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It started May 7 and doesn’t end for at least three weeks.  In fact, one could argue that it doesn’t even end for nearly 5 weeks.  For the first 20 games of this stretch, which started this weekend, the Yankees began what is looking like the toughest part of their schedule all season – from May 7 to May 27.

To start off, the Yankees will have to play 20 games during those 21 days, with the only day off coming on Monday May 24.  The worst part, however, is the opposition they are scheduled to face.  Boston, Detroit, Minnesota, Boston, Tampa Bay, NY Mets and Minnesota – all of which having winning records or are the Boston Red Sox.

May 7-9 @ Boston – The Yankees routed the first two games of the series 10-3 and 14-3, before being routed themselves in the Sunday night game, 9-3.  The Yankees are 4-2 against Boston this season in the 6 games they’ve played, all at Fenway Park.

May 10-13 @ Detroit – The Yankees lost the first game of the series, 5-4 on a night that long-time Tigers announcer Ernie Harwell was memorialized after succumbing to cancer last week.  The Yankees send troubled pitcher Javier Vasquez to the mound Tuesday night, high-flying youngster Phil Hughes to the mound on Wednesday night and ace CC Sabathia on Thursday night.  Vasquez skipped his last scheduled start (Friday in Boston) to get some bullpen work in and calm some nerves.  Yankee fans have been pretty hard on him this season for his poor play.  Hughes and Sabathia have been dominating this season, going 4-0 and 4-1 respectively.  Taking the next three in a row would be nice and is very possible, but I would be content with the Bombers leaving Detroit after going 2-2 against the Tigers.  Either way, they should have some momentum built up heading into the weekend series with Minnesota.

May 14-16 vs Minnesota - The Twins sit atop the AL Central at 21-11 and appear to be the third best team in the majors after the Rays and Yankees.  They are tough offensively and are much stronger than the team that the Yankees dominated last season.  This will be a tough series for the Bombers, especially considering the scheduled pitchers are AJ Burnett, who’s always volatile, Andy Pettitte, who’s coming off arm stiffness, and Vasquez, who will be hearing some loud boos if he doesn’t play excellent.

At this point the Yankees will have played 10 straight days – meaning that the Bombers would have most likely scheduled a day off for aging infielders Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in order to rest them up for the next 10 games.

May 17-18 vs Boston – Boston maybe struggling this season with a 17-16 record as of Monday May 10, but it isn’t because of their hitting like most everyone thought it would be – it’s because of their pitching.  Surprisingly, the Sox are the fourth highest-scoring team in baseball this season.  The problem is they happen to have allowed the third most runs this season too, for a minus 11 run differential.  Still any series against the Sox is tough.

May 19-20 vs Tampa Bay – No doubt this is the strongest team in baseball this season and they are accomplishing it with much less talent then teams like the Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies have.  Fortunately, the Yankees have had this team’s number lately, having beaten them 2 out of 3 this season and 9 of 13 dating back to the mid-point of last season.

May 21-23 @ NY Mets - The Mets have had their ups and downs this season but have been mostly up the last couple of weeks.  Games between these two can hardly be called home or away games since the two team’s stadiums sit less than 20 miles apart.

May 24 – That one off-day…But can it really be called an off-day when you have to travel to Minnesota?

May 25-27 @ Minnesota – Previewing a series almost 3 weeks away is pointless.  Just imagine I copied and pasted the description from their previous series in this place.

However, it doesn’t stop here.  Without another day off, the Yankees will face off at home against the Cleveland Indians for a 4 game Memorial Day Weekend series (May 28-31), division rival Baltimore for three games (June 1-3), and finally wrapping it up in Toronto from June 4-6.

In case you lost count, that’s 30 games in 32 days, with 23 of those 30 games coming against teams with winning records.

Whew.

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If I had been born and raised in Maryland instead of just living here the past twelve years, I’d be rooting for the team I’m writing a preview of: the Baltimore Orioles.

Twelve straight losing seasons has taken a hit on the once-proud franchise and its fan base. With their glorious stadium opening in 1992, things looked promising with their marquee shortstop-turned-3B superstar Cal Ripken, the Orioles were the team to beat in the AL East in the early 1990s — until Peter Angelos bought the team. Since then, nothing has gone right except for the ability for the team to get high draft picks, and it will pay off dividends this season.

Offense: Angelos finally did something decent and brought in Andy MacPhail to clean up the franchise, and in the years since, I’ve seen the Orioles become a decent team to watch every time I visit Camden Yards. There are several stars on the team to keep an eye out for. The first is Adam Jones. Jones has shown improvement during his first two years in Baltimore. If he stays healthy in 2010 we could see big things from Jones atop the Orioles lineup.

With their No. 7 pick in the 2003 draft the Orioles selected Nick Markakis. Markakis had a stellar 2008. 2009 was an all-around down year for him. It’s unlikely Markakis will have an off season again, so he should anchor the middle of the lineup.

The star of the future is catcher Matt Wieters. When drafted in 2007, he didn’t play until 2008 and that season earned him the top spot in Baseball America’s Top 100 for 2009. The Orioles opened him in AAA but called him up after 163 PA, installing him as their primary catcher. He hit well, though he didn’t quite live up to the considerable hype surrounding him. Watch for him to break out in a big way this season.

Last but not least, Luke Scott is another player to watch. He will primarily fit into the DH role while serving as a back-up outfielder.

