Last year the Yankees stumbled into the All-Star break by getting swept in the preceding series and found themselves 3.5 games back in the standings. They then came out of the gate in the 2nd half on fire and never looked back.
This year was the exact opposite. The Yanks came into the break winners of 8 out of 9 (thanks, Joba) and 2 games up in the standings and tonight they open what could be a very big series against the team looking up at them, the Rays. A 2-1 series either way and there's not much change, but a sweep by the Yankees and they are suddenly 5 games up as we head towards August, and a Tampa sweep has the Yanks a game back in 2nd again. The team was clicking on all cylinders heading into the break, and there are plenty of questions to ask before they get back into the swing of things tonight.
How are the Yanks going to play after the break? Can they keep up their momentum? Will Teix still be as hot as he was at the plate before the layoff? Is A-Rod's thumb OK? Will Swish be fucked up from the Home Run Derby? How much better is Mo's health thanks to the rest? Can Curtis Granderson get a hit off a left-handed pitcher? Will Joba be able to get through an inning 1-2-3 for a change?
The answers to many of these questions could have a huge bearing on how the series goes for the Yankees, and could be a predictor for how they'll play coming out of the gate in the 2nd half. With the Red Sox still stumbling and bumbling and a grand opportunity presenting itself against the Rays to kick off the 2nd half, a fast start by the Yankees could put their competition way down and give them some breathing room for later on in the season.
One thing is for sure. They have the right guy on the mound tonight to start things off.