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It started May 7 and doesn’t end for at least three weeks.  In fact, one could argue that it doesn’t even end for nearly 5 weeks.  For the first 20 games of this stretch, which started this weekend, the Yankees began what is looking like the toughest part of their schedule all season – from May 7 to May 27.

To start off, the Yankees will have to play 20 games during those 21 days, with the only day off coming on Monday May 24.  The worst part, however, is the opposition they are scheduled to face.  Boston, Detroit, Minnesota, Boston, Tampa Bay, NY Mets and Minnesota – all of which having winning records or are the Boston Red Sox.

May 7-9 @ Boston – The Yankees routed the first two games of the series 10-3 and 14-3, before being routed themselves in the Sunday night game, 9-3.  The Yankees are 4-2 against Boston this season in the 6 games they’ve played, all at Fenway Park.

May 10-13 @ Detroit – The Yankees lost the first game of the series, 5-4 on a night that long-time Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell was memorialized after succumbing to cancer last week.  The Yankees send troubled pitcher Javier Vasquez to the mound Tuesday night, high-flying youngster Phil Hughes to the mound on Wednesday night and ace CC Sabathia on Thursday night.  Vasquez skipped his last scheduled start (Friday in Boston) to get some bullpen work in and calm some nerves.  Yankee fans have been pretty hard on him this season for his poor play.  Hughes and Sabathia have been dominating this season, going 4-0 and 4-1 respectively.  Taking the next three in a row would be nice and is very possible, but I would be content with the Bombers leaving Detroit after going 2-2 against the Tigers.  Either way, they should have some momentum built up heading into the weekend series with Minnesota.

May 14-16 vs Minnesota – The Twins sit atop the AL Central at 21-11 and appear to be the third best team in the majors after the Rays and Yankees.  They are tough offensively and are much stronger than the team that the Yankees dominated last season.  This will be a tough series for the Bombers, especially considering the scheduled pitchers are AJ Burnett, who’s always volatile, Andy Pettitte, who’s coming off arm stiffness, and Vasquez, who will be hearing some loud boos if he doesn’t play excellent.

At this point the Yankees will have played 10 straight days – meaning that the Bombers would have most likely scheduled a day off for aging infielders Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in order to rest them up for the next 10 games.

May 17-18 vs Boston – Boston maybe struggling this season with a 17-16 record as of Monday May 10, but it isn’t because of their hitting like most everyone thought it would be – it’s because of their pitching.  Surprisingly, the Sox are the fourth highest-scoring team in baseball this season.  The problem is they happen to have allowed the third most runs this season too, for a minus 11 run differential.  Still any series against the Sox is tough.

May 19-20 vs Tampa Bay – No doubt this is the strongest team in baseball this season and they are accomplishing it with much less talent then teams like the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies have.  Fortunately, the Yankees have had this team’s number lately, having beaten them 2 out of 3 this season and 9 of 13 dating back to the mid-point of last season.

May 21-23 @ NY Mets – The Mets have had their ups and downs this season but have been mostly up the last couple of weeks.  Games between these two can hardly be called home or away games since the two team’s stadiums sit less than 20 miles apart.

May 24 – That one off-day…But can it really be called an off-day when you have to travel to Minnesota?

May 25-27 @ Minnesota – Previewing a series almost 3 weeks away is pointless.  Just imagine I copied and pasted the description from their previous series in this place.

However, it doesn’t stop here.  Without another day off, the Yankees will face off at home against the Cleveland Indians for a 4 game Memorial Day Weekend series (May 28-31), division rival Baltimore for three games (June 1-3), and finally wrapping it up in Toronto from June 4-6.

In case you lost count, that’s 30 games in 32 days, with 23 of those 30 games coming against teams with winning records.

Whew.

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2009 Record: 75-87 (.463), 4th AL East
Key Losses: Roy Halladay-SP (trade); Marco Scutaro-SS (free agent)

Key Additions: Shaun Marcum-SP (injury); John Buck-C (free agent); Jose Molina-C (free agent); Alex Gonzalez-SS (free agent)

Like every team this time of year, the 2010 Toronto Blue Jays are excited about their chances, but this is a team destined for the bottom of the division.

The Blue Jays traded away one of the best pitchers in the league, Roy Halladay, for a group of prospects, none of whom will be in the opening day lineup.  This is clearly a team in transition and rebuilding.

The 2009 version of the team started strong and even lead the division in wins for some time.  Slowly, the team broke down and rumors of a mid-season trade of Halladay distracted the team and led them to a 75-87 finish.  After Halladay was traded to the Phillies, the team didn’t add any big free agent names and even cut payroll.  It’s clear the front office doesn’t expect much this year.

Fortunately, their farm system is a little stronger.

The starting rotation is weak, and the opening day starter is Shaun Marcom, who missed the entire 2009 season with an elbow injury.  Marcom has a promising career record at 24-17, but he hasn’t pitched more than 159 innings in a season, more than 12 wins in a season or 123 strikeouts in a season.  He does not represent the ace a team needs and will have a lot of pressure due to high expectations.  Still, he has potential and will have a lot of opportunity as the Jays’ number one starter.

After Marcum are second year pitchers Ricky Romero and Marc Rzepczynski and two former relievers, Brandon Morrow and Brian Tallet.  The closer is Jason Frasor, who had 11 saves and 57 2/3 innings pitched.  The bullpen is unproven and not intimidating to opposing hitters.

