The past week has been an emotional rollercoaster for Yankee fans. Within the span of a few days, we witnessed a Kluber no-hitter, a historic stretch of dominant pitching, and a sweep of the red-hot White Sox. We also found out that Kluber is going to be shut down for two months, that Voit is headed back to the IL, and that Hicks is done for the season.
After an incredibly wild week, it’s time for the shorthanded Yankees to get down to business. The Bombers will be in Detroit for a three-game set this weekend, then they come back to the Bronx for seven key divisional games against Tampa Bay and Boston. We’re still in the early days of the 2021 season, but the upcoming slate of games could help solidify a pecking order in the highly competitive AL East race.
A Tougher Tiger Team
The Yankees opened the month of May by crushing the Tigers at Yankee Stadium. The three-game sweep of Detroit kicked off a 7-2 home stand that catapulted the Yankees’ record from 11-14 to 18-16. Put simply, beating up on the Tigers got the Yankees going.
Unfortunately, the Tigers aren’t quite as bad today as they were a few weeks ago. Since getting swept in New York, Detroit has actually posted a relatively respectable record (11-10). They’re also playing a much better brand of baseball, as evidenced by some of their league rankings since May 4th:
3.95 Team ERA (14th best in MLB)
1.32 Team WHIP (17th best in MLB)
.262 Team BA (3rd best in MLB)
98 Runs Scored (11th best in MLB)
104 wRC+ (13th best in MLB)
The Tigers may not be world-beaters, but they’re far from the pushovers that they were at the beginning of May. That being said, the Yankees should still take at least two games from Detroit. The pathway to a series victory is relatively clear—win the Gerrit Cole game tonight, and then grab another win over the weekend.
Rays and Red Sox
The intensity will really ratchet up on Monday, when the Yankees open a four-game series against Tampa. While the Rays may have gotten off to a slow start this season, they’ve been on fire throughout the month of May. Tampa’s last series loss came against the Yankees from May 11th-13th. Since then, the Rays have won 13 out of their last 14 games. Now sitting at 32-20, they’ve taken over first place from the Red Sox in the AL East.
Every Yankee fan is aware of how much trouble Tampa has given the Bombers over the last few seasons. The Yankees are 3-6 against the Rays this year, and have been outscored 46 to 25 in those nine games. Given the history between these two teams as well as the Yankees’ slew of injuries, the upcoming Tampa series is going to be a very difficult challenge.
After playing four against Tampa, the Yankees will face the Red Sox for the first time this season. Despite relatively low preseason expectations, Boston has been a solid team all year. In fact, the Sox owned the top spot in the AL East from April 10th to May 22nd. The Yankees may wind up catching a break, however, since Boston will be arriving in New York immediately after a four-game series in Houston. While the Red Sox have been good on the road this season (16-7), the Yankees may end up facing them at an opportune time.
A Chance to Grab First
Due to their shaky start, the 2021 Yankees have not yet found themselves in sole possession of the AL East lead. The last time the Yankees had failed to accomplish that feat by this point in the season was 2016.
The good news, though, is that the Bombers have a great chance to climb ahead of the Rays and Red Sox this week. If the Yankees can handle the Tigers this weekend, then they’ll have a chance to move ahead of their two division rivals in the coming days. With Cole on the mound tonight, the Yankees are poised to start this stretch of games on the right foot.