|Yankees Manager Aaron Boone. Photo by Jason Schott.
The Yankees will face their first big test of the season this weekend in Tampa Bay when they open a three-game series with the Rays.
Tampa Bay is 23-13, and have led the American League East from day one, and the Yankees (22-15) have made their 6-9 start a distant memory as they have won 16 of their last 22 to pull within one-and-a-half games of Tampa Bay.
Right on the Yankees' heels is the third team that was thought to be part of this race, the defending World Champion Red Sox, who have won eight of their last ten to get back to .500 at 19-19.
The Yankees have been able to do this with basically an All-Star team on the injured list. They have gotten heroics from the super subs such as Gio Urshela, who hit the game-tying home run in their walk-off win Tuesday over Seattle, and Clint Frazier (.300, 6 home runs, 17 RBI entering Thursday), as well as the steady play of DJ LeMahieu (.339, 1 homer, 19 RBI entering Thursday), and the power of catcher Gary Sanchez, who is tied for seventh in the majors with 11 home runs.
Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said on Thursday afternoon of his team, "Our guys have played well and done really well, and I think we've at least shown - albeit not the biggest sample - we've shown that we're very capable of playing and beating any team out there, you know, despite being a little depleted and despite having some adversity and some of our big guns down. Our expectation is we're going to win games, so that doesn't change. The way we play maybe changes a little bit based on our personnel, but the expectation doesn't."
One of the biggest contributors is starting pitcher Domingo German, who is 6-1 with a 2.35 ERA, and he will be starting Friday night's series opener against Tampa Bay's Tyler Glasner, who also has six victories (6-0) with a 1.47 ERA.
The Yankees will start CC Sabathia (2-1, 3.20 ERA) on Saturday night, with Tampa yet to announce a starter, possibly because they're using someone from their bullpen as an "opener."
On Sunday, Masahiro Tanaka (2-3, 3.77 ERA) will take on the reigning American League Cy Young winner, Blake Snell, who is 3-3 with a 3.62 ERA, and off to a slow start.
Boone said of this series being a big test for his club, "I really don't look at it, necessarily, as a measuring stick. I look at it as an important game against a division rival, against a division rival that's a really good team, so I look at it as, we've got to go and put our best foot forward and play well, I mean, that's the goal, that's the focus.
"You know, hopefully, we get out of there doing well. I don't really see it as 'where we stack up' at this point or anything like that. We're trying to rack up as many wins as we can. We're trying to play as well as we can and that's kind of the hyperfocus that we go and teach."
Looking big picture, Boone said of appreciating what the Rays have done with to maximize resources, "They're really good, I mean, we knew that last year. They're a tough team to play against, you know, really good at preventing runs. They have a lot of versatility and a lot of parts within their pitching staff, obviously a few dynamic starters as well, a club that's versatile so they can mix and match in a lot of different ways depending on the matchup, guys that can play multiple positions as well as having a couple of, really, impact players, and they've made a lot of smart moves over the years to put themselves in a position to be as legit as they are."