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The Most Important Series of the Year (So Far)

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I suppose you could make the case that this series is always the most important series, or that tonight's game is always the most important game of the season.

I won't quibble with those of you who live day-to-day with the Yankees, but I choose a different tack. I try to look at the season in large swaths, counting on the marathon nature of 162 games to level out the deflating defeats and the inspiring heights. This approach (usually) allows me to get work done at my "real" job, while I wait for the evening's baseball game.

The last 10 games have been unkind to the Yankees: they lost a set with the Tigers (1-3), took a series from the Rangers (2-1), and lost a particularly uninspired series with the Royals (1-2). That's 4-6, for those of you scoring at home, averaging only 3.9 runs per game in that stretch (a number that would be much, much worse if not for a 12 run outburst against the Rangers last Sunday).

The Yankees are 11-9 in their last 20, and 17-13 in their last 30. They've lost their number two pitcher, though Hughes may be back this season, endured a long slump from their captain, and a power outage from several key players (Arod, Swish). Robinson Cano is the only member of the team hitting over .275 (team leading .291).

And despite my "it's a long season" view, I think this weekend's series could be the major showdown of the season.

When I look at standings, I only look at the loss column, following the lead of most broadcasters and players that a loss is forever, while games to be played are games that can be won. The Yankees and Rays are atop the AL East with 15 losses each. The Red Sox are 5 losses back, tied with Toronto for last place. In between, at 19 losses, are the Orioles.

That's how tight the division is this year, on the 13th of May. Taking 2 of 3 from the Red Sox now puts them in the basement, 6 or 7 games back of the leader, with at least 3 teams between them and the playoffs; it makes the division a two team race between the Yankees and Rays. Losing 2 of 3 pulls the Yankees back to the pack, and gives the Rays a chance to get out in front.  As we saw in 2008 and 2010, a big lead early in the season is an obstacle to be respected.

If I'm Joe Girardi, I'm all in for the next 3 days. Crushing the Sox changes the clubhouse mentality, changes the deals that Theo Epstein is willing to pull the trigger on, and changes the narrative for the rest of the season. If I've learned nothing else from blogging about the Yankees all these years, it's that narratives matter. The Yankees have a chance to start to write theirs tonight.