May 31, 2013; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees bench coach Tony Pena (56) shakes the hand of relief pitcher Mariano Rivera (42) after the save against Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

Series Preview: Cleveland Indians @ New York Yankees

And here we go again. After struggling through a stretch that included the Tigers, Red Sox, Reds, and Rays, the Indians will try their hand at another legitimate contender. This time around, it is the New York Yankees. (Nick Houghtaling and I made an appearance on the Yanks Go Yard podcast last night to preview this series. You can listen to it here —>Yanks Go Yard Podcast.)

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees come into play tonight sitting in third place in the AL East behind the surprising Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles. It’s a bit ironic in that many believed that this would finally be the year that the Yankees and Red Sox both hit rock bottom. Unfortunately for the baseball world, neither team has showed much interest in acting out that narrative. Instead, 2013 is playing out much like the past decade has in the AL East, with both Boston and New York fighting for the top spot.

However, that doesn’t make it any less surprising considering all the Yankees have been forced to deal with this season. For starters, their disabled list could put most regular lineups to shame both in terms of star power and salary. With the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, among others, the Yankees have somehow found a way to remain competitive.

Part of that is a credit to the work of Brian Cashman, who has once again found a way to assemble a nice set of complimentary parts that have worked well together. In an effort to curb the excessive spending practices of year’s past, Cashman went almost the bargain bin route in assebmbling this team. One look at the roster and you would swear he was trying to assemble an all-star team from 2005. Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay, Jayson Nix, Travis Hafner. The list just goes on an on.

That also plays into the second part of all of this – The Yankee Mystique. It’s hard to explain, but putting on those pinstripes just seems to make guys play better. How else do you explain the career resurgence of Wells? How else do you begin to explain how this roster has kept pace in the AL East when there is a team ahead of them in the Red Sox more than capable of pulling away and three teams behind them who may be more talented? It’s unbelievable, really.

With all of that said, this may be when the luck begins to run out. The Yankees come into tonight’s game having gone 3-7 in their last 10 games. To make matters worse, the normally explosive Yankees tout a run differential of only +5. That is the lowest run differential of any team in the thick of things in the American League. The Yankees are a team the Indians have struggle with historically, so for once they might be catching the Yankees at the perfect time.

Pitching Match-ups:

In terms of pitching match-ups, two things are very clear. The Indians have the edge in game one with Masterson taking on Pettitte. Masterson has been lights out this season and to expect him to do anything less than dominate for seven innings seems unlikely. Meanwhile, the Yankees have the edge in game three with Sabathia vs. Kluber. Kluber is what he is, a middling back end of the rotation starter, if that. Sabathia on the other hand is a legitimate ace, as we all know. He is coming off of a spectacular start his first time out and looks to be getting back on track.

As for the second game, it’s the biggest toss up for this series. Scott Kazmir is more than capable of turning in a dominant pitching performance. He is also capable of lasting only four inning and forcing the bullpen into a long relief situation. If he is on top of his game, it’s no contest, the Indians can and should win, but if he’s not, look out. As for the Yankees’ David Phelps, we saw what he is capable of first hand when he went toe to toe with Masterson a few weeks ago. Can he replicate that performance? It’s tough to say. Phelps has struggled of late so who knows what the Yankees can expect to get out of him. Regardless, this looks like an interesting matchup that could provide an entertaining game.

Player Watch: Yankees

Mariano Rivera: Rivera is set to retire at the end of the season. This is the last time we will see the Yankees this year unless we meet up in the playoffs. With that in mind, take the time to enjoy one of the all-time greats should he get a chance to close out a game sometime over the next three days.

Player to Watch: Indians

Michael Brantley: Brantley just continues to be a solid player for the Indians both offensively and defensively. Looks for him to continue his hot play in New York. His professional approach has made him lethal, especially in high leverage positions with the game on the line. He’s much better than what many give him credit for.

Tags: Alex Rodriguez C. C. Sabathia Cleveland Indians Derek Jeter Justin Masterson Mariano Rivera New York Yankees

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