NFL: Week 3 Picks

We’ve reached week 3 of the season, and still have 8 undefeated and 8 winless teams. There have also been a lot of big injuries early that will have a big impact on week 3 and beyond.  As for my picks, I’m 18-14 through 2 weeks. Here’s what I’m thinking going into week 3.

Thursday Night Football

  • Texans @ Patriots: Jimmy Garoppolo left with a shoulder injury for New England, who still managed to move to 2-0.  This was thanks in large part to Garoppolo’s 3 touchdown passes before his injury as well as a big performance from LeGarrett Blount in the run game. The Texans took down the Chiefs on the strength of their defense to move to 1-1, a stark difference from their 33-0 loss to Kansas City in the playoffs.  Without Garoppolo, I think the Texans will do enough to get another win to start off the week 3 action. HOUSTON WINS

Sunday 1pm Games

  • Ravens @ Jaguars: Baltimore got very lucky in week 2, as they overcame a 20-0 1st quarter deficit to improve to 2-0.  Cleveland never scored again, while Joe Flacco brought his team back with a 25-45, 302 yard performance.  Their opponents have been disappointing to me so far.  While I didn’t think the Jaguars were going to make the playoffs this season, I thought they’d be better than they’ve shown, starting 0-2 again after They crossed midfield only six times and committed three turnovers. BALTIMORE WINS
  • Lions @ Packers: Both teams enter 1-1 after losing in week 2, and are looking to keep pace with the 2-0 Vikings.  The Packers lost their game in the 4th quarter, turning the ball over twice, while allowing Rodgers to be sacked 5 times. Detroit also lost their game in the 4th quarter when they were outscored 13-0 by the Titans, including a 93-yard game winning drive.  The Lions didn’t have a go to back in week 2, losing Ameer Abdullah to an injury.   So who gets back in the win column this week? I’ll take the Packers at home with a much-needed big day from Eddie Lacy. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Redskins @ Giants: Washington won the NFC East a year ago, but have opened up this season 0-2.  Struggles in the red zone and an inability to force turnovers meant a loss in a back-and-forth affair with Dallas last week. New York’s offense moved up and down the field pretty easily on Sunday, but also struggled in the redzone, and had too many turnovers in the 1st half.  But the defense and special teams stepped up and they moved to 2-0. So who takes this division matchup?  Give me the home team to get over their redzone struggles and take advantage of Eli Manning’s league leading completion percentage, which should be even better as the Giants receiving core dropped at least 5 balls in week 2. NEW YORK WINS
  • Browns @ Dolphins: For the 5th week in a row (dating back to last season), Cleveland will be starting a different QB.  Someone should tell them this isn’t baseball, there’s no starting rotation in football.  Even with the QB carousel, the Browns almost, and should have, pulled out their first win in week 2.  They were up 20-2 on the Ravens, thanks in big part to their ground attack, but fell late.  Miami isn’t in any better a position than their week 3 opponents, as they enter action at 0-2 as well.  The Dolphins were down big early to the Pats, but made a comeback after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with an injury.  Cleveland will be in this game until the end because Miami has had issues stopping the run early.  But even of Isaiah Crowell goes big on the ground, I still think they pull out the win at home. MIAMI WINS
  • Vikings @ Panthers: Minnesota will now be without their starting QB and running back for the rest of the season after Adrian Peterson went down in their game on Sunday night. The Vikings defense looked stong against Aaron Rogers in week 2. As for Carolina, they rebounded offensively in week 2, but they still struggled a bit on defense, allowing the Niners to score 27.  They’ll be without their running back Jonathan Stewart, but were picked up by Fozzy Whittaker on the ground.  Despite the 27 points allowed, I like the Panthers chances of stopping Sam Bradford and the new Vikings weapon and league receiving yards leader Stefon Diggs. CAROLINA WINS
  • Broncos @ Bengals: Andy Dalton has gotten off to a nice start this season, leading the league with 732 passing yards, so here’s a good test for the Broncos league leading defense.  CJ Anderson is having a good start to the season, and we’ve seen the Bengals give up the most rushing yards per game to start the season, so he should be able to help eat a lot of clock for Denver. DENVER WINS
  • Cardinals @ Bills: Arizona rebounded from a tough week 1 loss by handily beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The Cardinals led the league in total offense, while the Bills dropped to 0-2 despite putting up 31 points of their own in week 2. Buffalo has let their offensive coordinator go, so they really need this game.  Too bad I don’t think they’ll get it.  Look for a big game from running back Daniel Johnson. ARIZONA WINS
  • Raiders @ Titans: Oakland has not been able to stop anyone through two weeks, something I wasn’t expecting, allowing 70 points so far.  Tennessee has actually done a very nice job on defense.  Both teams are 1-1 heading into this game, but I still like the Raiders better.  The Titans offense hasn’t shown the big play ability the Raiders have, so Oakland should be able to hold them down better than they did with New Orleans and Atlanta. OAKLAND WINS

