Jul 18, 2014; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher David Phelps (41) pitches against the Cincinnati Reds during the first inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Yankees Have a Lot to Prove Against Last-Place Rangers

Who are these Yankees? That question may be answered by the end of the week.

The injuries — as plentiful as they’ve been — simply are what they are. At the start of the season, the Yankees didn’t plan on heading into a four-game set in July with a rotation of Shane Greene, Chase Whitley, David Phelps and Brandon McCarthy. But that’s where they stand right now.

Fortunately, despite all the injuries, the Yankees also stand just three games behind the Orioles for first place in the American League East heading into Monday’s series opener with the last-place Rangers.

At 50-47, the Yankees have been toeing the line at .500 for much of the season. So what can fans expect from the team the rest of the way? Well, this four-game series should answer a lot of those questions. If the Yankees are going to be legitimate World Series contenders in a few months, they need to separate themselves from the rest of the crop of .500 teams in baseball.

In order to separate themselves, they need to prove without a doubt that they are better than the bottom of the barrel, and right now, the Rangers are scraping the bottom of that barrel. A perennially-great AL team, the Rangers have fallen on hard times. They are the only Major League team yet to reach 40 wins, and are in dead last in the best division in baseball — 22 games behind the A’s in the AL West entering Monday.

The Rangers are second-to-last in team ERA at 4.93, and their pitching staff has given up the most hits in the Majors with a league-worst .287 batting average against and 1.51 WHIP. If the Yankees are going to get the middle of the order going for the long haul, now is the time. The Yankees will face Miles Mikolas (0-2, 10.05 ERA) and Nick Martinez (1-6, 5.10 ERA), two young right-handers with only a handful of big league starts between them. And after seeing Yu Darvish on Wednesday in a matchup with Phelps (arguably the Yankees’ most reliable option this season), they will face Colby Lewis and his 6.37 ERA. Just two starts ago, Lewis gave up 11 earned runs in 2 1/3 innings. Lewis’ last time out? He labored through five innings and complained to the media about Colby Rasmus bunting against the shift on him. It’s pretty clear that the Yankees offense has no excuses this week.

The Texas offense is around the middle of the pack, even ranked ahead of the Yankees in most major categories, but with Prince Fielder on the disabled list, Alex Rios questionable for much of the upcoming series and Shin-Soo Choo hitting .236, their lineup isn’t very intimidating outside of Adrian Beltre. The motley crew of Greene, Whitley, Phelps and McCarthy has been strong of late, and they can easily have their way with this Rangers lineup.

While separating themselves from the pack and beating bad teams is an obvious must, winning games at home is equally as important. The Yankees have 29 road wins entering this series — only the Dodgers have more with 30 — but are just 21-23 at Yankee Stadium. They got the job done against the Reds this past weekend, but will need to keep it up throughout this homestand.

It’s been an up-and-down season for the Yanks thus far, but the Yankees and their fans will know a lot more about the team at the end of this series and the end of this homestand. Taking three out of four games from the Rangers is a must. Anything less than that, and there’s no reason to believe that the Yankees are anything more than what they’ve been — a .500 team.

Tags: Editorial New York Yankees Series Preview

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