August 31, 2012

Month-long AL East showdown begins tonight

As the division's top two teams begin a three-game series Friday, the Yankees are clinging to a three-game lead over the Orioles in the AL East. But that's not the whole story. The story is September will be a month of scoreboard watching for the Yankees, Orioles and Rays.

For starters, all 10 of the Yankees' next games are against the Orioles and Rays. After, for their remaining 22 games, 16 are against AL East teams, including three with the Rays and six with the Red Sox.

Overall, 81 percent of the Yankees remaining games are against AL East teams.

It's all the same for the rest of the division's schedule. The Rays and Orioles face off six more times this season, including the season's final three games. Oh by the way, the last three games of the season will also be the most meaningless Red Sox-Yankees games ever played in the rivalry.

So here's what the Yankees need to do to hang on to first place: get healthy and pitch well.

Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte are the major names needed back for the postseason, but their are others rehabbing, too.

If you haven't noticed, a guy named Pearce has hit in the middle of the Yankees' lineup the past couple of nights. His name is Steve Pearce, actually, and he began the year in New York's farm system before being traded to the Orioles, who cut him. If he is involved at all in the Yankees' postseason roster debate, the Bronx Bombers would likely be in trouble.

Anyway, the reason Pearce is in the lineup as a DH is because Nick Swisher is filling in at first for the injured Mark Teixeira. Teixeira is on the DL, as is starter Ivan Nova, who is likely primed for the postseason team -- most likely as a long reliever.

That decision will probably depend on Pettitte's status, which isn't great. He's still pitching off flat ground, and for those who don't know, a mound adds a lot more stress to a pitcher's delivery. At this rate, it's unlikely he'll be able to return quickly enough for even one tune-up start before the postseason. You hate to say it, but we're all thinking the same thing: They don't test for HGH during the season.

A-Rod, on the other hand, is looking pretty good. Expect him to return to the clean-up spot (sorry, Pearcey) in the next 10 days or so.

Also rehabbing and likely to return this month are relievers Pedro Feliciano (remember him?) and David Aardsma (oh, him).

Well, duh. If you want a decent shot at a ring, you must pitch well. It is an important key to mention for the Yankees, though, as their pitching has dropped off a bit since the All-Star Game. Before the break, the team had a 3.73 ERA, eighth in the majors. After: 3.93, 14th. This slight decline is likely a result of missing Pettitte and CC Sabathia to various injuries.

Barring a Pettitte miracle return, here's the postseason rotation, and the three keys to No. 28:

1. CC Sabathia
2. Hiroki Kuroda
3. Phil Hughes

Assuming the Yankees carry 12 hitters, here's how the bullpen might shake out:

Closer: Rafael Soriano
Setup man: David Robertson
Setup man: David Phelps
RHP: Ivan Nova
RHP: Freddy Garcia
LHP: Boone Logan
LHP: Clay Rapada
RHP: Derek Lowe
RHP: Cody Eppley
LHP: Pedro Feliciano

And on the outside looking in:

RHP: Joba Chamberlain
RHP: David Aardsma
RHP: Mariano Rivera :(

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