The Yankees were back on a roll having taken the back two to earn a split in Detroit before taking the first two across the border in Toronto. The common factor in the most recent loss and the loss before this winning streak has been Phil Hughes, who was solid the past three months before faltering in his last couple of outings.
Hughes was hit hard in the fourth inning last week in Detroit, leaving with one out and four earned runs to his credit. Sunday night was a similar story and a harsher result, as the right-hander lasted just four innings and surrendered seven earned runs.
The once-top prospect has pitched well enough to be tendered a contract in 2013 but it is unclear if he will be signed to a new deal upon entering Free Agency in the winter of 2014. This year, Hughes and Ivan Nova have demonstrated signs of brilliance and also weeks of frustration.
If the Yankees want to make the playoffs comfortably and have a chance at a serious run, one of Hughes or Nova will have to step up down the stretch and offer consistency. Yankees’ Ace CC Sabathia will miss the next two weeks and Andy Pettitte another month, so with Freddy Garcia and David Phelps being asked to offer respectable innings, the Yankees can use a reliable starter in addition to Huroki Kuroda for the next two weeks.
Regardless of today’s loss, it doesn’t overshadow the four-game winning streak preceding it. New York outslugged the Tigers 12-8, preventing a huge comeback before eventually putting the game away, then followed it up with a rollercoaster 4-3 comeback victory the following day.
Once in Toronto, New York greeted the injury-riddled Blue Jays with a rude housewarming gift in the form of a 10-4 beating. That was followed up with a tidy 5-2 victory in a game dominated by the previously embattled Nova, who pitched into the eighth inning and struck out 10 hitters.
The next 10 games can prove crucial for the AL East leaders. The Rangers come to town for a four game set of first place teams before the Yankees face the arch-rival Red Sox and then face off against the Central leading White Sox in Chicago. Though the Red Sox are not playoff caliber or even realistically in the hunt, they still always seem to bring a certain postseason atmosphere when they square off with the Yankees.
If New York can maintain a comfortable cushion through those tests, the schedule turns to the struggling Indians, the same injury-riddled Blue Jays and then the Orioles, who have begun to cool off as they have fallen into third place in the division.
Guiding through those games should decide how important a three game set will be at Tropicana Field in Tampa on September 3rd, a venue the Yankees have struggled in for the past year. The Rays are currently riding a six game winning streak and have climbed into second place.