By Brad Carroll
With two series left before the All-Star break, and after as many ups and downs a half-season can take, the New York Yankees are in first place in the AL East. The Yankees took two of three from the Tampa Bay Rays this weekend in their latest biggest series of the year, winning in walk-off fashion two nights in a row. Despite losing the series finale Sunday, the Yankees and their fans can't be displeased by their position in the AL East.
The team also got some good news as the All-Star rosters were announced Monday night, with Dellin Betances and Mark Teixeira making the team. Brett Gardner will have a chance to make the team as well, as he's in the final vote contest. Both he and Alex Rodriguez deserved the honor, but both could be left out when the game takes place.
For those that did make it, Betances is 5-1 with a 1.50 ERA with seven saves with closer Andrew Miller on the disabled list. Whether it's in a setup role, or closing games, Betances is the best reliever in baseball. Teixeira is having a resurgent season, leading the AL in RBI with 59 to go along with 16 doubles and 20 home runs (fifth best in the AL).
The Yankees have three games against the struggling Oakland Athletics at home before heading into the All-Star break with three games in Boston against the Red Sox. The Yankees could put some distance between themselves and the rest of the division this week, and it starts Tuesday night against the A's. Here is our inside look at the series.
Oakland Athletics (38-47, 10.5 GB in AL West)
at New York Yankees (44-38, 1st place AL East)
Tuesday, 7:05 p.m.
Sonny Gray (9-3, 2.09) vs. Nathan Eovaldi (8-2, 4.52)
Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.
Jesse Hahn (6-6, 3.35) vs. CC Sabathia (3-8, 5.59)
Thursday, 1:05 p.m.
Scott Kazmir (5-5, 2.56) vs. Masahiro Tanaka (4-3, 3.94)
The Yankees won three straight games before losing the series finale to the Rays Sunday. Taking two of three from Tampa Bay was important, however, as it has the Yankees in first place in the AL East by a game over the Baltimore Orioles. The Yankees had lost three straight before the win streak and are just 5-5 over their last 10. But first place brings with it plenty of momentum, especially playing at home. The Athletics split a four-games series with the Seattle Mariners heading into the Bronx and took two of three from the Colorado Rockies before that. The A's had a solid month of June, going 15-12. They were just 20-33 entering the month. They are 3-2 so far in July.
Three Athletics To Know
1. Gray, who pitches the opener Tuesday night, is one of best pitchers in baseball you may not have heard of. The second-year player is 9-3 this season with a 2.09 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 97 strikeouts in 107.2 innings. He's won five of his last six decisions and had his ERA creep over 2.00 for the first time in 10 starts after allowing three runs in six innings during a win over the Rangers. Unfortunately for the Yankees, Gray had his start pushed back to Tuesday because of salmonella poisoning. Gray, who was picked for the All-Star team Monday, was a first round draft pick (18th overall) of the Athletics in 2011.
2. Stephen Vogt was rewarded for an outstanding first half of the season, getting picked as a reserve for the All-Star team. The 30-year-old Vogt is batting .290 with 12 doubles, 13 home runs and 53 RBI in 80 games. The simple math says he's on pace to easily eclipse 100 RBI for the season. Vogt is struggling lately, however, hitting just .192 with a double over the last seven days. He hasn't homered in 14 games and hasn't picked up an RBI in 11, so the Yankees may be catching him at the right time. Even though he's already 30, Vogt can't be a free agent until 2020.
3. Ben Zobrist is having a solid season, batting .267 with 16 doubles, five home runs and 31 RBI in 52 games, but is more intriguing because of the possible trade rumors surrounding him. Zobrist could be a fit for the Mets if they finally decide to upgrade the infield, and this would be a perfect time for the NL's New York team to travel to the Bronx to scout. He just might be a possible option for the Yankees as well, as Stephen Drew is a horrible baseball player, hitting just .178, and Zobrist would be a huge upgrade at second base. Zobrist is signed through this season, finishing a six-year, $30 million deal, so he could be a rental player, or maybe even a future second baseman for either New York team.
The Yankees travel to Boston for three games against the rival Red Sox before heading to the All-Star break.