By Brad Carroll
Here are the biggest storylines facing the New York Yankees as the calendar turns to June and during a three-game series with the Seattle Mariners.
1. For the first time all season, Yankees manager Joe Girardi may have finally seen the light. Before Sunday's game against the Athletics, Girardi made it sound like the awful Stephen Drew could find a semi-permanent seat on the bench, as Jose Pirela has started the last two games at second base and could be there longer. Of course, every Yankees fan has been calling for Drew to be replaced for months now. We actually called for Drew to be benched after three games and predicted he would be replaced by either Pirela or Rob Refsnyder before too long in one of our season preview columns. Girardi has been the long holdout on what everyone else has seen from Drew, but he finally might be ready to pull the plug for good. Drew is batting .157 in 46 games and gets on base just 22.5 percent of the time, both terrible numbers. Only time will tell now if Girardi is really done with Drew and the next three games against the Mariners will proof what he is really thinking.
2. The biggest pitching start of the Yankees season comes Wednesday afternoon, as Masahiro Tanaka makes his return from the disabled list to face the Seattle Mariners. Tanaka is clearly the leader of the Yankees starting rotation, even with some flashes shown by Michael Pineda this season, and is a necessary cog in a playoff run, which is more important than ever considering the AL East is the worst division in baseball and can be won by anyone who puts together a nice winning streak. Tanaka wasn't strong in his last rehab start in Triple-A, allowing three runs on four hits and two walks in three innings, but all that really mattered was he came away feeling fine health-wise, which he did. Now, it's time for him to show he can put together a promising start against a major league lineup. Tanaka won't be allowed to go over 80 pitches, so don't expect him to see him throwing in the seventh, but if he puts up a bunch of zeroes on the board, some excitement will return to the team, especially with the Yankees returning home a day after that start. The Yankees need their stopper back, and there isn't a better time for Tanaka to return. It's obvious how much they need him while going through this current terrible stretch of winning five of their last 18 games.
3. Fans can thank the Baseball Gods the Yankees play in the AL East this season, as their current .510 winning percentage would put them in fourth place in the AL Central, NL Central and NL West, tied for third in the AL West, and third in the NL East. Even the Mets, who have had their own recent struggles, are two games better than the Yankees. Of course, nobody should apologize about getting a break by playing in a division that typically is baseball's best, not worst. Not too long ago, the winner of the AL East was the automatic favorite to win the World Series. All that truly matters is making the playoffs, whether a team is 20 games over .500 or two. Entering June, the Yankees are tied with the Rays for first at 26-25, while the Orioles (23-26, two games back), Blue Jays (23-29, 3.5 games back) and Red Sox (22-29, four games back) follow. It's still too early to begin scoreboard watching, but nearly a third of the way through, and as bad as the Yankees have been, if the season ended today, they would have the opportunity to make the postseason as division champs. The next month will be huge, however, as one would have to believe a leader will emerge from the pack, making the next 27 games very important. Only seven games, if you were wondering, are against bad teams, the Marlins and Phillies. Other opponents are the Mariners, Angels, Nationals, Orioles, Tigers and Astros. The Yankees could easily emerge as the favorite, and just as easily be left behind as other teams find their groove.