Friday, August 23, 2013

Yankees realizing they are in a race

Now on to Tampa

By Rich Mancuso

BRONX, NEW YORK, AUGUST 23- There is no telling where this remaining month of August and the September stretch will take the New York Yankees. We do know this: The Yankees with their fifth straight win Thursday afternoon, 10th in their last 12 overall, are in good position for a wild card spot in the American League.

And, there is still an outside chance of contending for the Al East division as New York heads for an important three-game series down in Tampa Bay. The Yankees left the Bronx, after their 5-3 win and four-game sweep of the Blue Jays, 3/1-2 games off the pace for the second wild card spot in the league.

Six games away from the division lead, does not look bad either. Compare this to the standings of two weeks ago when it seemed improbable. There were those ready to pack their bags for the winter and the Yankees were preparing to make plans for their off-season moves.

Many moves on this roster will still be made, regardless what the final results will say at the end of September. But for now, with a schedule also in their favor, the Yankees believe they are in the playoff mix. After three down in Tampa Bay, it’s three games up in Toronto.

It is the same Blue Jays team the Yankees swept this week, a ballclub that has lost to New York ten consecutive games. Yes, they can make up more ground in the standings and it is entirely possible when they return to the Bronx, August 30th with three games against Baltimore, they could be closer.

“We’re making up ground and that’s what we need to do,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi after his team improved to 7-1 in their last eight games against American League East competition. The Baltimore Orioles, a team that used to win those one-run ballgames last season quickly see the Yankees moving on up.

Girardi has seen the difference. His team is getting good pitching and the home run ball has returned. Andy Pettitte held the Blue Jays to an earned run in 6.0 innings, on four hits. He won his second straight game after going 0-3 in five previous starts.

Curtis Granderson tied the game with a solo home run leading off the fifth inning, his first off a left hander this season.

“We’re right there,” said Pettitte (9-9) who had the cutter and fastball working again to his advantage. “We play good baseball the rest of the way we’re gonna pull this thing out.”

Girardi said, he has seen a different vibe with his team. Of course, winning will change the complexion of any team, in any sport. With the exception of a few additions, and return of the few walking wounded, the controversial Alex Rodriguez in particular, this is the same group of Yankees that had trouble hitting and pitching half way through the schedule.

“Seems like you can look up and down the lineup and that’s a different feel,” he said. Pettitte could not hold runners on, and the lineup had trouble getting runners home. That has all changed.

Pettitte has now held his opponent to no more than one earned run in each of his last three starts.

“Andy got a lot of ground balls,” commented Girardi.

The Yankees are fully aware now, as to how important their schedule is. A month or so ago, they still believed there was a chance at playing October baseball. But the reality was, they needed to pick up plenty of ground in the standings.

They have done that and will need to continue this run by winning as many series as possible in their remaining 35 games. The next nine-games and 26 of them are against Al east division teams. And the next three games down in Tampa Bay, against their tough pitching staff are important.

“Big, because they are ahead of us in the standings,” said catcher Chris Stewart.

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