Sunday 4/425pm Games

  • Rams @ Buccaneers: LA’s defense showed up in week 2, Tampa’s did not.  The difference between these two teams is the offense.  While the Bucs went from scoring 4 TDs to 1, I feel more confident about their offense than the Rams, who have scored just 9 points in two games.  The best chance the Rams have is if their defense can do what it did a week ago, and good game out of Todd Gurley. That being said, I’ll take the home team in this one. TAMPA BAY WINS
  • 49ers @ Seahawks: This is a big (albeit early) NFC West battle between two 1-1 teams.  San Francisco followed up a surprise week 1 win with a defensive breakdown against Carolina.  Seattle had one of their worst offensive games in this recent stretch of Superbowl quality teams, scoring just a field goal against the L.A. Rams. I can’t see the Seahawks being held down again, especially by the Niners.  Russell Wilson should be able to dominate in this one. SEATTLE WINS
  • Steelers @ Eagles:  I never thought this would be a game where both teams have a chance to move to 3-0, but here we are.  DeAngelo Williams has been huge for Pittsbrgh in the abscense of Le’Veon Bell, who is out one more week due to suspension. Philadelphia has gotten about as good as you can ever hope to from a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz, who hasn’t turned the ball over yet. It should be a good game, but I will go with the experience in this one. PITTSBURGH WINS
  • Jets @ Chiefs: Two teams I picked to make the playoffs in the AFC face off in Kansas City this weekend.  New York picked up their first win last week, thanks to the offense.  Off-season acquisition Matt Forte finished with 100 yards rushing, and three rushing touchdowns. Eric Decker and Brandon Marshall both finished with 100 receiving yards as well.  The Jets defense wasn’t as impressive as it was week 1.  The Chiefs hope that’s the case again this week, as they couldn’t get much of anything started against Houston. A lot went right for New York last week, and I can’t see them doing quite that well against Kansas City’s defense as they did against Buffalo.  If this were a home game for the Jets I might choose differently, but it’s a home game for the Chiefs, so I’ll go with them this week.  KANSAS CITY WINS
  • Chargers @ Colts: San Diego is 2-0, Indianapolis is 0-2.  I really thought that the Colts would be able to do better than they have on defense, but they haven’t. San Diego has looked very good on offense to start this season, Indy has been very up and down. INDIANAPOLIS WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Bears @ Cowboys: Chicago is 0-2 despite holding early leads in both week 1 and week 2.  And now they’ll be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler due to a thumb injury.   Their best hope to beat the Cowboys is to continue limiting the passing game, as the Bears rank 4th in the NFL allowing 224 yards a game.   As for Dallas, they picked up their first win thanks to another clean day from Dak Prescott and a big night on the ground. The Boys were already a better team than the Bears before the Cutler injury, so give me Dallas at home to move to 2-1. DALLAS WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Falcons @ Saints: Atlanta picked up their first win against an impressive Raiders team in week 2, while New Orleans dropped to 0-2 after a game winning field goal by the Giants.  Atlanta hasn’t had any problems scoring this season, but their defense has struggled at times.  New Orleans’ defense was much better in week 2, forcing 3 turnovers, but it wasn’t enough.  I picked the Saints to make the playoffs, so this is a huge game for them.  If they want to get their first win, they have to figure out how to run the ball.  The Falcons tend to be very inconsistent, so give me New Orleans at home in a shootout. NEW ORLEANS WINS
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Yankees 2013 Recap: The Year Everyone Played 3rd Base

975517_10151705290480555_1720384794_nWell, it’s late November, and the Yankees watched as their bitter rivals won their 3rd Championship in the last 10 years.  It was just the 2nd season New York wasn’t a playoff participant in last past 19 years.  So not a bad run.