Pitching: Admittedly, the pitching rotation is pretty poor for the Orioles, with such young arms. To combat that, the Orioles traded for Kevin Millwood to give them a veteran presence on the mound and in the clubhouse. The O’s have Jeremy Guthrie right behind Millwood to offer a decent 1-2 punch. There are other pitchers to keep an eye on.

One is Brad Bergesen, a fourth-round pick in 2004 and a high school teammate of Phil Hughes,  made great strides in 2008, leading to his call-up in 2009. A comebacker off the shin cut short his 2009 season, but Bergesen has looked good this spring and will slot in behind Guthrie.

The No. 4 overall pick in 2008, Brad Matusz signed late and missed the minor league season. His first full professional season was 2009 and he cracked the Major League rotation. He features an above average fastball, curveball, and slider, and is working on improving his changeup.

The bullpen doesn’t appear strong at all. With Chris Ray gone Jim Johnson will assume the primary setup role. He was excellent in 2008, throwing 68.2 innings and posting a 2.23 ERA. Behind him Mark Hendrickson will be the long man and Koji Uehara will slot in somewhere once he comes back from his hamstring issues.

Prediction: They are at least better than the Blue Jays, but not ready to contend yet. They have two potential top of the rotation arms in the rotation to start the year and then have another who nearly cracked the Opening Day rotation. Beyond that their # 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8 prospects are all pitchers. If they head into next season with Matusz, Bergesen, and Tillman with one or two of those prospects in tow, we could see big things in 2011. As for 2010, unless something big goes wrong that the O’s will climb out of the AL East cellar and finish ahead of the Jays. The Orioles have better hitting and better pitching in the current talent column, and really they have better future talent as well.

81-83, Fourth Place

In the very first live game I watched in Taiwan, Andy Pettitte was overpowering, retiring his first 20 batters before an error spoiled both his perfect game and no-hit bid, as the Yankees defeated the Orioles 5-1.

With the win tonight, Pettitte passed Lefty Gomez for third place on the all-time Yankees wins list with No. 190. Pettitte also improved to 50-19 career in August. His .724 August win percentage stands third best all-time.

Pettitte was ready to finish the seventh without allowing a baserunner, but Jerry Hairston let a two-out grounder slip through his legs for an error.

With his 190th victory with New York, a number bested by only Hall of Famers Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231), Pettitte allowed one run and two hits, struck out eight and walked none to improve to 4-0 in his last seven starts. Brian Bruney gave up a walk and a single in the ninth before Mariano Rivera got two outs for his 37th save — and career-best 33rd in a row.

Baltimore starter Jeremy Guthrie allowed two runs and four hits in six innings. Nick Swisher led off the third with his 22nd homer. New York used successive doubles by Robinson Cano and Swisher to make it 2-0 in the fourth.The Yankees pulled away with a three-run eighth that featured an RBI single by Johnny Damon and a two-run double by Robinson Cano.

AJ Burnett takes the mound on Tuesday night at 7:05pm. It was a good game for me to watch this morning — remember there’s a twelve hour difference between Taiwan and the east coast in the U.S.

For the better part of the next three weeks the Yankees are scheduled to face all the AL East teams and barely anyone else.  Save for a make up game with the LA Angels on Sept 14, the Yankees face the AL East from August 31 to September 16.

It starts with a seven game road trip – three games in Baltimore and four in Toronto.  Then the Yanks travel back home for an extended homestand – four against Tampa Bay – including a doubleheader, three against Baltimore, the make-up game against LA and 2 versus Toronto.

Fortunately for the Bombers, neither of these teams have provided much difficulty this season.  They are 9-3  against Toronto and 9-3 against Baltimore.  They have also won 8 of their last 9 and seven straight against the Orioles; and 4 of their last 5 against the Blue Jays.

The Rays have been a little more of a challenge – the Yankees hold a slight advantage in the season series, 6-5 but the Yanks have won 4 of the last 5.

I think we can seriously expect the Bombers to take 12 of the 16 games, and considering the Angels are reeling, having lost 7 of their last 11, they can take that game as well.  That would give the Yankees a 95-52 record heading into the final 15 games of the regular season.  That would put the Yankees on pace for their first 100-win season since 2004.

Burnett won his fourth straight decision and Nick Swisher had a big game with his bat and glove, leading New York over the Baltimore Orioles 6-4 on Wednesday for its sixth consecutive victory.

Jorge Posada homered and drove in two runs, Alex Rodriguez had an RBI single and Rivera threw a called third strike past Aubrey Huff to convert his 24th consecutive save and 28th in 29 chances this season.

Swisher capped the early outburst with a two-run single and made three fine plays in right field, making up for a third-inning error. Swisher missed Roberts’ fly ball for a two-base error to start the third. But with runners at second and third, Burnett struck out Huff before Swisher ran down Ty Wigginton’s drive into the right-field corner.

Derek Jeter got New York started with a leadoff double, and Posada’s RBI double in the eighth made it 6-2. It appeared the four-run cushion would provide Rivera with a well-deserved rest, but Bruney couldn’t close it out after fanning his first two hitters. Bruney allowed two straight homers in the ninth to Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. Then Rivera entered.

Burnett took a four-hit shutout into the seventh.

Phil Hughes worked a scoreless eighth that included a strikeout and a double-play grounder

The Yanks welcome Oakland to town and the return of the G-Man. It will be the Big C as Sabathia takes the mound for the Bombers at 7:05 pm tonight.

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