NEW YORK — Getting above .500 has proved to be difficult for the New York Yankees.
The degree of difficulty is about become even more challenging.
The Yankees will begin a 10-game homestand against three of the best teams in the majors starting Friday night when they face the Boston Red Sox.
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The Yankees will be taking on an opponent that leads baseball in runs (490), batting average (.292), on-base percentage (.359), slugging percentage (.474), OPS (.833) and doubles (216).
And the difficulty doesn't let up after that with seven games against the first-place Baltimore Orioles and San Francisco Giants.
“It's the kind of homestand that can put you in a good position or it could put way downstairs,” right fielder Carlos Beltran told reporters during the All-Star break.
Way downstairs would be even worse deficits in the American League East and the wild-card races. The Yankees are 7 1/2 games behind the Orioles in the AL East and 5 1/2 out of the second wild card with six teams (Toronto, Houston, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City and Seattle) ahead of them.
Friday begins a stretch of seven straight games against the top two teams in the AL East.
“We're not in a great position necessarily, but if you're in this position you want to be playing a lot of games,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “That could be a really good thing.”
The Yankees have reached .500 eight times since May 24 and the latest instance might have been the least unexpected. New York ended the first half by taking three of four in Cleveland after dropping four of six in San Diego and Chicago, respectively.
The Red Sox took a 49-38 record into the break and have seemingly recovered from a June slump that dropped them out of first place. From June 14 to June 29, the Red Sox dropped 10 of 16 to fall 5 1/2 games out, but since then they have won seven of nine and concluded the first half with a 4-0 win over Tampa Bay when David Price threw eight outstanding innings and David Ortiz hit a two-run homer.
“This homestand is what we needed,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said. “Coming off a tough month of June, we gain a little momentum as we go into the break.”
Ortiz has 75 regular-season games remaining in his career and enters Friday with a .332 average, 22 home runs and 72 RBIs.
According the Elias Sports Bureau, he has the most RBIs at the break of any player 40 or older and is the second oldest player to hit 20-plus home runs in the first half.
“It's probably beyond our expectations coming into his final season,” Farrell said. “Just a powerful and impressive first half.”
Ortiz is not the only Red Sox player to post impressive numbers in the first half.
Mookie Betts is batting .408 (20-for-49) during an 11-game hitting streak, the sixth Red Sox with a hitting streak of at least 10 games this season. Dustin Pedroia is batting .315 (23-for-73) during his current 18-game on-base streak and Hanley Ramirez is hitting .408 (20-for-49) in his last 14 games since June 22.
Michael Pineda (3-8, 5.38 ERA) has personified inconsistency at various points this season and will open the second half for New York.
Pineda had a 2.75 ERA in six June starts but began July by allowing five runs and five hits in six innings during a 5-0 loss at Chicago on July 6. It marked the sixth time he allowed at least five runs, and it is one less than the amount of starts that Pineda has gotten at least eight strikeouts.
Pineda is 4-4 with a 4.50 ERA in nine career starts against the Red Sox. On April 30 in an 8-0 loss at Fenway Park, Pineda allowed two runs and five hits in five innings. On May 6 in New York, he gave up two runs and eight hits in six innings of a 3-2 win.
If pitching to Boston's offense isn't challenging enough, hitting against knuckleballer Steven Wright might only add to the difficulty for the Yankees. Wright (10-5, 2.68 ERA) took a shutout into the ninth inning and pitched a three-hitter in two hours and 20 minutes on May 8 in New York.
Wright is 3-1 with a 1.33 ERA in four outings (three starts) against the Yankees. He went into the break with straight wins despite allowing a combined nine earned runs and 17 hits in 11 innings against the Angels and Texas Rangers.