It was a strange year for the Yankees, and the biggest story was the injury bug.  Every position had some player go down in 2013.  Let’s start with the names that appeared on the disabled list and go from there.

  • Curtis Granderson – (2x) Hand broken by a HBP in his first at-bat of spring training.  Then, 8 games after returning in May, another HBP broke his pinkie.  His pop was only in the lineup 61 times.
  • Derek Jeter – (4x) Started season on DL with re-fracture in left ankle.  1 game after returning, he hit shelf again with a strained calf.  A quad and finally more trouble with the ankle ended his season in September. The captain played in just 17 games.
  • Alex Rodriguez – (1x) That pesky hip kept the Yankees 3rd baseman out until August 5th.  He wasn’t the same guy when he came back, and his season ended with lingering soreness in his legs.
  • Mark Teixeira – (2x) A torn tendon in his right wrist kept the switch-hitting 1st baseman out of all but 15 games this year.  He made his season debut on May 31st, but would eventually have season ending surgery.
  • Kevin Youkilis – (2x) In his first year as a Yankee, Youk got off to a good start, then back issues popped up, and never went away.  Surgery ended his season. He appeared in just 28 games.
  • Francisco Cervelli – (1x) He went down in early April when he fractured his right hand thanks to a foul tip while catching.  Then just when the Yankees thought they’d get their catcher back, an MRI found a stress reaction in his throwing elbow, effectively ending his season, playing in just 17 games.
  • David Robertson – (1x) The setup man went down with shoulder soreness in early September, but finished the year pain-free.
  • Eduardo Nunez – (1x) This was the year Nunez was supposed to take the next step.  Instead he spent a lot of time on the DL.  First he went down with sore ribs in May.  Then he battled leg issues in August, though he never hit the shelf again.
  • Travis Hafner – (1x) After a blistering start, Hafner struggled in May to July.  It came out he’d been playing through shoulder pain, a strained rotator cuff, effectively ending his season.
  • Jayson Nix – (1x) Nix did a good job filling in on the left side of the infield, but his season came to an end in August thanks to a calf strain.
  • Brett Gardner – (1x) Another guy who stayed healthy for most of the year, but an oblique strain ended his year in mid-September.
  • CC Sabathia – (1x) A grade 2 hamstring injury shut him down before his final start of the season.  It takes 8 weeks to heal, so no danger of missing time next season.
  • Andy Pettitte – (1x) The lefty missed a couple starts in late May with a strained trapezius muscle.  One of the few injuries that didn’t linger for New York.
  • David Phelps – (1x) Phelps hit the shelf in July, when he suffered a right forearm strain. He then re-injured the arm while rehabbing in August.  He would return late in September.
  • Boone Logan – The lefty-specialist saw his season cut short when it was found that he had a bone spur in his pitching elbow.  Surgery to come.
  • Michael Pineda – Two years after the big trade with Seattle, Pineda has yet to suit up for New York in the majors.  He did make 20 minor league appearances on his way back from shoulder surgery.

Not to mention all the day-to-day injuries this team had.  It may have been easier to just tell you who didn’t make the DL.  The many injuries forced the Yankees to dig deep into a weak farm system, as well as look league wide for depth.  The Bombers used a total of 56 different players, a team record.  

