Opposite dugout: Yankees still atop AL East behind high-powered offense and good enough pitching

yankees-logo.jpgManager: Joe Girardi (8th season)

Record: 32-25

Last 10 games: 7-3

Who to watch: DH Alex Rodriguez (.280/.386/.522 with 11 HR, 28 RBIs), LF Brett Gardner (.278/.355/.438 with 26 RBIs), C Brian McCann (.255 with 9 HR, 35 RBIs), 1B Mark Teixeira (17 HR and 45 RBIs), RHP Masahiro Tanaka (3-1, 2.76 ERA), LHP Andrew Miller (17 saves, 1.04 ERA)

Season series vs. Nationals: 0-2

Pitching probables:

June 9: RHP Max Scherzer vs. RHP Masahiro Tanaka, 7:05 p.m., MASN
June 10: TBA vs. RHP Nathan Eovaldi, 1:05 p.m., MASN

Inside the Yankees:

The Yankees are back on top of the American League East and all is right in the world of baseball as far as The Bronx is concerned. After falling short of the postseason for the past two seasons, the Yankees are showing that they are, once again, a force to be reckoned with. Winners of six straight, they have the best record in the American League of any team not in the Central Division.

Joe Girardi has his team playing at a level not many thought they could this season. With Alex Rodriguez returning from suspension, a weak starting rotation, and a lack of youth and depth, the Yankees were supposed to give way to the Orioles and Blue Jays in the division this season. Yet here we are more than a quarter of the way through 2015 and the men in pinstripes are 16-13 against their division rivals and sitting in first place.

Is it any surprise that the Bronx Bombers are led by their bats? The Yankees are second in the majors in RBIs and third in runs scored and home runs with 74 on the year. That offensive power makes up for their lack of consistency. While New York's .419 slugging percentage is fourth-best in the majors and secon- best in the AL, the Yanks only hit for a .248 average and a .318 on-base percentage, both barely cracking the top 10 in the league. Their power will be put to the test as the Nationals pitching staff is third-best in the majors with only 41 home runs allowed.

The Yankees' pitching isn't that great outside of lefty closer Andrew Miller, but it's better than predicted before the season. Miller is lights-out with a 1.04 ERA to go with 17 saves, second-most in the AL. However, two of Miller's only three runs given up this season came off Ryan Zimmerman's two-run walk-off home run on May 19. The Yanks have a slightly above-average team ERA of 3.73 (the AL average is 3.84) and are in the top five in the AL in strikeouts and walks. Their 3.22 strikeout-to-walk ratio is also third in the AL (493 strikeouts to 153 walks).

It shouldn't be a surprise that A-Rod is the big name leading the Yankees, but it sort of is, considering he missed all of last season. Rodriguez is slashing .280/.386/.522 with 11 homers and 28 RBIs while appearing in all but three games so far, mostly as the designated hitter. First baseman Mark Teixeira eclipses Rodriguez with 17 home runs and 45 RBIs, but isn't as consistent at the plate, batting only .237. Meanwhile, left fielder Brett Gardner is posting a .278/.355/.438 line and has driven in 26 runs, while catcher Brian McCann is hitting .255 and has smacked nine homers and driven in 35 runs. So these Yankees look like the Yankees of old: getting offense from all over their lineup.

An All-Star as a rookie last year, right-hander Masahiro Tanaka will start the first game of this two-game series at Yankee Stadium. Tanaka threw seven innings and struck out nine in a win over the Seattle Mariners last week, his first start after coming off the disabled list with a strained right forearm and right wrist tendinitis. Although he is 3-1, he has only started five games this season due to his stint on the DL. Tanaka has never faced the Nationals, but is 3-1 with a 1.53 ERA in interleague games during his young career.

Right-hander Nathan Eovaldi will finish this short series and has a 5-1 record in 11 starts. His 4.16 ERA is nothing to brag about, but he has struck out 46 batters. Although Eovaldi is 9-18 in his career at home, he is 3-0 at Yankee Stadium. The former Dodger and Marlin has faced the Nats in eight previous starts, going 2-4 with a 5.32 ERA. That includes a start at Nationals Park on May 19 when he went 4 1/3 innings, giving up seven hits and five runs while walking two and striking out five. He gave up two first-inning home runs to Ian Desmond and Bryce Harper while getting a no-decision in the Yankees' 8-6 walk-off loss.

The Nationals won the first series between these two teams this season behind a dramatic walk-off homer and a strong performance by Jordan Zimmermann (seven innings, five hits, two runs, one walk and six strikeouts on May 20). The Yankees avoid Zimmermann this time around, but face an equal, if not tougher, challenge in ace Max Scherzer. The Yankees own the only season sweep between these teams back in 2012, and they will have to fight through the Nats pitching with their big bats if they are to avoid being swept themselves.

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