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.

Will Middlebrooks carted off field with injury

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Phillies third baseman Will Middlebrooks suffered a serious injury during Saturday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Orioles. The infielder was chasing down a pop fly in the eighth inning when he ran into left fielder Andrew Pullin, who inadvertently trapped Middlebrooks’ ankle under his leg. Middlebrooks was unable to put weight on his leg following the collision and was carted off the field and taken to a local hospital for X-rays.

Per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, not much is known yet about the severity of the ankle injury or the recovery time it will require, though it appears serious enough to set Middlebrooks back considerably as he seeks a backup/bench role with the team this spring.

The 29-year-old is currently seeking another opportunity to extend his six-year major-league career in 2018. He’s coming off of two down years with the Brewers and Rangers, during which he slashed a cumulative .169/.229/.262 with four extra bases through 70 plate appearances.