Division champ Yanks take aim at AL’s best record

MLB

For the first time since the end of the 2012 season, the New York Yankees will take the field as a division champion.

New York’s next order of business is continuing to accumulate wins while also attempting to secure home-field advantage in the postseason.

After celebrating winning the American League East one night earlier, the Yankees will host the Toronto Blue Jays in the opener of a three-game series Friday night at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees (100-54) enter their final home series a half-game behind the Houston Astros for the best record in the majors. Should the teams finish with the same record, the Astros would win the head-to-head tiebreaker.

New York wrapped up the division with a 9-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels Thursday night when DJ LeMahieu hit a three-run homer in the second inning and Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven innings of one-run ball. The Yankees also got homers from Brett Gardner, Cameron Maybin, and Clint Frazier, raising their season total to 292 with eight games to go.

“It feels good, it really does,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “One of the things we talked about in spring training was winning the division, and that’s a reality now. You think of a lot of people that contributed to this. Obviously, we have bigger goals; but this is an important step, and I’m just proud of the guys.”

New York is a division champion despite setting a major league record with 30 players on the injured list covering 39 stints.

Besides trying to secure the best record in the majors, the Yankees will also try to balance resting key players. Among them is outfielder Aaron Judge, who did not play Thursday and could sit again Friday after landing on his right shoulder attempting to make a diving catch Wednesday.

“Keep racking up wins, that’s the goal. We’ll strike that balance between taking care of our guys, especially some of our guys that are nicked up, and we’ll kind of walk that line,” Boone said. “We’re coming to try and win these games.”

Toronto (62-91) is 7-9 in the season series with the Yankees after taking two of three at home last weekend. A reason for the Blue Jays’ modest success against New York is Randal Grichuk, who has eight homers against the Yankees this season and 13 against them in the last two seasons — the most among any player.

“I feel pretty comfortable against some of their pitchers,” Grichuk told reporters last weekend. “We play them a lot so I see them a lot, get more and more at-bats, feel more and more comfortable.”

The Blue Jays head to New York on a four-game winning streak and are 7-2 in their last nine games. They scored 27 runs in a three-game sweep in Baltimore and ended the series by scoring six times in the seventh in Thursday’s 8-4 win — although rookie Bo Bichette was removed with “precautionary concussion symptoms” and could be out Friday.

New York’s J.A. Happ (12-8, 5.07 ERA), who has been pitching through left bicep tendinitis, will pitch on seven days’ rest Friday. He last pitched the opener of a doubleheader in Detroit when he allowed two runs on seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Happ is 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA in his last four outings since Aug. 21 in Oakland.

Happ is 3-2 with a 3.78 ERA in six career starts against Toronto, where the left-hander pitched six seasons in two separate stints (2012-14, 2016-18).

Rookie right-hander Jacob Waguespack (4-5, 4.70) will start for Toronto and it will be his 12th career start. He is 3-5 with a 4.47 ERA as a starting pitcher and 0-3 with an 8.25 ERA in his last three outings.

Waguespack is 0-1 with a 7.36 ERA in two career appearances (one start) against the Yankees.

–Field Level Media

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