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.

If the Tigers are sub-.500 at the end of June it’ll be fire sale time

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Jon Morosi reports that that the Detroit Tigers will make all veterans available via trade if they’re still under .500 by the end of June.

This was the position they entered the offseason with — everyone is available! — but they ended up gearing up for one more push with the core of veterans they currently employ. It was not a bad move, I don’t think. With the exception of the Indians, the AL Central is mostly down, or at least appeared to be over the winter, with the Royals in decline and the Twins and White Sox seemingly a few years away from contention. The Twins, however, have been fantastic and the Tigers have mostly underachieved.

So we’re back to this. Which veterans the Tigers can reasonably unload, however, is an open question. J.D. Martinez is in his walk year, so while tradable, he may not bring back a big return. Guys like Justin Upton, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera either have very large contracts or no-trade protection.

The end of June is still a while from now, of course, and while the Tigers are under .500, they’re only 4.5 games behind the Twins. But they had better turn it around or else it sounds like the front office is going to turn the page.

Must-Click Link: Remembering Eddie Grant the first major leaguer to die in combat

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As you get ready for Memorial Day weekend and whatever it entails for you and yours, take some time to read an excellent article from Mike Bates over at The Hardball Times.

The article is about Eddie Grant. You probably never heard of him. He was a journeyman infielder — often a backup — from 1905 through 1915. If you have heard of him, it was likely not for his baseball exploits, however: it was because he was the first active baseball player to die in combat, killed in the Battle of the Argonne Forest in October 1915.

Michael tells us about more than Grant’s death, however. He provides a great overview of his life and career. And notes that Grant didn’t even have to go to war if he didn’t want to. He was 34, had the chance to coach or manage and had a law degree and the potential to make a lot of money following his baseball career. He volunteered, however, for both patriotic and personal reasons. And it cost him his life.

Must-read stuff indeed. Especially this weekend.