Yanks finish strong in 22-game stretch vs. AL East
The stretch of 22 straight games against American League East competition that began Aug. 27 was deemed crucial to the Yankees. That period ended Thursday night with the completion of a three-game sweep of the Blue Jays. If it is more important how a team finishes than how it starts then the sequence was beneficial to the Yankees.
It certainly did not start out that way. The Yankees lost six of the first eight games and eight of the first 12. They got Alex Rodriguez, Andy Pettitte and Ivan Nova back from the sick list but lost Mark Teixeira along the way. Yet by winning seven of the last eight games in the stretch they completed the run on a high note and remained atop the division, albeit by a slighter margin than at the start.
The Yankees watched a four-game lead shrink to one game over the Orioles, who are clearly in this thing to the end. However, the Yankees moved 6 ½ games ahead of the pitching-rich Rays, whose threadbare offense strangled them.
So the Yanks were only slightly better than mediocre in posting a 12-10 mark over the three weeks of divisional play, and while the schedule seems in their favor the rest of the way it is not all downhill from here, not with the Athletics coming to town for a three-game set this weekend.
This is not the same Oakland club that the Yanks beat up on the last time the A’s were at Yankee Stadium May 25-27. The Yankees outscored Oakland, 17-5, in a three-game sweep that was part of a nine-game losing streak that dropped the A’s record to 22-30. Oakland eventually emerged into a contender for the AL West crown or a wild card berth. The Yankees became convinced of that in a four-game set at the Oakland Coliseum July 19-22 when the A’s won each game by one run and raised their record to 53-44. They had expanded it to 20 games over .500 entering play Thursday night.
This weekend series could very well be a preview of a possible postseason matchup. It may also be the last stern test for the Yanks, who get a softer schedule after that with three-game series at Minneapolis and Toronto and at the Stadium against the Red Sox with all three opponents trying to avoid last-place finishes.
Ichiro Suzuki kept up his torrid hitting in Thursday night’s 10-7 victory with a home run and a two-run double on the night after a 7-for-8 doubleheader. Ichiro batted .367 with five doubles, one home run, eight RBI, nine runs and six stolen bases in 60 at-bats over the 22 games vs. AL East clubs. He is hitting .321 in 168 at-bats since joining the Yankees. Phil Hughes had control issues (three walks, two hit batters) but struck out nine batters in his five innings and got his staff-leading 16th victory.
The Yankees tied the club record for grand slams in a season with their 10th – Nick Swisher’s third of the year and ninth of his career in a seven-run fourth inning. Swish also had bases-loaded home runs April 21 at Boston and Aug. 13 at the Stadium against the Rangers. This marks the third straight season that the Yankees have had 10 grand slams. The only other year they had that many was in 1987.