It is getting awfully tight in the AL East
After playing .500 ball (3-3) on their trip to Kansas City and Baltimore, the Yankees got off to a strong start on the next to last homestand of the season. A 5-3 victory over the Blue Jays kept the Yankees 3 1/2 games behind the Orioles for the second wild card playoff berth and also moved them to 5 1/2 games of first place in the American League East.
That is still a lot of ground to make up with 26 games remaining in the regular season, but all but three of them are against teams in their own division, including six against the Blue Jays, whose hold on first place is teetering. The Red Sox, who had a late afternoon game at San Diego, were in position to tie Toronto for the division lead, and the Orioles are only two games back. It is getting tight in the division in the final month.
After doing the near impossible by failing to get a single extra-base hit in three games over the weekend at hitter-friendly Camden Yards, the Yankees broke out of that spell Monday at Yankee Stadium.
Jacoby Ellsbury ended the 27-inning, 89-at-bat extra-base hitless streak with a two-run home run in the first inning off knuckleballer R.A. Dickey that erased a 1-0 Yankees deficit. That was the first of three hits in the game for Ellsbury, who did not start in Sunday’s series finale at Baltimore.
Rookie first baseman Tyler Austin doubled leading off the third and scored on a one-out single by Ellsbury. Austin got another double with two out in the fourth, and that one sent home two runners and essentially ended the day for Dickey, who got the final out that inning but did not return for the fifth.
The return of extra-base power provided sufficient support for Masahiro Tanaka, who improved his record to 12-4. Although he told reporters after the game that he did not have his best stuff, Tanaka allowed only two runs over 6 1/3 innings. He did give up seven hits and three walks, but the Blue Jays were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position against him and 2-for-9 for the game.
Toronto also ran into some outs. Catcher Gary Sanchez threw out Melvin Upton Jr. trying to steal second base in the fourth. Jose Bautista inexplicably tried to go from first to third on a single to left by Edwin Encarnacion the next inning and was easy prey for Brett Gardner for the third out.
The Yankees sweated through the seventh inning when the Jays loaded the bases on three walks, one by Tanaka and two by rookie Jonathan Holder. Encarnacion’s third hit of the game was a single to right off another rookie, Ben Heller, that scored two runs. Tommy Layne, the Yanks’ fourth pitcher of the inning, prevented further damage by retiring pinch hitter Russell Martin on an infield fly.
Tyler Clippard retired the side in order in the eighth, and Dellin Betances did the same in the ninth for his ninth save in 10 tries since becoming the closer July 31. Betances has allowed only two earned runs in 30 1/3 innings (0.59 ERA) at the Stadium this year.
In 21 appearances since the All-Star break, Betances has given up two earned runs in 22 innings (0.82 ERA) with eight hits allowed, 10 walks and 34 strikeouts. He leads major-league relievers in K’s with 114. Betances led all relievers in strikeouts the previous two seasons with 131 last year and 135 in 2014. This is the first season in Yankees history in which three pitchers had at least nine saves apiece. Andrew Miller, now with the Indians, also had nine, and Aroldis Chapman, now with the Cubs, had 20.
Three walks were unusual for Tanaka, considering that he walked only one batter total in six August starts covering 39 innings. The Japanese righthander is 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA over his past six starts and has won five consecutive decisions for the first time since May 25 through June 17, 2014. Tanaka, who has a career record of 6-3 with a 2.34 ERA against the Blue Jays, is 4-1 with a 2.14 ERA in nine starts totaling 59 innings against AL East clubs this year.
The Yankees have scored exactly five runs in five of their past seven games and nine of 15 since Aug. 20.