After missing the postseason the last two years, the AL East-leading New York Yankees appear poised to return.
If the Seattle Mariners are to turn around a disappointing season, they must find a way to string together some victories.
The Mariners can start by continuing their recent success at Yankee Stadium on Friday night.
Prior to the season, Seattle (41-48), not New York, was considered a more serious playoff contender. However, a resurgent Alex Rodriguez, an All-Star effort from Brett Gardner and a dependable bullpen that leads the majors with 316 strikeouts have helped the Yankees (48-40) build a 3 1/2-game lead in a division where last-place Boston is only 6 1/2 out.
They’ve done so while Jacoby Ellsbury (knee) missed almost two months and closer Andrew Miller (forearm) a month.
"I’m pretty pleased with where we’re at," manager Joe Girardi told MLB’s official website.
The Mariners can’t say the same after being tabbed one of the favorites to win the West, or at least contend for a wild-card spot. Instead, Seattle is fourth in the division – 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Los Angeles Angels – with the second-worst mark in the AL.
Seattle hasn’t posted a winning streak longer than four games and has alternated losses and wins in its last 11.
"We haven’t really gotten on a streak, haven’t gotten on a roll," third baseman Kyle Seager said. "We’ll win a game, lose a game, win a game, lose a game. It’s hard to make up ground that way."
Ranked near the bottom of the majors in runs (3.5 per game), batting (.236) and on-base percentage (.296), the Mariners were outscored 15-6 while being swept by New York in a three-game home set last month. Masahiro Tanaka (5-3, 3.63 ERA) allowed a run and three hits with nine strikeouts and no walks in a 3-1 victory in the series finale June 3.
The right-hander is 2-0 with a 1.69 ERA at Seattle but now faces the Mariners for the first time in the Bronx, where they’ve won five in a row. Seattle can match the franchise’s longest regular-season winning streak at Yankee Stadium with a victory Friday, having previously won six straight there on two occasions from 2000-03.
New York, however, has won 16 of 22 at home.
Tanaka ended a four-start winless streak last Thursday when he yielded one earned run and two hits in 7 2-3 innings of a 6-2 victory over Oakland. He had a 7.88 ERA in his previous three outings.
All-Star Nelson Cruz is batting .308 with 21 homers and 53 RBIs, but he’s 0 for 9 with four strikeouts against Tanaka. Former Yankee Robinson Cano’s lone hit in seven at-bats against him left the park.
Bothered by stomach issues dating back to last summer, Cano is hitting a career-low .251 with six homers and 30 RBIs. He’s struck out 64 times in 86 games after fanning 68 times in 2014.
Rookie Mike Montgomery (4-3, 2.29) has been a pleasant surprise for the Mariners, though he’ll need to rebound after allowing five runs and eight hits over five-plus innings of a 7-3 loss to the Angels last Friday in his eighth career start. In his major league debut June 2, Montgomery gave up a run in six innings of a 5-3, 11-inning loss to the Yankees.
Gardner doubled and walked against Montgomery that day and has hit .398 in his last 22 games.
Rodriguez has hit three of his 18 homers in his last six contests.