  • 1st base – 10 players (Lyle Overbay 127 games)
  • 2nd base – 8 players (Robinson Cano 151 games)
  • 3rd base – 11 players (Jayson Nix 41 games)
  • Shortstop – 8 players (Eduardo Nunez 74 games)
  • Outfield – 13 players (Vernon Wells 72 games in LF, Brett Gardner 138 games in CF and Ichiro Suzuki 121 games in RF)
  • Designated Hitter – 16 players (Travis Hafner 66 games)
  • Catcher – 4 players (Chris Stewart 107 games)
  • Starters – 9 players (CC Sabathia & Hiroki Kuroda 32 appearances)
  • Relievers – 21 players (David Robertson 70 appearances)

You can see from the breakdown that there was a lot of overlap.  Guys like Vernon Wells, a center-fielder by trade, made multiple appearances in the infield.  Position players were called upon to pitch innings.  3rd base and short stop were basically revolving doors where a new guy was there everyday.

Adding to the injuries, were bad years from usually reliable guys, as well as role players.  The biggest offender?  Once ace CC Sabathia.  This was a guy who took the ball every fifth day, and you usually felt like a win was coming.  But the lefty finished just a game above .500 at 14-13 and with an ERA hovering around 5.  He led the league in games where he allowed at least 3 earned runs at 22.  He led the team in home runs allowed at 28.  All numbers that are not CC like.

Guys like Lyle Overbay, Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells all contributed to wins, but they were all very cold for longer stretches.  Overbay filled in great with the glove at 1st for Teixeria, and when he did hit, it was usually a clutch RBI.  He led the team with 13 go-ahead RBIs.  But after great Aprils for Hafner and Wells, there’s very little good to talk about.  Hafner of course missed most of the season, while Wells contributed with the glove, and by staying healthy, but was a let down in many big spots in the 2nd half.

And despite the turnover, and the down years, the Yankees managed to win 85 games and stay in the Wild Card hunt until game 157.  It was a 10-win drop off from their AL East crown a year ago.  They played terribly against teams in their division, as well as teams with winning records.  There are a lot of games you can go back to and say that’s why they’re not still playing.

That brings me to my best moments/biggest surprises, and worst moments of the year:

Best of 2013

  • 10.  I put this last because it’s not too surprising, but still great.  It’s the fact that at 43, Mariano Rivera came back off a torn Achilles injury to be just as good as ever.  Sure he blew a few more saves than usual, but he was healthy all year, and still saved 44 games for the bombers.  He leaves us on top.
  • 9. Jayson Nix.  He played a lot more than you thought going into the year, but he did a solid job wherever he played.  He isn’t an average hitter, but he got on base enough, and is a smart baserunner, so he was able to move him self over to the tune of 13 steals to 1 caught stealing.
  • 8. Preston Claiborne’s emergence in the bullpen.  He ended the season poorly, but he came out of the gate retiring everyone in sight.  Claiborne quickly leapfrogged guys to become a late inning option for Joe Girardi.   Look for him to compete for the setup role next season.
  • 7. Shawn Kelley.  Here’s another guy that was invited to spring training who made the team, and decided he’d just strike everyone out.  After a rough April, Kelley was dominant in June and July, and finished the year striking out way more than a better an inning.  He’s another guy who could factor heavily in the pen in 2014.
  • 6. Lyle Overbay.  He wasn’t even at Spring Training until March 26th, when the Red Sox released him.  Losing Mark Teixeira was made easier because of Overbay, who is a great defensive 1st baseman.  He also drove in a lot of meaningful runs for New York, and he did something very rare in 2013, he stayed healthy.
  • 5.  Getting off to a 30-18 start despite all the early injuries.  The Yankees were shocking some people, with contributions from guys you never thought would be on the team.  Guys like Vernon Wells, who came out swinging in his first year as a Yankee.
  • 4. Their big 9-6 come from behind win in Boston on August 18.  Otherwise known as the game Ryan Dempster threw at A-Rod on 4 straight pitches.  Already on a bit of a hot streak, you thought maybe it would propel the team towards a playoff spot.  It didn’t, but it sure added another interesting chapter to Yankees/Red Sox.
  • 3. My biggest surprise of the year was Alfonso Soriano.  No one saw his return to the Bronx coming, and he’s a huge reason why the Yankees remained in the playoff chase as long as he did.  He added energy and pop to a lineup that struggled to score runs all year.  And for a guy not known for his defense, he made some spectacular plays in left.
  • 2. Andy Pettitte’s final major league start, a complete game on September 28th in Houston.  At 41, the lefty threw his season high to walk-off in style.  It was a fitting place for his last start, since the Astros are the only other team he ever played for, and being a Texas boy, his family was in attendance.
  • 1. Mariano Rivera’s final appearance of his career. What a moment at Yankee Stadium on September 26th when Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter came in to take the closer out in the 9th.  Tears of joy, sadness flowed from baseball’s all-time saves leader, as well as the eyes of mound that night.  A perfect sendoff for a guy who was near perfect for nearly 2 decades.