At the plate, the Jays have….no one.  Well it’s not that bad, the team did score 798 runs last season but no one really scares an opposing pitcher and last season’s team was lucky at the plate.  Vernon Wells used to hit 100 RBI a season…used to.  His last decent season was 2006 and he has not played a full season without injury since 2003.  Left fielder Travis Snider is their most promising young player and has the potential to hit 20+ homers and 75+ RBI.

With a below average pitching staff, the Blue Jays will find themselves down early  and often in games and require a team that surprisingly hit 798 runs last season and added no amazing bats in the off-season to find a way to increase that offense to make up for bad pitching.

Couple that with the fact that the Jays live and work in the AL East amongst three of the best five teams in the American League (54 games against Rays, Yankees and Red Sox) and this team is headed for the basement of the division.

2010 Prediction: 66-96, 5th in AL East

Jorge Posada threw out an elbow at Toronto pitcher Jesse Carlson in the bottom of the eighth inning, sparking a bench clearing brawl that saw many punches thrown and Posada and Carlson ejected.

Carlson had retaliated for Mark Melancon hitting Aaron Hill by throwing far behind Posada.  It was clear he was trying to hit him.  Posada responded by yelling at Carlson and both benches cleared but no punches were thrown.

Next inning, after scoring on an Robinson Cano hit, Posada threw out his elbow while passing Carlson at the plate. Next thing you knew, Posada was running at Carlson, Jeter and Damon and Teixeira are in it, as well as Toronto catcher Rod Barajas and both benches clear.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi gets in it, trying to break it up, and Toronto infielder John McDonald comes around and clocks him in the side of the head.

Shelley Duncan, always in the middle of a fight, threw some punches as well.  After the two teams were separated, Carlson had a huge bump on his head and he and Posada were ejected.

Those two will definitely be suspended and/or fined and possibly Duncan and McDonald will too.  There were  several other punches thrown and there might be others as well.

Although Posada definitely tried to hit him and start a fight, Carlson didn’t have to be standing that close to Posada’s running path.  There was no chance of him making a play or anything, so why was he getting that close to Posada?  The way I see it, they share blame for the fight.

It sucks that Posada will most likely miss a few games, but as announcer Michael Kay pointed out, the championship teams of the late 90’s had a few brawls as well.  So maybe this is a good sign.

For the better part of the next three weeks the Yankees are scheduled to face all the AL East teams and barely anyone else.  Save for a make up game with the LA Angels on Sept 14, the Yankees face the AL East from August 31 to September 16.

It starts with a seven game road trip – three games in Baltimore and four in Toronto.  Then the Yanks travel back home for an extended homestand – four against Tampa Bay – including a doubleheader, three against Baltimore, the make-up game against LA and 2 versus Toronto.

Fortunately for the Bombers, neither of these teams have provided much difficulty this season.  They are 9-3  against Toronto and 9-3 against Baltimore.  They have also won 8 of their last 9 and seven straight against the Orioles; and 4 of their last 5 against the Blue Jays.

The Rays have been a little more of a challenge – the Yankees hold a slight advantage in the season series, 6-5 but the Yanks have won 4 of the last 5.

I think we can seriously expect the Bombers to take 12 of the 16 games, and considering the Angels are reeling, having lost 7 of their last 11, they can take that game as well.  That would give the Yankees a 95-52 record heading into the final 15 games of the regular season.  That would put the Yankees on pace for their first 100-win season since 2004.

In this short homestand’s last series, the New York Yankees face off against the Toronto Blue Jays in the Bronx, for a three game set just one week after a two-game set in Toronto.  The Yankees swept that series, earning a win from Andy Pettitte and Alfredo Aceves, while one of those wins came at the expense of Roy Halladay.

The Yankees are 7-2 against the Blue Jays this season and are on fire after a 4-game sweep of the Red Sox and are riding a 7-game win streak.  Toronto has won its last two, but has only managed to win 4 of their last 10.  The Yankees are 18-5 since the All-Star break, compared to the Blue Jays 9-11 record.

The Yankees really seem to be all about pitching as of late.  The pitching staff kept the Red Sox Scoreless for more then 28 innings this past weekend, allowing their great lineup only 4 runs total.

Sergio Mitre will most likely be pitching for his career tonight.  The veteran has had multiple chances in his career to make it in the big leagues but unfortunately the experience does not seem to have paid off.  In his last outing, also against the Blue Jays, he allowed 8 hits and 3 runs in 4 1/3 innings.  If he does not pitch well, I will not be surprised to see someone else brough up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Fortunately for the Yankees, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte had long outings on Saturday and Sunday, allowing the bullpen some rest.  They will most likely be needed the next two games with Mitre and Chamberlain.  (Joba Rules state that he cannot pitch more then 100 pitches, give or take.  Limiting him to 5-7 innings.)

Pitching Matchups:

Monday: LHP Marc Rzepczynski (1-3, 3.74) vs. RHP Sergio Mitre (1-0, 7.50), 7:05 p.m. YES

Tuesday: RHP Scott Richmond (6-6, 3.97) vs. RHP Joba Chamberlain (8-2, 3.73), 7:05 p.m. MY9

Wednesday: LHP Ricky Romero (10-5, 3.66) vs. RHP A.J. Burnett (10-5, 3.67), 1:05 p.m. YES

Hat tip to Peter Abraham for Pitching Matchups.

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