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Yankees' Lead in A.L. East Shrinking as September Stretch Begins: Fan Preview

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When regular-season play resumed on July 13, 2012, following the All-Star break, the New York Yankees had an eight-game lead over the Baltimore Orioles in the American League East with the Tampa Bay Rays 8.5 games out in third. The Yankees increased their lead to 10 games by July 18 and appeared to be cruising to another very easy division title. Since then, though, the Yankees have played .500 baseball at 23-23. Heading into the September stretch, the Yankees now have only a slim two-game lead over the Orioles with the Rays 4.5 games behind at the close of play on August 31.

The Yankees and Orioles have already begun a crucial three-game series in Yankee Stadium with the Orioles winning the first game to pull to within two games of the division leaders. It was the first game of a stretch during which the Yankees will play 13 of 16 games against the Orioles and Rays through September 16. This is a chance for the Yankees to right themselves and open up another big lead to secure the division. Likewise, this is a chance for the Orioles or Rays to possibly take over the division lead.

On the August 31 edition of MLB Network's Quick Pitch, fans answered a poll asking which current division leader will not win its division. Out of the fans who voted, 51% picked the Yankees. I disagree. The Yankees have not had their entire starting lineup on the field for quite some time, but they will get their injured sluggers back before long. Alex Rodriguez started his rehab on August 31. Mark Teixeira should return to action in Baltimore on September 6. Even pitcher Andy Pettitte could possibly come back in time to help the Yankees at the very end of the season.

In addition, the Yankees also have 16 games remaining against teams with losing records. They have seven games left with the Toronto Blue Jays, three at the Minnesota Twins, and six with the Boston Red Sox (including the final three games of the season at Yankee Stadium on October 1-3). The only other contending team outside of the division that the Yankees still play is the Oakland Athletics (at home from September 21-23).

The Yankees also have a manager in Joe Girardi who knows which buttons to push and when. He knows when and where to play certain guys like Eric Chavez, Jayson Nix, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, and Ichiro Suzuki. These guys do the job that Girardi asks them to do. The Yankees also have the most clutch player I have ever seen in Derek Jeter.

The Yankees have seen their huge lead dwindle, but I do not count them out. Every team has injuries and losing streaks. They have the talent and the experience to overcome their losses. They need to beat the Rays and Orioles, and they will win the games they should win over the non-contenders. When the team gets back to full strength, they should prevail.

Sources:

Major League Baseball, Standings for July 13, July 18, and August 31, mlb.mlb.com.

MLB Network Broadcast, Quick Pitch, August 31, 2012.

New York Yankees, 2012 Calendar, September and October, yankees.mlb.com.

Spencer Fordin, Pettitte Optimistic after Throwing Bullpen Session, yankees.mlb.com, August 31, 2012.

Raymond was born in Connecticut into a family spilt between the Red Sox and Yankees. Although he grew up in Florida, Raymond became a Yankees fan. He played baseball through high school and soon after became a varsity coach. Raymond previously produced radio sports talk shows and hosted a weekly MLB radio call-in show. Follow Raymond on Twitter @RayBureau

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