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Crucial AL East battle awaits Orioles against first place Yankees

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An AL East battle awaits. The Orioles need to beat the Yankees. That's all there is to it. Tanya Bondurant from Pinstripe Alley joins us to give some insight on the upcoming opponent.

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The Orioles enter this series against the Yankees four games back of the lead in the American League East. Sweep and they're almost back in the top spot. Get swept and we'll be left wondering who can get traded away before the trade deadline and what kind of return the Orioles might get for those players.

How about those Yankees, though? They're in first place! What's that about? They're supposed to be bad and old! Well, I've pretty much thought that every year for the last three years, including the 2012 season when they beat the O's in a closely-contested ALDS. It hasn't come true yet, much to my chagrin.

Thankfully I don't have to do much thinking about the Yankees, and I can check in with my counterpart over at Pinstripe Alley, Tanya Bondurant, to provide you with some thoughts on this year's incarnation of Satan's chosen warriors. If you'd like to read my thoughts on the Orioles for this series, you can read my answers to some questions over on PSA.

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Mark: Everybody, myself included, has been sitting around waiting for the Yankees to collapse from the weight of their own old-ness - but the three most valuable Yankees are Brett Gardner (31), Mark Teixeira (35), and Alex Rodriguez (39). Do you think that's going to last the rest of the season?

Tanya: The production out of Rodriguez and Teixeira has been pretty surprising, but it also makes sense. Rodriguez had the benefit of giving his body a year off and hasn't been forced into the field on a regular basis. Teixeira seems to have finally been able to recover from his wrist injury, which we know can take a while. I didn't think it could last at the beginning but now I'm a believer.

Gardner is so underrated but we've known he's good for a while now. The power has started to show up more in the last two seasons and he's cemented himself as a pretty good leadoff hitter forced to bat second. Having two speedy table setters at the top of the lineup has really been incredibly valuable. I don't see his production slacking off either.

Mark: We're now nearly ten months into the After Jeter era. Coincidentally, the post-Jeter shortstop, Didi Gregorius, is the lone regular under the age of 30. Have you noticed a difference in the up the middle defense with Didi instead of Jeets?

Tanya: The difference in Gregorius' defense and Jeter's defense is pretty much night and day. It's really refreshing to see a shortstop who can make plays more than two steps to his left or right after seeing pretty much every other team have that when we didn't for the last few seasons. Didi got off to a rough start but he's really come around both in the field and at the plate. His defense is really impressive and can be a real treat to watch at times.

Mark: Speaking of the middle infield... what in the world would possess the Yankees to have Stephen Drew with 80 games played and no end in sight despite a .181/.255/.369 batting line?

Tanya: I think the end may actually be in sight for Drew, and thank goodness for that. The Yankees cut Brian Roberts at the trade deadline last year and I expect that Drew will be, at the very least, moved to the bench once July 31st passes. Brendan Ryan's time on the team has to be ticking, serving the same purpose as Drew as a no-hit, all-glove middle infielder. The team clearly prefers Drew and I only think he's still around on the off chance that the Yankees need to use Rob Refsnyder for a no-brainer trade before the deadline.

I just can't imagine their goodwill towards Drew will extend into August. They may very well keep him around as a bench player who can play shortstop, second base, and third base with a little pop in his bat that is made for Yankee Stadium, but I think his days as a starter on a team that is leading the division are certainly numbered.

Mark: Just from looking at the stat lines, it seems like you've basically got a back of the bullpen trio to dominate all comers. I don't think many would be surprised by Andrew Miller's or Dellin Betances's performance, but Chasen Shreve is not someone I'd expect to encounter in the sub-2.00 ERA, sub-1.00 WHIP category. Where did this guy come from, and is he really that good?

Tanya: Shreve was supposed to be "the other guy" in the Manny Banuelos/David Carpenter trade with Atlanta this offseason, but he turned out to be the prize return. Carpenter never put it together in New York and was ultimately DFA'd while Shreve has become a trusted reliever capable of getting out of difficult situations in the later innings of close games.

He's been everything anyone could have hoped for, especially as the sort of add on player of the trade. Being a lefty that doesn't allow right-handers to wreck him is also very helpful. As to whether or not he's really that good, I'd say that it's pretty close. He may not be as dominant as he has been so far this season forever, but his stuff is good and he has the ability to be a very strong bullpen piece for quite a while.

Mark: One of the starting pitchers set to face the O's in this series is Ivan Nova, who hasn't been back very long from Tommy John surgery. How's he looked in his big league action since the surgery?

Tanya: Even a healthy Nova was maddeningly inconsistent, and the recovering from Tommy John Nova isn't really different. I think there is some reason to expect there to be rust when a guy hasn't pitched in games in over a year and that's certainly been evident in his return. Should the Yankees acquire a starter before the deadline I think Nova is the one who gets booted to the bullpen, even despite CC Sabathia's ugly season so far.

When Nova goes out there and dominates you kind of shake your head knowingly, but you also do the same thing when he goes out there and surrenders 12 hits in 5 innings, unfortunately.

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So there you have it on the currently first place Yankees. Thanks to Tanya for the insight, and may the best team win. (The Orioles are the best team.)

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