By Brad Carroll
The post All-Star break New York Yankees have quickly established themselves as not only the heavy favorites to win the AL East, holding a 6.5-game lead, but as legitimate World Series contenders. The Kansas City Royals got a whole lot better with the acquisition of Johnny Cueto and the Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Angels and Houston Astros will all pose big challenges down the line, but with the possible exception of the Royals, the Yankees are playing like the team to beat in the AL.
Since the break, the Yankees have won seven of nine games, including a three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles and taking two of three from the Twins, who are in wild card position right now. Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira are both having MVP seasons, Chase Headley is on fire, with eight RBI in the past six games, and even Didi Gregorious is playing better. That's not to mention the pitching staff, with save for CC Sabathia, has been tremendous all season long.
The Yankees are back and the postseason is no longer a wish. Now, it's postseason or bust for this team, as anything but would be a huge disappointment. That's a huge change from the preseason, when many predicted the Yankees wouldn't win 80 games.
The Yankees hope to continue their red-hot play as they open a four-game series with the Texas Rangers. Here's an inside at the series in Texas.
New York Yankees (55-42, 1st Place AL East)
at Texas Rangers (47-50, 7.5 GB in AL West)
Monday, 8 p.m.
Ivan Nova (2-3, 3.34) vs. Matt Harrison (1-1, 5.40)
Tuesday, 8:05 p.m.
TBA vs. Martin Perez (0-1, 4.91)
Wednesday, 8:05 p.m.
Masahiro Tanaka (7-3, 3.64) vs. Colby Lewis (10-4, 4.49)
Thursday, 8:05 p.m.
Michael Pineda (9-7, 3.97) vs. Yovani Gallardo (7-9, 3.19)
The Yankees have won seven of nine and six of seven since the All-Star break and have opened a 6.5-game lead in the AL East. After losing three of their first four games since the break, the Rangers have won four out of five, including series wins over the Colorado Rockies and division-leading Angels.
The Yankees have built a solid lead in the AL East, 6.5 games over the Toronto Blue Jays, who might be the only challenger left in the division. The Blue Jays are 50-50 but own the second highest run differential in the major leagues, at +90. The Yankees, for comparison, are +34. Despite being three games under .500, the Rangers are very much alive in the wild card race, trailing the second spot by 4.5 games. The Astros and Twins lead that race.
Three Rangers To Know
1. Prince Fielder is having an MVP-type season, hitting .337 with 46 runs scored, 20 doubles, 14 home runs and 58 RBI in 95 games this season. He's been just as hot over the past week, hitting .333 with four runs scored, a homer and four RBI in 18 at bats. Fielder is signed through 2020 on a nine-year, $214 million contract. Starting next year and continuing through the contract, however, the Tigers will be on the hook for $6 million of Fielder's $24 million salary.
2. Rougned Odor has had an amazing six-game stretch, going 10-for-26 (.385) with nine runs scored, three doubles, a triple, three home runs and eight RBI.
3. It's been a long season for Shin-Soo Choo, but he's possibly found his stroke again over his past five games, going 6-for-18 with five runs, two doubles, a triple, home run and six RBI. Choo is signed through 2020 on a seven-year, $130 million deal, a contract the Rangers would surely love to get rid of.
The Yankees finish off a 10-game road trip with a three-game weekend series against the Chicago White Sox.