On July 19, The New York Yankees had what appeared like a very comfortable nine-game lead in the American League East. They looked like they would coast toward another division title and prepare for the postseason. Then, something happened to shrink that lead. The Yankees lost 12 of 18 games since then, seeing their once big lead dwindle to just 4.5 games over the Baltimore Orioles at the close of play on August 7.
The downward spiral began with a four-game losing sweep to the Oakland Athletics from July 19-22, and except for beating the last-place Seattle Mariners four out of six times, the Yankees have lost their other completed series since then. So far, the Yankees have looked lackluster in their potential postseason preview with the Detroit Tigers, who have won the first two of a four-game series in Detroit.
Anyone can understand losing to Justin Verlander, the best pitcher in the American League. He dominated the Yankees on August 6, and except for his own error that led to two unearned runs, he shut down a normally powerful offense with 14 strikeouts. The Yankees could not recover from a large deficit the next night; their late rally fell one run short.
Every team has rough stretches such as this. The better teams, however, come out of them when it counts the most. The veteran Yankees have lost before and come back with a vengeance. Earlier this year, the Yankees went from a .500 record to the July 19 nine-game (57-35) lead even as the Orioles kept winning themselves.
During the Yankees' current losing stretch, the Orioles won 12 of 19 -- including two of three over the Yankees -- to pull to within 4.5 games. The Orioles scored four or more runs 10 times during the stretch. Meanwhile, the Yankees' offense scored four or more runs 12 times, but the pitching has not done its job so well.
The Yankees and Orioles will meet seven more times, three in New York from August 31 to September 2, and four in Baltimore from September 6-9. Each team has a chance to do some damage. The Yankees can put the Orioles away, or Baltimore can make things even more interesting. Those two possibilities will depend heavily on what happens for each team before then. The Orioles are good; they will not fold, but their lack of overall team experience in pennant race pressure gives the veteran-rich Yankees a distinct advantage.
In the end, I believe that the Yankees' veteran presence and pennant race experience will take over, and the Yankees will get out of their funk. They will likely get lefty Andy Pettitte and slugger Alex Rodriguez back in September, which will help down the stretch. I do not worry much about a collapse because the Yankees are proven winners, but Baltimore will not roll over either. I look for a tighter race now than appeared on July 19, but the Yankees should prevail.
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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