Although the Yanks do possess a four-game lead in the Wild Card chase, the next six games could have a major impact on whether they hold onto that lead and stave off a final late-season surge by the Detroit Tigers.
Here are the scheduled pitching matchups in a very crucial series at Toronto:
- Phil Hughes (2-3, 5.33 ERA) vs. Shaun Marcum (12-5, 3.74 ERA)
- Mike Mussina (8-10, 5.51 ERA) vs. Dustin McGowan (10-8, 3.90 ERA)
- Ian Kennedy (1-0, 2.25 ERA) vs. A.J. Burnett (8-7, 3.56 ERA)
Clearly, the B-Jays (Ha!) have the edge in the pitching matchup in all three games. As much as I love the youth and potential for Hughes and Kennedy in the upcoming years, they are both still a work in progress and will undoubtedly go through their share of inconsistencies and bumps in the road. It is imperative that they both pitch well enough this week to keep their team in the game.
As for Moose, he's had so many "bumps in the road" in recent weeks that he needs a Hummer to climb over them. He could redeem himself somewhat and give himself something to build on with a well-pitched game on Wed night.
Meanwhile, the Tigers will have a makeup game at home on Mon against the B-Jays and Roy Halladay (WooHoo!) and then the lowly Texas Rangers will come to town for three games. This weekend, the Tigers travel to Minnesota to play the under .500 Twins, while the Yanks head to Boston to play another tough series against the hated Red Sox.
Like the Mariners and ChiSox, I have very little faith in the Rangers these days and I don't expect them to put up much of a fight against the boys from Motown. The Twins will indeed send Johan Santana to the mound against the Tigers this weekend, but I don't exactly have a ton of faith in that team either -- even with the best pitcher in MLB -- because they have greatly underachieved this season.
In my opinion, these next six games could very well determine the Yanks' fate this season. They can ill-afford to look past this series in Toronto and towards the Red Sox at Fenway because they could easily find themselves leading by just 1-1/2 or 2-1/2 games in the Wild Card chase by Friday night instead of 4 games up as they currently stand.
If the Yankees lead the WC by 3-1/2 games or more (with 13 games to go) a week from now, they should be in very good shape (the Tigers will still have three remaining games at Cleveland the following week).
However, if their lead dwindles to 1-1/2 games (or worse) by this time next week, the Tigers could have enough momentum to make things very hairy for the Yankees the final two weeks of the regular season.