First Pitch: A division up for grabs

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
9:00
AM ET
NEW YORK -- Three-fifths of their starting rotation is on the disabled list. Brian McCann's Wednesday night heroics notwithstanding, most of their high-priced free-agent acquisitions (Masahiro Tanaka excluded) have underperformed. They have not shown any real ability to sustain a winning streak or score with any consistency.

And yet, a win today over the Toronto Blue Jays will put them a mere 1 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East, which for the first time in recent memory cannot remotely be called the toughest division in baseball, or even in the American League.

This is all to the Yankees' benefit, because no matter how many flaws this team has, and it has a few, is there anyone out there who can honestly say they don't have a better-than-decent chance to win the division?

From what I've seen of the Blue Jays so far, in three games in Toronto on the first weekend of the season, and the two played so far here, I'm not convinced that this team can maintain its early-season pace.

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And as long as Mark Buehrle stays in their rotation, the Yankees can virtually be assured they will never get swept; Buehrle hasn't beaten them in 10 years, and judging off Wednesday night, it's possible he never will again.

That's why this stretch of games -- 15 in all, 13 more to be played -- against AL East teams is so important, and it is why Joe Girardi managed Wednesday night's game as if it were the seventh game of the World Series, going to Dellin Betances when his team was up by five runs -- after Jose Ramirez had given up back-to-back doubles to Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista -- and to David Robertson in a non-save situation.

"Well, it’s big," Girardi said after Wednesday night's 7-3 win. "This is the team we’re chasing. It’s the easiest way to make up ground or lose ground, when you’re playing within your own division, so these games are extremely important."

After tonight's series finale with Toronto, the Baltimore Orioles, breathing down the Yankees' necks a half-game back of them in third place, come in for the weekend. Then it's off to Toronto for three before the Yankees return home for three against the comparatively-tame Boston Red Sox, followed by three against the (surprisingly) last-place Tampa Bay Rays.

By the time this stretch is over with, the AL East standings might look a whole lot different.

Anyone out there want to predict that, in spite of all their injuries and lack of offense, the Yankees won't be on top? Let us know.

Question: From what you've seen so far, do you think the Yankees will win the AL East?

Up Now: The incomparable Johnette Howard with a column on Brian McCann's big night. I've got a blog on why Adam Warren might be too good for his own good. And of course, the Rapid Reaction from last night's win.

On deck: Yankees go for the sweep behind David Phelps (2-4, 4.32), who faces RHP Drew Hutchison (5-4, 3.62), first pitch at 7:05 p.m. The great Andrew Marchand, fresh off his celebration of turning the big 4-0, will be at The Stadium to bring you all the action. As always, thanks for reading.
Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Jacoby Ellsbury
BA HR RBI R
.271 16 70 71
OTHER LEADERS
HRB. McCann 23
RBIB. McCann 75
RB. Gardner 87
OPSB. Gardner .749
WM. Tanaka 13
ERAH. Kuroda 3.71
SOH. Kuroda 146