A season that has seen the New York Yankees on cruise control for much of the past three months has suddenly turned very serious -- and uncertain -- with just 29 games to play.
After losing two of three games to the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium over the weekend the Yankees once seemingly-insurmountable 10-game lead in the American League East is down to just two games over the upstart Orioles and 3.5 games over the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Yankees have now been in first place for 83 straight days, but that string is in serious jeopardy. Today the Yankees begin a 10-game, 11-day road trip when they play the Rays in the first game of a three-game series at Tropicana Field (1:10 p.m. ET, TV: YES Network/MLB Network).
New York has been dealing with injuries to Alex rodrigurez, Mark Teixeira, Andy Petitte, Mariano Rivera, Ivan Nova and others. Players like Steve Pearce, Eric Chavez, Chris Dickerson and others have been filling spots in a weakened lineup.
The makeshift lineup was held to six hits or less in all three games against Baltimore, matching their longest streak of games with six hits or less in the last 20 years.
"It's not something in my tenure here that we've had to deal with a whole lot," [Yankees manager Joe] Girardi said. "In 2008, we had a lot of injuries to our pitching staff, but positionally, we were pretty good. This year, it seems like we've had a little bit of both -- our pitching staff and our position players. We've had to put some guys in there that usually don't hit fourth. These guys have tried to grind out their at-bats. Hopefully you get some guys back."
"The teams are good and you're going to go through your struggles," Girardi said on YES Network's Joe Girardi Show. "This might be the best thing for us."
That, of course, is Girardi using his best managerial spin. It will only be good if the Yankees survive it, win the AL East and perform well in the playoffs.
"The teams that we need to beat are right in front of us," Girardi said, referring to the upcoming road trip, which might define the Yankees' season. "These are the teams you need to beat if you want to win your division."
The Yankees open the series in Tampa Bay with ace CC Sabathia (13-4, 3.40 ERA) pitching. Tampa Bay has James Shields (12-9, 3.91). Shields has had six consecutive quality starts for the Rays.
The pitching matchups for the rest of the series are as follows:
Tuesday: Freddy Garcia, Yankees (7-5, 4.90) vs. Alex Cobb (8-8, 4.39)
Wednesday: Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees (12-10, 3.04) vs. Matt Moore (10-8, 3.58)
AL East Standings
-- See Pinstripe Alley for more about the Yankees