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Yankees' Path to Division Title Has Entered Focus

The Yankees (85-56) control their destiny over the final three-plus weeks of the regular season as they look to hold off a late push from the Rays and Blue Jays.
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A second-half spiral had the Yankees hearing footsteps in the standings for the first time in months. 

With each passing week, the number of games between New York and the second-place Rays had decreased. Meanwhile, the Yankees’ injury counter and amount of slammed tables on 161st street had gone in the other direction. 

That in mind, this past series against Tampa Bay at Yankee Stadium over the weekend was pivotal. Lose the series or get swept and the Yankees would've been clinging to first in the AL East by a minuscule margin. Take care of business and those in pinstripes could exhale just a bit, moving forward with more of a cushion. 

After a loss in Game 1 on Friday night, New York’s lead over the Rays shrunk to just 3.5 games, the smallest its been since May 9. The surging Blue Jays weren't too far behind either. 

That’s when the bats woke up in a big way, looking like the club that routinely blew out their opponents in the first half. 

Over the next two afternoons, the Yankees dropped 20 total runs, including 17 within the first two innings. New York rattled off seven straight singles to knock Corey Kluber out of the game on Saturday in the first inning, sending the two-time Cy Young Award winner back to the lab for reprogramming. The next day, after a lengthy rain delay, New York slugged to another blowout victory with Giancarlo Stanton, Oswaldo Cabrera and Gleyber Torres (two times) each leaving the yard. 

By taking two of three, the Yankees clinched the season series against the Rays, winning 11 of 19. That gives New York the tiebreaker should these two teams finish the regular season in a tie for first place. New York is 9-7 against Toronto this year with one more series across the border to play later this month. 

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With 21 regular season games left, this race is far from over. New York is still limping through September (with a grand total of 15 players on the injured list) and even if the Rays finish the year with a tough schedule, you can’t count out that pesky team until they’re mathematically out of contention. Same goes for the Jays. 

For New York, the next three-plus weeks feature some series with sub-.500 clubs. The Yankees play the Red Sox six more times (beginning on Tuesday night in Boston), the Pirates twice and they finish the regular season with four games against the Rangers down in Arlington.

As manager Aaron Boone always says, the Yankees hold the pen. New York can build momentum and improve as some of their injured assets return—Harrison Bader, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton and more are on rehab assignments—or they can revert to their debilitating tendencies, detrimental to the cause. 

If the Yankees can win 15 of these final 21 games, they’ll finish with 100 wins for the first time since 2019. Playing well from here on out will put them in position to do some damage in the postseason, giving them an opportunity to regroup while other clubs battle it out in the Wild Card round as well.

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