- Last Updated: 9:23 AM, June 5, 2012
- Posted: 2:29 AM, June 5, 2012
The Yankees have won eight of their last 11 games, managing to score at least five runs in seven of them despite all of their problems hitting in the clutch, found a closer and righted their rotation.
Now, they’d just like to get out of third place.
And as the Rays visit The Bronx tonight for the first of a three-game series, the Yankees, sitting 1 1/2 games back, have a chance to get to the top of the AL East for the first time since April 25.
With the way the division is shaping up — all five teams are above .500 — Mark Teixeira said he would rather not wait for the Yankees to make their move.
“There’s not a team we’re going to beat up on,” Teixeira said. “You can’t afford to get too far down because there are some years when you might be five games out but with only one team in front of you. This year, there could be four or five teams to jump.”
And it’s becoming increasingly clear the Rays will be one of the teams they will have to contend with.
Even without their top offensive threat since the end of April, when third baseman Evan Longoria hurt his hamstring, the Rays have been able to rise to first place.
“Their young pitching has been really good since ’08,” Joe Girardi said. “One guy leaves and another guy does the job.”
The Rays send James Shields, Alex Cobb and David Price to the hill this week against the Yankees.
“As soon as I got back here, I knew this division was going to be a dogfight all the way to the end,” said Andy Pettitte, who will start tonight’s opener. “And that’s the way it’s shaping up.”
Joe Maddon’s team is still looking for more offense to go with its excellent pitching. It would like to get some help from Hideki Matsui, who is 3-for-16 with two homers since being promoted by the Rays.
The longtime Yankee spent the offseason unable to land a job before finally signing with Tampa Bay in April, a delay that surprised Girardi.
“I was [surprised], a little bit,” Girardi said. “I thought he had a really good second half last year.”
After hitting .209 before the All-Star break a year ago, Matsui rebounded and hit .295 the rest of the season. Still, teams — including the Yankees, who instead signed Raul Ibanez — passed on him and Johnny Damon until after Opening Day.
“I’m not looking forward to facing him,” Pettitte said. “I know him well enough to know you still have to keep the ball out of the middle of the plate.”
Though the Yankees may slip back into first by the end of the series, they know they may not stay there for very long in the hyper-competitive AL East.
“They aren’t going to award anything right now,” said Curtis Granderson, who was promoting the Yankees’ new fragrance at Lord and Taylor in Midtown. “It still is only June, and that means it’s still early in the season.”
Alex Rodriguez said, “Every year is tough, but it seems like this year is the toughest. This division has unbelievable parity.”
Still, the series provides the opportunity to make a statement.
“If we win this series, we’ll have a chance to be in first place and that is important this time of year,” Teixeira said at an event for Harlem RBI and Dream Charter School, “because you do not want to let these opportunities pass.”
—Additional reporting by Anthony Sulla-Heffinger