Series preview: Four-game set with the Indians starts tonight

[caption id="attachment_77821" align="aligncenter" width="550"]Yanks vs CLE Here's hoping this series goes better than the last. Courtesy of Getty Images[/caption] The Yankees current winning ways started in Cleveland last week. New York has won six of its last seven, and hope to keep adding numbers to that ‘W’ column when the Indians start a four-game series at Yankee Stadium today.

Here’s a glance at each game in the series:

Thursday, August 20: RHP Ivan Nova vs. RHP Josh Tomlin

Nova has shown signs of improvement recently, having one real tough outing in his last five. For many of the Indians batters, this is their first look at Nova. The only Cleveland player with any amount of significant at-bats against him is Mike Aviles, and he has only had eight appearances against Nova.

Tomlin is making just his second start of the season. He’s gone through a series of injuries and rehab assignments in the last couple of years.

Matchup to watch: Ryan Raburn vs. Nova: 3-for-5, 1.200 OPS. Mark Teixeira (if he can play) vs. Tomlin: 4-for-13 with two home runs.

Friday, August 21: RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Carlos Carrasco

Tanaka’s arm did not fall off this season despite what the doctors at the local papers were telling you. In fact, Tanaka is having a fine season and is coming off his best performance of the year having thrown a complete game and striking out eight against the Blue Jays on August 15.

Carrasco has pitched very well as of late. He has a 1.36 ERA in his last four games with 29 strikeouts in 33 innings.

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The Puerto Rico Rays? Sí, se puede...

Yankee fans following road trips to A.L. East rivals may not have to visit one of MLB's most humdrum parks and cities much longer: frustrated with MLB-low attendance and a notoriously weak park, the Tampa Bay Rays' owner "has discussed moving the club … to Montreal." Believe or don't believe reports that "play[ing] to a half-empty (or worse) stadium night after night … wore on Maddon" in his decision to leave the team he managed for nine years. But clearly the Rays, despite being roughly tied with the A's as the team most praised for innovative decision-making, are also roughly tied with the A's as MLB's most troubled team; the hit they'll take from losing simultaneously one of the most respected GMs and one of the most respected managers just compounds their structural attendance and park problems. Yet a team looking for a more devoted fan base would be making a curious decision by shacking up with Montreal, the one city MLB jilted by permanently confiscating its MLB team for lack of local support. I suppose D.C. non-permanently lost a team and is supporting its new team, but from my personal experience, Montreal isn't very similar to the capital of the nation where baseball is/was the national pasttime.

In 1991, I went to a Montreal Expos game. Of 17 MLB parks I've visited, Olympic Stadium was the most depressing experience. Attendance was pitifully low, and the roar of the crowd was deafeningly quiet, even grading on a curve for size: the few locals who ambled in showed little to no interest in a game being played with neither a puck nor a net at the end of the wooden stick; maybe the action could've gotten a rise out of them if Larry Walker had taken a swing at an ice-skating Hubie Brooks. Possibly that was a weird day, but Montreal's support of the team was bad enough to make the team flee the country, so I don't think I'm being too hard on the Québécois.

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Rival Roundup - Baltimore Orioles

This is the first of four installments looking at the 2014 American League East rivals. After all, the New York Yankees will play close to half of their games this season against these four division rivals. As we look at each team, we have reached out to our friends in the ESPN SweetSpot Network. Throughout this look at the Orioles, we will hear from Jon Shepherd of Camden Depot.  The Orioles and the Yankees finished with the exact same record in 2013. But both got there by different routes. The Orioles scored a lot more runs, allowed more runs and played better defense. The Yankees pitched better but lagged behind the Orioles both offensively and defensively. Despite the differences, the rivalry has really been exciting the last two years as the two teams battled for the division title in 2012 and played to a 9-9 tie during that season. The Yankees were one game better in 2013 with a 10-9 record against the Orioles.

Both teams were disappointed with 2013 and made moves over the winter to try to get back into the playoff picture. Despite the moves made by each team, neither team has impressed projection systems with the Orioles generally predicted for a 79-win season and the Yankees with an 83-win season. Obviously, both teams will be working hard to make those projections look conservative.

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This week in Yankees baseball

yankeeslogo The last three weeks have been a wild ride for those of us who observe the New York Yankees on a regular basis. The last three weeks have produced the following results: 1-5, 6-1, 1-5. What the heck do you make of that mess? My predictions each week have not been remotely close with those kinds of wild swings. We all know the offense is putrid. We all know the pitching has been spotty. And the last couple of weeks have shown us that as much as we love our 43 year old closer, his last season is not going to be dominating as in the past. We can celebrate each one of his saves, but our hearts get in our throats just a little bit more than usual.

This week will be very interesting. First off, the Yankees come home finally after a long trip out west. That means that we can go back to normal sleeping patterns here on the East Coast. And the two series the team will play are both fascinating in their contrasts. Both will feature phenoms we have not seen before. So let's take a look at the week to come and see what this week in Yankees baseball will bring.

