Singleton: Improved Phil Hughes helping TwinsThe Yankees will have to overcome a familiar face to take the series in Minnesota
Facing former teammate and Twins ace Phil Hughes on Thursday:
Hughes is pitching much better for the Twins this year than he did a year ago for the Yankees. He has done a good job of keeping the ball in the park this season, having allowed just seven home runs thus far after giving up 24 last season and 59 during his previous two seasons in the Bronx.
Hughes has been the Twins' most reliable starting pitcher in the first half of the season, with a solid 8-4 record and a respectable 3.58 ERA. During the month of June, Hughes alternated wins and losses while compiling a 3-3 month going back to his win against the Yankees on June 1st at Yankee Stadium. His last two starts, he has struggled somewhat, having allowed five earned runs to both the White Sox and Rangers. The number that really catches my attention is that he has allowed just 10 walks all season. The Yankees are going to have to hit their way on base against him.
The Yankees will counter Hughes with Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka was the winner in the only game the Yankees won in the three-game series in the Bronx against the Twins. He was dominant, to say the least: eight strong innings with nine strikeouts allowing just one unearned run, as the Yankees won 3-1. Tanaka will be looking to get back on the winning track, having lost his last two decisions despite his pitching well. Look for the dominance of Tanaka to continue.
Minnesota's offensive woes:
The Twins are not a strong-hitting team and are prone to striking out. Even three-time batting champion Joe Mauer has been having an off season, with a batting average in the .270 range and just two home runs, before heading to the DL this week.
Importance of starting pitching:
This series should give the Yankees a chance to build some momentum before moving onto Cleveland and Baltimore leading to the All-Star Break. To do so, they will need timely hitting and better starting pitching. The starters will have to try to go deeper into games.
Yankee bullpen struggles:
In the 27 games in June, the Yankees used three or more relief pitchers in a game 15 times. This type of use will wear out even the strongest of bullpens. Brian Cashman is said to be working on possible trades to obtain a starting pitcher. Plus, the Yankees have CC Sabathia returning from the disabled list in the not-too-distant future. These moves could take some of the innings load off the bullpen.
AL East lead up for grabs:
Despite a mediocre record, the Yankees find themselves in a tight race in the AL East. The only team in the division to put together even one hot streak this season has been Toronto. That's why the Blue Jays are in first place at this point in the season. Can the Yankees make a run in the second half of the season? Absolutely.
They will need players like Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano to hit like they have in past seasons, not like they have in the first half of this season. It appears it might take less than 90 wins to win the AL East this year. If the Yankees can go on a streak like Toronto did earlier this season, they can win the division.