West Coast trips are rarely fun for players or the East Coast fans, and this last road trip was no exception. The Yankees went 4-6 against the Mariners, Athletics, and Angels, while displaying an awful offensive deficiency and picking up a number of injuries on the way. As the Yankees head to Yankee Stadium to play the Dodgers tomorrow, it'll be their first home game in nearly two weeks, and the team yet again finds itself without Kevin Youkilis and Mark Teixeira. Even with home field advantage in three of the last four series in June, the Yankees have a very difficult schedule to deal with. Despite their recent slump, the team has remained 7 games over .500, somehow right in the middle of the ongoing pennant race, and just 3.0 games behind the 1st place Red Sox. Though they don't face the Red Sox until after the All Star break, the Yankees now have to deal with the second place Orioles, the Rays, who are just 2 games behind them, and the Rangers, who are currently tied with them for a wild card spot.
Looking at the standings so closely in June, especially the Wild Card possibilities, is usually pointless, but with the fruitless lineup they've played over the last month, it looks like they'll need to catch lightening in a bottle at the right time if they want any chance at retaking the AL East.
The next two week stretch will provide an opportunity for the Yankees to flourish or flounder. After the Dodgers, the next three series feature top teams in the American League, all playing over .500. Losing against the Rays or Orioles would obviously send them further back in the AL East standings, and set up more obstacles for the team to overcome in the late summer. Meanwhile, losing against the Rangers could send Texas into an advantageous spot in the Wild Card standings.
In most seasons, games played in June rarely mean much, but with injuries piling up and other teams showing vast improvements, this season looks like it'll come down to the wire. Every games seems to carry more and more importance. The offense currently looks incapable of putting up enough runs to win against even mediocre teams, but similar to their success in April and early-May, any team that hits a hot streak at the right time can beat even the best of teams.
After June, the Yankees go on to face the Twins 7 times, the Royals 4 times, and the Orioles 3 times before the All Star break. Outside of the Orioles, the Twins and Royals are teams that have struggled to remain at .500. At this point Kevin Youkilis, Mark Teixeira, and possibly even Curtis Granderson could return to the lineup. On top of that, Michael Pineda should be on the verge of his Major League comeback. Reinforcements against these sub-par teams will make the two weeks in July slightly less stressful.
With fingers crossed, the Yankees could finally have a complete team after the All Star break. If they can survive the next four weeks with their
B C D-lineup, there's something to like about their chances in late summer. It'll take some luck and some hot streaks, but with so many fans exaggerating the recent slump, some may be surprised that there's still an optimistic perspective to embrace.