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Yankees Weekly Preview: Looming AL East showdowns

This week, the Yankees return to the Bronx with a big chance to make up ground in the division, as the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles will each visit New York.

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, the Yankees reeled off four straight wins, sweeping the Mariners in Seattle and taking the first game in Oakland before losing two straight to the Athletics.  The Yankees now sit at 35-33 and are 4.5 games back in the AL East, tied for second with the Baltimore Orioles, who both trail the Toronto Blue Jays. This week, the Yankees will take on both of these teams in the Bronx, allowing an excellent opportunity for New York to make up some ground in the AL East.

The Blue Jays and the Orioles

Blue Jays: 1st in AL East (41-30), 3rd in runs scored, 2nd in OPS (.764), 1st in wRC+ (112), 19th in ERA (3.96), 23rd in FIP (4.04), 28th in xFIP (4.27)

Orioles: 2nd in AL East (35-33) 15th in runs scored, 8th in OPS (.727), 12th in wRC+ (99), 21st in ERA (4.03) 29th in FIP (4.24), 27th in xFIP (4.14)

Quick hits

Bautista and Encarnacion raking in 2014: The Blue Jays have gotten out of the gates so well mainly because of the monstrous starts from their sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista.  Encarnacion is second in the majors in home runs with 20, tied for second in RBIs with 54, and posts a .257/.342/.567 triple slash with a 149 wRC+.  Bautista has an even better wRC+ (171) and has hit .311/.434/.542 with 15 home runs and 46 RBI of his own.  Add that to Melky Cabrera's big start (123 wRC+ through 69 games) and no wonder the Blue Jays have one of the best offenses in the league.

Hutchison having sneaky good year for Toronto: While Mark Buehrle's 10-3 start has gotten a lot of attention, Drew Hutchison is having a solid season, even posting a lot of numbers better than Buehrle's.  His xFIP is better (3.95 vs 4.19), as is his K/9 of 7.68 (vs. 5.23 for Buehrle), and his average against of .238 is also better than Buehrle's.  The Yankees had better not overlook him, as this series may come down to the third game, when Hutchinson and David Phelps will face off.

Yankees didn't make a mistake passing on Jimenez: When the Yankees were looking for free agent pitching this offseason, many floated the idea that they sign Ubaldo Jimenez if they missed on Masahiro Tanaka.  Luckily they got Tanaka and didn't have to think about Jimenez, who has been awful so far for the Orioles.  At 2-8 with a 4.33 xFIP and an ugly 5.33 BB/9 rate, Jimenez has had a rough go of it in the AL East.  With him pitching the first game on Friday, look for the Yankees to get a leg up early in the series.

Yankees weekly notes

Beltran struggling since return: Carlos Beltran has had little success since returning form the DL, hitting just .171 with two doubles and one home run in 35 at bats.  That home run did come on Sunday, a day which saw Beltran go 2-4, so perhaps he's finding his comfort zone and getting ready to go on a tear.  With some of the other big bats in the lineup struggling, the Yankees could really use Beltran's production.  For more on Beltran's struggles, check out Jesse's latest post here.

Whitley proving to be quite the asset: Chase Whitley still hasn't lost a game since he came up to the big leagues in mid-May, and has proved to be quite an asset for the Yankees and their decimated pitching staff.  Whitley has won his last two starts, even going seven innings plus in both of them.  A lack of longevity has been the only knock against Whitley, and if he can give the Yankees six quality innings each start, I'm sure everyone would be thrilled.  He's been terrific so far this season, posting a 2.41 ERA and a 3.81 xFIP by limiting walks (0.80 BB/9) and long balls (0.27 HR/9).  He has a tough matchup against Buehrle this week, but don't be surprised if the youngster out-pitches the veteran.

Prediction: 4-2 (2-1 vs. Toronto, 2-1 vs. Baltimore)

The Yankees had a good week last week, and they need to continue that success this week as they start a stretch of four straight series against AL East opponents.  While Toronto is one of the best offensive teams in the league, Tanaka should be able to stymie them, and I think one of Phelps and Whitley will turn in a quality start.  That should be enough for the Yankees to take two out of three from the AL East leaders.  The Orioles are also one of the better offensive teams in the league, but their pitching is incredibly weak.  Look for Hiroki Kuroda to outpitch Jimenez and Tanaka to win the series finale (because I refuse to believe he can lose).  Should be a good week for Yankees fans!

How do you think the Yankees will fare this week?  Vote in the poll and sound off in the comments below!

Pitching matchups

Monday, June 16:  Off

Tuesday, June 17: Masahiro Tanaka (10-1, 2.02 ERA, 2.35 xFIP) vs. Marcus Stroman (3-1, 5.18 ERA, 3.36 xFIP)

Wednesday, June 17: Chase Whitley (2-0, 2.41 ERA, 3.81 xFIP) vs. Mark Buehrle (10-3, 2.28 ERA, 4.19 xFIP)

Thursday: David Phelps (2-4, 4.32 ERA, 4.30 xFIP) vs. Drew Hutchinson (5-4, 3.62 ERA, 3.95 xFIP)

Friday: Hiroki Kuroda (4-5, 4.32 ERA, 3.79 xFIP) vs. Ubaldo Jimenez (2-8, 4.86 ERA, 4.33 xFIP)

Saturday: Vidal Nuno (1-2, 4.97 ERA, 4.32 xFIP) vs. Bud Norris (6-5, 3.73 ERA, 4.41 xFIP)

Sunday: Masahiro Tanaka vs. Chris Tillman (5-3, 4.91 ERA, 4.74 xFIP)