesday for most RBI in American League history. Even though the RBI didn't become an official stat until 1920, it's still another amazing feat for the much-maligned and now much-loved Yankees designated hitter. A-Rod has become the best and most dependable hitter the Yankees have, a shocking statement not many would have made before the season. (Of course, this is where I'll point out we wrote Rodriguez would have a great year, predicting 20 home runs and 80 RBI, which may be seen as low now.) If he plays 132 games this season, A-Rod is on pace to hit 33 homers and collect 78 RBI. He's batting .276 with nine doubles, 11 home runs and 26 RBI in 44 games this season. A-Rod went 10-for-22 (.455) during the six-game homestand. If he doesn't make the All-Star team it would be a travesty. It's no question A-Rod has been the biggest storyline for the Yankees all season long, and he continues to shine at the plate, revitalizing a career that was deemed dead just a few short months ago.
2. It was originally thought Masahiro Tanaka would make his final rehab start Wednesday and then return to the Yankees rotation afterward. But that decision is up in the air now. Pitching for Scranton-Wilkes Barre, the Yankees Triple-A affiliate, Tanaka was roughed up by the Red Sox affiliate, allowing three runs on four hits and two walks in three innings. He did strike out four and reached 62 pitches, saying after the game he felt good. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Tanaka could make another rehab start, or not, making it sound like there would be some internal discussions of the next step, probably on the way to Oakland. The Yankees won't return from their trip to the West Coast until June 5, which is eight days after Tanaka's last start. He could start that first game back at home, or could make another rehab start on a five-day schedule, and then return to the Yankees rotation after that start on normal rest. If the Yankees want to keep him on schedule, it makes sense to have him make another rehab start. But if they aren't worried about some extra days rest, and deem him ready, that Friday could be the day Tanaka returns from the disabled list.
3. The Yankees survived a horrible string of 10 losses in 11 games, bouncing back to sweep the Kansas City Royals and regain first place in the AL East. The Yankees are lucky the rest of the division is terrible, with none of the four teams below them in the standings holding a winning record. That's the good news. The bad news is the Yankees can't expect to play as badly as they did during that 11-game slid again and expect to regain first place as quickly as they did this time around. This West Coast trip is crucial for the Yankees and their playoff hopes. First, they play the Oakland Athletics for four games. The A's are 15 games under .500 and have the worst record in the AL and the second worst record in all of baseball. The Yankees can't let the momentum gained from their sweep of the Royals get lost on the long road trip. They have to find a way to take three of four. From there, it's off to Seattle against a team that is just .500 on the season. Taking three of four from Oakland would mean the Yankees could take just one of three from the Mariners to have a successful road trip. Needless to write, the four games in Oakland are big for the Yankees.