The Yankees (44-38) found themselves with a one-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles (43-39) and a two-game lead over the Blue Jays and Rays (both 43-41) in the AL East to start this week, but this final week of games before the MLB All-Star festivities offers a great chance for the Bombers to break away from this tightly-bunched pack.
The Yankees host the Athletics in a three-game set beginning on Tuesday, and the A’s currently own one of the worst records in the American League (38-47). Oakland is a team actively looking to sell off players and Yankees fans will be able to get a look at hot commodity Ben Zobrist up close and personal this week.
The Yankees then travel to Fenway Park to face the Red Sox the weekend before the All-Star break begins, and Boston is currently in the cellar in the AL East at 39-45. The Yankees have been very successful against their hated rivals lately; the Bombers have beaten Boston in seven of their last 10 matchups and have nine wins in their last 12 road games at Fenway.
It will be tough for the rest of the clubs in the AL East to keep pace with the Yankees if they win those games like they should. The Orioles have to square off with the Twins (43-39, second in the AL Central) in Minnesota, and host the Nationals (46-36, first in NL East) this the weekend. Not an easy stretch by any means.
The slumping Blue Jays and Rays don’t get much relief this week either. Toronto travels to Chicago to face the White Sox, a last place team, but then it has to deal with the first place Royals. Toronto has struggled away from home this season, as it is only 17-23 on the road.
The Rays will face two division leaders before the All-Star break; the aforementioned Royals in Kansas City, and the Astros in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Rays are just 2-8 in their last 10, and their schedule won’t help them turn the corner.
The Yankees will also have a leg up on the competition when center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury comes back on Wednesday. Ellsbury, who hasn’t played since May 19 when he suffered a knee injury in a game against the Nationals, was batting .324 with 14 stolen bases in 37 games before hitting the shelf. Ellsbury had been on a slow road to recovery; he’s played four rehab games at single-A and has just two hits in 13 ABs. The Yankees continue to lose outfielders (Slade Heathcott, Mason Williams and Carlos Beltran are all currently on the DL), so Ellsbury’s return to the lineup is more than welcomed.