Worst of 2013

  • 10.  Being swept by the Mets.  They lost 3 of those games by a combined 4 runs, including a blown save in the final appearance at Citifield by Rivera.  The Mets finished below .500 again.
  • 9. Bad offense all year.  You can blame injuries, but if you’re a major league player, you have to be able to drive guys in scoring position home.  The Yankees found ways to get guys on in the 1st half, but often left them stranded.  This team was bad at moving guys over, and couldn’t adapt to life without the long ball.  Even when pop returned to the lineup, close games were lost because a lack of execution.
  • 8. The awful year turned in by Phil Hughes.  He finished at an abysmal 4-14.  If he even wins 3 more, this season could have been a lot different.  He had some very good starts, but those get lost in the very bad ones.  He actually got the less run support than Kuroda, but that means nothing when you’re allowing nearly 5 runs a game.  Hughes had one good season starting, but his best year came in 2009 as a reliever.  There’s very little chance we see him back in a Yankees uniform.  He’s a fly ball pitcher who needs to be in a pitcher friendly park.
  • 7. If Hughes was awful, Joba Chamberlain was abysmal.  He couldn’t pitch in close games, he couldn’t pitch in blowouts.  At least Hughes has had good times on this team.  Chamberlain came on the scene quick, and flamed out even quicker.
  • 6. The loss of Curtis Granderson on the first pitch of spring training.  One pitch meant the loss of Robinson Cano’s protection in the lineup, and a guy who hit 84 homers the previous 2 seasons combined.  Losing him a 2nd time wasn’t any better.
  • 5. Being swept in Fenway in mid-September.  They entered the series just a game back in the wildcard with 16 to go and 3 left with Tampa.  But the Sox were clearly on a different level, and outscored the Yankees 22-7.
  • 4. Being swept in Chicago by the White Sox in early August.  It was the series where ARod returned, but it didn’t matter.  The series finale was marked by another Rivera blown save.
  • 3. Biggest surprise.  Like I said early, CC Sabathia’s drop off.  In four previous seasons with the Yankees, he hadn’t lost more than 8 games, and his worst ERA came last season at 3.38.  This year it was over a run and a half worse.  They need him to bounce back next year in a big way.
  • 2. The injuries.  You go into a season knowing you’ll need more than your 25 man roster, because injuries are apart of the game.  But the number of injuries to key players, and how it seemed they’d get one back and lose another was unusual. Having to constantly release players to make room for others, or place someone on the 60-day DL is hard for any team to overcome.
  • 1. The lack of real depth to cope with the injuries.  Having to play guys out of position because your farm system is weak is unacceptable.  Years of bad drafting, poor scouting and trading away guys came back to haunt the Yankees this year.  Sometimes prolonged success hurts teams, because it lulls them into a false sense of security.  New York didn’t factor in that eventually, guys would have to take over for guys like Jeter, and A-Rod or even Jorge Posada.  This is the Yankees biggest issue heading into 2014 and beyond.

So clearly a lot to think about when it comes to the strange 2013 season.  I had fun watching the roller-coaster ride, even if it didn’t end the way the fan in me wanted it to.

