The Week Ahead: The Evil Empire is back

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teixeira_090920.jpgAt some point this week, the New York Yankees will officially be back.

Back in the postseason, back on top of the AL East and back on the throne as favorites to win the World Series.

It wasn’t a long hiatus, at least by the standards of mere mortals. But things are different in the Bronx, where missing the playoffs after 13 straight entries, and going two straight seasons without winning the AL East, is simply unacceptable.

So they spent large – even by their standards – in the offseason, purchasing free agent studs Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett. And what a payoff those three have turned out to be. Teixeira is at .289/.381/.566 with 37 HRs, 40 doubles and 118 RBIs. Sabathia is 18-7 with a 3.31 ERA, and Burnett is 11-9 with a 4.22 ERA.

They’ve survived the injuries and scandals of Alex Rodriguez, the up-and-down season of Joba Chamberlain, and the most brutal of divisions.

Sometime this week, as soon as they win a game (or the Texas Rangers lose one), the Yankees will clinch at least the AL wild card spot. And with a five-game lead with only 12 to play, the AL East crown isn’t far behind. This week will also be a nice preview of the playoffs, as the Yankees travel to L.A. to face the Angels, then return home to host the Red Sox.

Yes, like them or not, the Evil Empire is back.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
Yankees at Angels, Sept. 21-23:
These two teams have been the best in the AL for most of the season, and it looks like they will be the top two in the playoffs, making this a potential preview of the ALCS should everything play out to form.
Twins at White Sox, Sept. 21-23: The White Sox are just about finished as far as the playoffs go, but they can still play a big part in who wins the AL Central, playing host to first the Twins …
Tigers at White Sox, Sept. 25-27:  … then the Tigers this week. Detroit enters the week with a three-game lead over Minnesota.
Cardinals at Rockies, Sept. 25-27: Just as Colorado tightens its grip on the NL wild card spot, the Rockies get to host the powerful Cardinals at Coors Field. And though the Cardinals just about have their division sewed up, they’re still in the running for best record in the NL.
Red Sox at Yankees, Sept. 25-27: It’s the final installment of baseball’s best rivalry this season, unless these two end up facing each other in the ALCS. Boston still has a remote chance at the AL East title, as well.

ON THE TUBE
Wednesday, 10:10 p.m.: Giants at Diamondbacks (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Red Sox at Yankees (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.:  Phillies at Brewers (FOX)
Sunday, 1:05 p.m.: Red Sox at Yankees (ESPN)
Sunday, 3 p.m.: Cardinals at Rockies (TBS)
*Check local listings

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If you Twitter, you can find me there at @Bharks.

Mets leaning on Jay Bruce, Neil Walker as Lucas Duda insurance

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 12:  Pinch hitter Lucas Duda #21 of the New York Mets walks back to the dugout after striking out for the first out of the ninth inning against Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  The Dodgers won 5-0.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Mets have begun working outfielder Jay Bruce and second baseman Neil Walker at first base as potential insurance in the event Lucas Duda continues to experience back discomfort, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. Duda has been sidelined recently due to back spasms and missed all but 47 games last season as a result of a stress fracture in his lower back.

Manager Terry Collins spoke about Bruce’s work at first base on Sunday, saying, “I liked everything I saw today. “It looks like he’s got the athleticism, he’s got the hands, he’s got the arm angle. He made some throws in our drills that you wouldn’t expect an outfielder to be able to make, but yet he does. If that’s where we have to go, I think we’ll be fine.”

Bruce has only three games’ worth of experience at first base at the major league level, but still has high expectations for himself. He said, “I am going to work at it. I want to give myself a chance and the team a chance. I am not going to go over there and be a butcher. It’s just not the way I go about my business on the baseball field and it wouldn’t be fair to the team if I wasn’t capable to do it, so I am going to work at it and we’ll see what happens.”

The Mets made Bruce available via trade over the offseason but didn’t get an offer that whet their appetite. As a result, Michael Conforto appears to be the odd man out in the Mets’ crowded outfield.

Jason Kipnis diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Jason Kipnis #22 of the Cleveland Indians celebrates after scoring a run on a wild pitch thrown by Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs (not pictured) during the fifth inning in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has been diagnosed with a strained rotator cuff in his right shoulder, MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian reports. Kipnis has received a cortisone shot and will be shut down from throwing for the next four to five days.

There’s a lot of spring left, so it’s perfectly sensible for the Indians to play it safe with their star player. The club already had Kipnis on a shoulder strengthening program.

Kipnis, 29, helped the Indians to the playoffs after batting .275/.343/.469 with 23 home runs, 92 RBI, 91 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases in 688 plate appearances during the regular season last year. He then helped the Indians reach Game 7 of the World Series against the Cubs, where they were eventually stopped, as he provided a .741 OPS including four homers and eight RBI in 15 playoff games.