Yankees can make dent in AL East race vs. Red Sox

The Yankees got the Red Sox-garbed monkey off their back last weekend, but still only made up one game in the AL East.

Now they have another golden chance to put a dent in the division lead this weekend in Boston — even if their lineup won’t quite resemble the one they rolled out last month at Fenway Park.

Despite missing two important bullpen arms and two starting position players due to COVID-19 coming out of the All-Star break, the Yankees have forged ahead and had won three straight entering Wednesday’s series finale with the Phillies. That included their first two wins of the season against the Red Sox over the weekend in The Bronx, after starting 0-7 against them.

The Yankees entered Wednesday seven games back of the Red Sox, but if they are going to make a run at them down the stretch, the four-game set that begins Thursday in Boston looms as crucial to that goal.

“Obviously it’s no secret who our biggest rivals are and where we’re at in the standings,” Brett Gardner said Wednesday. “Not just Boston, but obviously after that we go to Tampa for three games. We have a very, very important week and a half of baseball coming up this next road trip.”

Brett Gardner, who hit a solo homer in the Yankees' win over the Phillies Tuesday, said the next series against the Red Sox and the Rays are key for the Bombers.
Brett Gardner, who hit a solo homer in the Yankees’ win over the Phillies Tuesday, said the next two series against the Red Sox and the Rays are key for the Bombers.
Corey Sipkin

The Yankees’ three games against the Rays — who entered Wednesday just one game back of the Red Sox — will come right before the July 30 trade deadline, when they could add some pieces to aid their push for the postseason.

In the meantime, there isn’t much roster relief in sight for the Yankees — aside from Jonathan Loaisiga being the first of six players to return from the COVID-19 injured list, potentially as early as this weekend. But the patchwork roster has played a different brand of baseball since the COVID-19 outbreak — with the introduction of speed from call-ups like Greg Allen, Estevan Florial and Ryan LaMarre playing a key role in their recent success.

“These young guys realize what kind of opportunity they have,” Gardner said. “If it’s one day or one week or two weeks, even myself, we’re not guaranteed anything. … The way we’ve been playing, it would be great to keep riding that high going into this very important road trip.”

The last time the Yankees went to Boston, they had cut the division lead down to four games as winners of seven of nine, only to get swept for the second time this season by the Sox.

But the Yankees showed some fight last weekend in The Bronx, bouncing back from a series-opening loss to win the next two while holding the Red Sox to one run in each game.

“I feel like we’ve played better against them here recently right after the break,” Gardner said. “When we were there a month ago, obviously we did not play our best baseball. Feel like we’re playing much better now. Again, we know where we are in the standings and what we have to do to get to where we want to be. So we gotta go up there and play some good ball and hopefully have a productive weekend.”

Manager Aaron Boone, who declared the season on the line the day after getting swept by the Red Sox last month, insisted that every game was “important,” not just the upcoming battle in Boston.

“We gotta play well, period,” Boone said. “Today’s really important, this weekend because it’s a division opponent is maybe more important. If we’re going to finish the season where we want to be, we know we’ve got to play a really consistent brand of baseball over the last two-plus months.”

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