The Yanks went 9-1 against Oakland last season and have won 20 of their last 23 games. But this A's team is currently playing -- and pitching -- some of its best baseball of the year, beating the Orioles, 6-4, on Sunday to notch its season-high fourth straight victory and move to 5-1 after previously losing six in a row.
Over their last 12 games, the A's Major League-best pitching staff sports a 2.06 ERA. And even though none of the arms that will pitch against the Yankees in this three-game set that begins on Memorial Day are older than 25, age doesn't seem to matter much with this group.
"They're up for it. They've been throwing the ball well all year," A's manager Bob Geren said. "When you're pitching well, you want to go right in against some of the best teams in baseball because your confidence is high and you've been throwing well."
Geren could be confident himself because of this: His closer, Andrew Bailey, was activated for Sunday's game after missing the first two months of the season on the disabled list with a forearm strain.
Oh, and his Game 1 starter, Trevor Cahill, has been one of baseball's best pitchers all season.
The 23-year-old right-hander is 6-2 with a 2.02 ERA that ranks second among American League starters, and has given up more than three earned runs just once in 11 starts this season. But for some reason, he has struggled in his two career starts against the Yankees, giving up 14 runs in 10 innings.
"They're one of the best teams in the big leagues for a long time now," said Cahill, whose first 2011 start against New York will see him match up with savvy vet Bartolo Colon. "There are a lot of veterans on that team, so they know how to hit younger guys. They might have a little bit of an edge on us. But if we just go in there and act like they're just another team, we should be all right -- just don't get intimidated."
Both clubs will meet while sitting 1 1/2 games out of first place in their respective divisions -- with the Yankees in second place in the AL East and the A's tied for third in the AL West.
The Yankees, 8-4 in their last 12 games, dropped their first two against the Mariners at Safeco Field -- including one in extra-inning walk-off fashion on Saturday -- but bounced back on Sunday with a convincing 7-1 victory.
Just in time to enter a place where they went 5-1 last year.
"I think these past couple of games have been really hard on us," said Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher, who homered on Sunday and spent his first four years in the big leagues with the A's. "Definitely not the way we would have liked them, but I think that just goes to show the tenacity of this team, to come back today after a late game on [Saturday] night. You come in here, there's no batting practice early [on the field], everyone's in the cage getting their swings in. That's the mental focus we have."
Yankees: "M&M Boys" Part II?
Well, perhaps not. But Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira were mentioned in the same breath as Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle recently.
Heading into Sunday's game, Granderson (16) and Teixeira (15) were the first pair of Yankees teammates to each hit at least 15 homers through the Yankees' first 50 games since -- you guessed it -- that magical 1961 season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
In a year that saw Maris finish with a record-breaking 61 homers and Mantle with 54, Maris had 17 homers through the Yankees' first 50 games, while Mantle had 15. Granderson and Teixeira rank second and third, respectively, to the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista (20) for the Major League lead in homers.
Athletics: Matsui reunited once again
Hideki Matsui, who spent the first seven years of his professional career in the U.S. suiting up for the Yankees, will face his former team for the first time in an A's uniform.
The 34-year-old designated hitter faced off against the Yankees for the first time when he played for the Angels last year, and went 7-for-32 (a .219 batting average) with three homers and five RBIs in eight games.
Matsui, who had Sunday off, is batting .207 with one homer in 21 May games.
After going 1-for-3 on Sunday, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter (2,980) is 20 hits away from becoming the 28th member of the 3,000-hit club. ... Indications are that Jorge Posada will sit for the Yankees when there is a left-handed starter opposing them, as manager Joe Girardi prefers to get Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in the DH spot in those instances. ... In order to open a spot for Bailey on the active roster, the A's optioned lefty Bobby Cramer to Triple-A Sacramento on Sunday. ... Oakland traded Minor League infielder Steve Tolleson to the Padres for future considerations.