For Yanks, weekend series with Red Sox big

May 5th, 2016

BALTIMORE -- The New York Yankees have now played all their opponents in the always-tough American League East, and they go home to face the Boston Red Sox for a three-game set again this weekend.

Coming off a 2-7 road trip, it's not as if the Yankees have reached critical mass, but the schedule doesn't get any easier. The rest of the 10-game Yankee Stadium homestand includes four games against the defending World Series champion Royals and three against the upstart White Sox.

It's a chance for the Bombers to make up some ground after concluding the trip at Camden Yards on Thursday night with a very tough 1-0 loss to the Orioles in 10 innings and an 9-17 record.

"No doubt, after this, it's needless to say how important it is for us to go home and put up some wins," said Masahiro Tanaka, whose eight-inning, five-hit, seven-strikeout effort went for naught against the O's.

The rival Red Sox swept a three-game set from the Yanks last weekend at Fenway Park, and they continue to create unique problems for the pinstripes. They have their young outfield, veterans David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, a new No. 1 starter in David Price, and one of the best closers in the game in Craig Kimbrel.

Ortiz, in his final season, continued to rock the Yankees. He went 5-for-11 with two homers and three RBIs, including the game-winning blast on the first pitch from Dellin Betances in the eighth inning on Friday night.

Ortiz now has 49 of his 509 homers against the Yanks, and 14 of them either won the game or gave the Red Sox the lead.

The Yankees go into the weekend series 4-8 against the other four teams in their own division. Their closer, Andrew Miller, also has played in the heat of it for the Red Sox and Orioles.

"Competition in the division is the usual," said Miller, who pitched to one batter in the 10th inning Thursday, the O's winning on a Pedro Alvarez sacrifice fly. "We're not off to the start we wanted to, but it's a long season for a reason.

"Whether it's breaks or a team going on the longest run, whoever survives this division is going to have earned it. It's a gauntlet, and we're going to fight like hell for us to be that team."

The Red Sox lead the division and are in lock step with the Orioles. The Yanks are already seven games out.

Boston made major improvements in the offseason, signing Price to a seven-year, $217 million contract and obtaining Kimbrel from San Diego in a Nov. 14 trade for four Minor Leaguers.

"Sure, they're improved," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Any time you add an ace, it changes your rotation a lot. And any time you add a closer, it just makes your bullpen a lot deeper. So you'd think it would be fairly significant."

Even though the Yanks beat up on Price for six runs on eight hits in seven innings this past Sunday, the big left-hander was credited with his fourth win. Kimbrel pitched clean ninth innings on Friday and Sunday nights to earn a pair of saves in the series.

The Yankees go into the series with Alex Rodriguez and his 692 career homers on the disabled list because of a strained right hamstring. Brett Gardner is hobbled by a sore right elbow courtesy of a pitch thrown by Dylan Bundy on Wednesday night. Gardner was limited to a 10th-inning pinch-runner assignment on Thursday night and stole a base.

A couple of solid starts by CC Sabathia and Tanaka -- neither of whom will pitch this weekend -- to finish the O's series was a window into what the Yankees are capable of accomplishing, and the Yanks have to build on that as they face their toughest, oldest rival and division foe this weekend.

"Well, yeah, we pitched well," Girardi said. "But we have to get more consistent offensively."

Yankees fans would say amen to that.