Road to AL pennant goes through Texas

The Yankees got their first look the past three nights at the team that won the American League pennant the past two years and they had to conclude that the road to the 2012 World Series will go through Texas.

This was the only trip to Texas this year for the Yankees, who won’t face the Rangers until a four-game series at Yankee Stadium in mid-August. By then, Lord knows how far Texas will be leading the AL West. With Wednesday night’s 7-3 victory over the Yankees, the Rangers kept their five-game lead in the division and extended their spread to 8 ½ games over the last-place Angels, who had been expected to be the main threats against Texas out west.

The Yankees got good starts from CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda in splitting the first two games at Rangers Ballpark In Arlington, but Phil Hughes couldn’t survive the third inning in the finale and put his club in an early hole in a game in which the Rangers were using five relievers to get through the game.

David Phelps, who has been mentioned as a possible starter down the road, has his first rough outing by allowing three runs and five hits, two of which were long home runs by Mike Napoli and Mitch Moreland. Clay Rapada, Cody Eppley, Boone Logan and Rafael Soriano handled the Rangers quite well, but the offense could not overcome the early deficit.

It is far too early to go overboard about the standings, but the Yankees fell out of a first-place tie in the AL East that is no between the Blue Jays, which is no surprise, and the Orioles, which is. Except for Raul Ibanez, who drove in two runs with his third home run and a sacrifice fly, and Derek Jeter, who ran his hitting streak to 15 games with two more hits and is batting .420, the Yankees’ bats were mostly mute and 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position.

It doesn’t get easier for the Yankees, who will come home to face the Detroit team that ousted them from the playoffs last year. However, the Tigers have lost five of their past six games and find themselves in a dogfight in the AL Central with the Indians and White Sox.

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