The Yankees enter a new week with a five-game lead over the surging Tampa Bay Rays. At times, it seems like the Yankees season couldn't go any better, but at the same time it feels like it couldn't be unluckier.
The Yankees have been plagued with the injury bug this season. Key players such as CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, Nick Swisher, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez have spent time on the disabled list. Also, outfielder Brett Gardner and starting pitcher Michael Pineda were shut down early in the season.
But for every injury the Yankees have suffered, someone has stepped up in their place. Guys like Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez and Jayson Nix have performed admirably and have contributed to make the Yankees arguably the deepest roster in baseball. The Yankees' starting rotation and bullpen have also stepped up their games despite the injuries to Sabathia and Rivera.
But can the Yankees hold off the Rays without some of their key stars for at least another week or two? The Rays have gone 21-12 since the All-Star break, and have shrunk the deficit from 8.5 games to five.
The schedule may be a key part in determining the AL East champion. The Yankees have 19 games against above .500 teams on their schedule, while the Rays have 26, including six against the Yankees.
Although the Yankees may have a slight advantage in their schedule, the Rays are not a team to count out. Last season, the Rays came back from eight games down on September 6 to stun the Red Sox and steal the Wild Card spot.
The Rays also have gotten back third baseman Evan Longoria, and have a Cy Young candidate in David Price. The Rays' pitching staff is second in the league in earned run average, but the lineup has an on-base percentage of .315, which is 20th in the majors.
When it is all said and done, I think the Yankees will hold onto the AL East crown. The Yankees' depth is far superior to Tampa's, and the Yankees are finally starting to get healthy.
Sabathia is scheduled to start on Friday against Cleveland. A-Rod could be swinging the bat this week, and could be back in another couple of weeks. Andy Pettitte has started to throw off flat ground, and could be back towards the end of September.
Add Sabathia, Rodriguez and Pettitte back to a roster that has managed to stay 20 games over .500 without them, and this team will not only win the division, but they will also have a legitimate shot at a World Series title.