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UPDATE: Joe Girardi isn’t going anywhere. He signed a new deal that will keep him the manager of the pinstripes til 2017.  Robinson Cano is still asking for $300 million-plus, so the All-Star 2nd baseman remains teamless with no one willing to give him that much money.  Alex Rodriguez still doesn’t know the fate of his appeal of the 211-game Biogenesis suspension.  This team has yet to make any splashes on the free agent market, meaning they still have a lot of holes to fill.

The Captain Returns (Again)

Now batting… number 2. Derek Jeter.

Yes, the captain is back off this 3rd DL stint of a trying 2013 season.

Jeter will be batting second and playing short tonight against the Blue Jays.   Hearing that number 2 is back is nothing new for the Yankees and their fans, who’ve seen their leader play in just 5 games this season.  Jeter of course started the season on the DL after re-fracturing his ankle in spring training (the original injury happened in the ALCS against the Tigers last year).   The second injury (a quad strain) came in his first game back on 7/11 against Kansas City.  He would return 17 days later against Tampa, only to end up back on the disabled list on August 3rd with a calf strain.

Now here he is, back with a team just back 3.5 games back for a Wildcard spot in the American League.  Jeter’s return marks the first time all year that A-Rod, Jeter and Curtis Granderson, as well as the recently acquired Alfonso Soriano, will be in the lineup together.

It’s no secret that the injury bug has bit not only Jeter, but the entire Yankees team hard in 2013.  And at age 39, you have to hope this third return for Jeter doesn’t end the same way as the first two.  Shortstop has been a revolving door this season, and with the recent loss of Jayson Nix, another Jeter injury would not help the Yankees in their late season playoff push.  Eduardo Nunez, who was meant to take the majority of the reps at short when Jeter didn’t start the year, also spent time on the DL this season.  And since his own return, Nunez has been shaky defensively, having committed 10 errors in just 68 games.  He’s also only hitting .248, short of expectations.

To make room for Jeter’s return, reliever Preston Claiborne has once again been optioned down to Triple-A, though he’ll without a doubt be back next weekend when rosters expand on September 1st.  Some question why Claiborne, and not Chamberlain, who’s ERA is hovering around 4-and-a-half.   It’s simple.  Claiborne has options, while Chamberlain would have to be let go entirely, something the Yankees aren’t ready to do.  The organization would rather get something in return for the beleaguered reliever.

So it remains to be seen how Jeter will hold up the final 32 games, but for now, the Yankees are just happy to be able to pencil number 2 back into the lineup.  This team has fought through injuries all year, and have put themselves into a position to claw their way into the playoffs.

That push continues tonight against the last place Blue Jays, who the Yankees are 12-1 against this year.  Phil Hughes gets the ball for New York, coming off two straight solid outings.  R.A. Dickey looks to rebound from what was a very good outing against the Yanks, until he hung a knuckleball to Soriano in the 8th, which broke a 2-2 tie.

The Yankees Leave The Jays Feeling Blue

Four games, four wins.  Just what the doctor ordered for the Yankees, who are now on a 5-game win streak, and have won 11 of their last 15.

It’s a streak which has them just 3.5 games out in the wildcard as they head to Tampa for weekend series.  The Rays one of the two wildcard spots New York is chasing.

The bombers finished off the sweep of with a 5-3 win behind 6 solid innings from Andy Pettitte.   The bombers have three games left with Toronto, and are now 12-1 this year against them.  Something of a surprise as they were a popular pick to make it to the World Series after a big off-season.

Curtis Granderson hit his 4th homer of the season, a solo shot off Toronto starter J.A. Happ.  It was a revenge swing for Granderson, who suffered his first injury of the year against Happ.  Happ hit Granderson and broke his forearm in the very first at-bat of spring training, causing the lefty outfielder to miss the first month and a half of the season.  After a slow start in his second return from the DL, Granderson is starting to get on base with growing regularity, and he tends to hit homers in bunches, something he did a lot the past two seasons, hitting 84 combined between 2011-2012.  And something the Yankees greatly missed during the first half.

David Robertson gave Yankees fans a possible glimpse into the future by throwing a clean 9th inning, recording his second save of the year.  Mariano Rivera wasn’t available after pitching both halves of Tuesday’s doubleheader, as well as closing out Wednesday’s game.