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Better Know a Division: The 2013 NL Central

Like I mentioned in my earlier preview, the task of doing this sort of thing is daunting. Especially for me because, and this not meant to offend any of my NL Central team loving friends, I don't really pay that much attention to this division. I know major storylines and I know who won and who didn't, but beyond that, I had to look up a lot of stuff in order to do this preview. But I like challenges and this definitely was a challenge. For National League fans, and for the teams they root for, there is at least one noticeable difference in the National League Central Division, it's the first time since 1997 that there are only five teams and with the Houston Astros moving to the American League West a lot of the NL Central teams will be missing their "punching bag." Well, one of them, we'll get to them later.

Last year, was an interesting year for the National League's Central teams. The absence of Albert Pujols in the St. Louis Cardinals' lineup made everyone wonder if they'd miss him - they didn't.

People were also left to wonder if the distraction of a positive PED test and eventual victorious appeal would have any effect on 2011 MVP Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers - it didn't.

And even though the Cincinnati Reds are the ones who ultimately won the Division with an impressive 97-65 record, it was the Wild Card winner, St. Louis, that went on to compete in the NLCS. Both teams ended up falling victim to the eventual World Series winner, San Francisco Giants.

So without further ado, here's your 2013 NL Central Preview.

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Better Know a Division: The 2013 AL Central

To be honest, I was a little intimidated by the prospect of writing this preview. I really just wanted to be lazy and post, "THE DETROIT TIGERS ARE GOING TO WIN THE AL CENTRAL," but since my colleague Domenic did such an extensive and fantastic job with his AL West and NL West previews, I figured I owed it to all of you to attempt to do the same. In 2012, those same Tigers emerged as the American League Central Division winners which was a little surprising considering they only spent a total of 33 days in first place all season. Of course, they were the most important days of the season, the ones at the end. The Chicago White Sox, who came up short and in second place, were in that position for 117 days. Luckily for Detroit, Chicago went cold in September and they made the playoffs with only 88 wins. But as we found out, 88 wins in the regular season don't mean much in the playoffs, everyone starts at zero and in the case of the Yankees, they stayed at that number in the ALCS.

But I digress.

They were a few notable changes in the Division this offseason, from Cleveland hiring Terry Francona to manage the Indians to Kansas City being bold and making a big trade with Tampa for two starting pitchers in James Shields and Wade Davis and Chicago losing A.J. Pierzynski to the Texas Rangers. And let's not leave out Detroit who re-signed Anibal Sanchez and added Torii Hunter to their lineup.

The team I did leave out is the poor Minnesota Twins. Last year, they had the worst starting rotation in the American League and they didn't do much in the offseason to improve.

So let's get started, shall we?

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Better Know a Division: The 2013 NL West

Whereas its sister division went down to the wire, the 2012 National League West wrapped up with fairly little drama. The Giants won the division comfortably, holding onto first place from August 20 through the end of the season and wrapping things up with an eight game lead on the second place Dodgers. At times, the Dodgers did seem poised to strike, as folks swore up and down that things would eventually click for new acquisitions Beckett and Gonzalez ... but that time never really came. To wit, it seems as if much of what little drama existed was a product of renewed expectations for the Dodgers, as opposed to what was actually happening on the field for the last five or six weeks of the season. Entering the 2012 season, the NL West had the look of a division that was readily up for grabs, with the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, and Giants all having very real shots at the crown. Slow and steady won the race, and yet the story remains more focused on the bad luck of the Diamondbacks and the newly minted West Coast branch of the Evil Empire than the Giants consistency and balance. In many ways, analysts were explaining why the Diamondbacks and Dodgers failed to make the playoffs, rather than praising the Giants for outlasting the somewhat sexier picks.

In 2013, I am fairly confident that it will be much more cut and dry, regardless of what others may say to the contrary.

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Better Know a Division: The 2013 AL West

In 2012, the American League West may well have been the most exciting division in Major League Baseball - from wire to wire, at that. The Rangers made a splash to sign Japanese sensation Yu Darvish, who lived up to some very lofty expectations (tied for fifth in the Majors in fWAR). Not to be outdone, the Athletics swooped in to bring Yoenis Cespedes on-board, and were rewarded with the best rookie season this side of Mike Trout, as the star of 'The Showcase' batted .292/.356/.505 (136 wRC+) with 23 HR and 16 SB. The Mariners even made a bit of a splash, acquiring Jesus Montero from the Yankees for Michael Pineda. And, of course, the Angels sought to capture some of the Yankees 2009 mojo, signing (arguably) the top hitting and pitching free agents of the off-season, in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. Of course, much of this became an afterthought as the Rangers, Athletics, and Angels battled for the divisional crown throughout the season, with all three remaining in the race through the final month of the season. On the last day of the season, the Athletics won the division, relegating the Rangers (playing the role of early season juggernauts before the dog days of Summer rolled around) to the Wild Card play-in game. Unsurprisingly, the drama was left a bit to the wayside at times, as Mike Trout put together one of the greatest all-around seasons in in ... well ... ever.

What does 2013 have in store as an encore? Let's try to figure it out.

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