The Yankees look to continue their strong play Friday night when they open a key three-game road series against the Indians.
No team has enjoyed as easy a schedule as the Yankees (63-51) since the All-Star break, with 25 of their 28 games coming against teams with losing records.
New York, though, took advantage of that by going a major league-best 20-8 to move within one game of wild card-leading Seattle, and within six games of AL East-leading Boston.
With 17 of their next 20 contests against playoff-contending clubs Cleveland, Detroit, Boston and the Los Angeles Angels, this stretch will be a much better indicator as to how the Yankees stack up with the best teams in the league.
“It will be a tough stretch,” outfielder Johnny Damon told the Yankees’ official Web site. “They are teams we have to go through to make the playoffs. … But we’re a very good team.”
Chien-Ming Wang had his worst start of the season Wednesday as New York’s five-game winning streak was snapped with a 15-4 loss at Toronto.
Alex Rodriguez - the major league home run and RBI leader - sat out with a bruised calf, a night after he was hit by a pitch.
“It doesn’t seem to be anything the trainers are concerned about,” manager Joe Torre said.
Robinson Cano has played a big part in New York’s red-hot offense, which is averaging 7.6 runs and hitting .324 since the All-Star break.
Cano is batting .453 (43-for-95) with seven homers, nine doubles, two triples and 28 RBIs in his last 25 games.
The Yankees have averaged 9.6 runs during a five-game win streak against Cleveland.
Although the Indians (65-50) have opened a 1 1/2-game lead over Detroit in the AL Central, that has more to do with the Tigers’ struggles than Cleveland’s play.
It was the seventh win in 17 games for Cleveland, which is 13-14 in the second half.
Travis Hafner sat out Thursday to rest and treat his sore left knee. The Indians designated hitter isn’t expected to play Friday.
“I’m not able to run right now,” Hafner said. “We’re going to do treatment and ice and hopefully that will improve it. Can’t really say anything about it until you see how it is tomorrow.”
One of baseball’s biggest surprises, Cleveland’s Fausto Carmona (13-6, 3.17) looks to tie for the major league lead in victories. Despite losing his last two starts after winning five in a row, Carmona has continued to pitch very well. He limited Minnesota to one run and five hits in seven innings Sunday, but was a tough-luck 1-0 loser.
The right-hander has allowed two earned runs or fewer in six of his last seven starts while pitching at least seven innings in five straight outings.
Carmona did not receive a decision in his first career start against the Yankees on April 19 despite holding them to two runs and six hits in six innings. New York scored six ninth-inning runs in that game for an 8-6 victory.
Rookie right-hander Phil Hughes (1-1, 5.87 ERA) starts for the Yankees, hoping to fare better than he did in his first start since coming off the disabled list. Hughes struggled in his first game since May 1, getting reached for six runs and seven hits in 4 2-3 innings Saturday against Kansas City before leaving without a decision.
Hughes, sidelined more than three months with a strained left hamstring and then a sprained left ankle, walked two and struck out five in the Yankees’ 16-8 win.
He has never faced the Indians.