In tonight’s series opener, Hiroki Kuroda (2-1 with a 6.11 ERA against Tampa in his career) looks to shake a rare bad outing against the Red Sox.  Tampa counters with youngster Chris Archer.

*** Another lands on the DL.  New York lost utility infielder Jayson Nix for the season to a fractured left hand suffered Wednesday.  Reliever Preston Claiborne was recalled in his place to help bolster the bullpen, which was used a lot on Wednesday.  But expect Derek Jeter to be back soon, as he started in his first rehab game last night, going 2-3, with one RBI and a run scored for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Unlikely Heroes Help Yanks Take Two, Gain Ground

Doubleheaders are never easy to sweep.  But heading into the Yankees double dip with the Blue Jays, New York needed to do just that.  If they want to make a late season run, losing to a last place team isn’t an option.

Game 1 starter Ivan Nova has been nothing short of spectacular since his return to the majors.  One big inning could have sunk the righty, but Nova rebounded from a 4-run second to give the Yankees length, and time to chip away.

Down 4-3 in the, catcher Chris Stewart came to the plate with two on, and two out.  Hitting in the low .200’s, and lacking power, Stewart came through in a big way.  A three run shot to left, just his 4th of the year, and first since May, lifted the bombers to an 8-4 win.

Robinson Cano had a big game as well, going 4-4 and smacking his 200th career homer in the win.  Ichiro Suzuki also picked up 3 hits, moving him to 3,999 in his career combined between his time in Japan and in Major League Baseball.

Game 2 featured Phil Hughes who was coming off one of his better performances of the year, a 3-run, 6 inning performance against the Angels.  But Hughes has struggled not only this season, but his entire career at Yankee Stadium.

But after a first inning run, Hughes was impressive.  Finally mixing in his secondary pitches, the big righty gave the Yankees 6 innings of 2 run ball.  Unfortunately for Hughes, his lack of run support continued, and he left down 2-1.

In the 7th, Jayson Nix would tie the score with his 3rd homer of the year, saving Hughes from his 9th straight loss at the stadium.  The bullpen shut the Jays down in the 8th and 9th, giving the bombers a chance for their sixth walk-off of the season.

The newly acquired Mark Reynolds would be walked to lead off the inning, and then pinch ran for by Suzuki.  Eduardo Nunez than laid down a beautifully executed sacrifice bunt to move Ichiro to second, with one out.  Nix, fresh off his game tying shot, was up next.  Though already in scoring position, Ichiro attempted to steal 3rd, and if not for a better throw from Jays catcher Josh Thole, would’ve been easily out.  But he was safe.  Nix would then play the hero and give the Yankees the 3-2 walk-off win with a solid single to left.

Two wins, one day.  The Yankees needed every bit of it, and they also got some much-needed help from the teams they’re chasing.

A day after passing Kansas City in the Wildcard standings, the Royals were shut out by the White Sox, putting some distance between them and the Yanks.  And of the 5 teams ahead of them, 3 lost (Boston, Oakland and Baltimore).

The bombers are now 5 games out of a Wildcard spot, and if they can leap-frog the Indians (who they own the season series against), they have games left with all four teams ahead of them.

If Hughes can continue giving the Yankees quality outings, and if role guys like Nix and Stewart can help lengthen the lineup even more, you can’t count the 2013 Yankees out just yet.

And don’t overlook the contributions of catcher Austin Romine, who is finally starting to show some offensive punch.  3 hits last night, along with a great throw to nip a runner at second.  Romine is a better option to start over game 1 hero Stewart, and has been highly thought of by the Yankees organization.  If Romine can continue to provide some pop and grow with the staff, the future behind the plate for the Yankees may not be so scary, especially with prospect Gary Sanchez who was recently promoted to Double-A.  In 12 games, he’s hitting .290 with Trenton.

***Game 3 of the 4 game set with Toronto continues tonight with long reliever Adam Warren making a spot start for the Yankees against last year’s NL Cy Young winner R.A Dickey.