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Yankees' chances at overtaking Red Sox in AL East aren't dead yet

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Yankees are going to need some outside help, but with their offense rolling and 17 of their final 20 games in New York, their chances of winning the AL East — as slim as they might be on paper — aren’t necessarily dead just yet.

Heck, if they could’ve just held a five-run lead on Tuesday in Baltimore and a four-run lead on Friday in Texas, they’d be riding an eight-game winning streak right now. Nevertheless, the Bombers will gladly settle for being 3.5 games back of Boston and 6.0 games up in the AL wild-card race with the way they’re swinging the bats.

Since being stifled by Red Sox righty Doug Fister and his earpiece — excuse us, mouth guard — on Sept. 1, the Yankees have scored five or more runs in seven of their last eight games — an average of 7.5 per game overall — going 6-2 over that span.

On Sunday afternoon, they erupted for 18 hits in a 16-7 walloping of the Rangers at Globe Life Park.

The Yankees can still catch Doug Fister and the Red Sox in the AL East.

The Yankees can still catch Doug Fister and the Red Sox in the AL East.

(Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

Aaron Judge, who entered the game with a .182/.346/.365 second-half slash line, erupted for a pair of homers — No. 40 a 379-foot shot to the opposite field and No. 41 a 463-foot bomb to left-center. Gary Sanchez added his 29th and 30th homers of the year — giving him 50 homers in 161 career games — while Didi Gregorius delivered four more hits and four more RBIs out of the cleanup spot.

“Yeah, absolutely,” Brett Gardner, who sets the tone at the top of the lineup, replied when asked if the Yankees could pull off an AL East upset. “I don’t know exactly where we’re at in the standings, but I think we’re definitely close enough to where we can catch up to the Red Sox.

“I really don’t worry about what they do, I worry about what we do,” Gardner continued. “And I feel like if we play the best baseball that we’re capable of playing, we’ll catch them. I know we don’t play them again, but we just need to keep taking things one day at a time, keep having fun, keep playing good baseball and keep winning series.”

Gary Sanchez hit two home runs in the Yankees’ win over the Rangers on Sunday.

(LARRY W. SMITH/EPA)

Winning the division could mean avoiding the red-hot Indians, who had won 17 in a row entering their Sunday Night Baseball matchup with the Orioles. It was the Tribe who swept the Yankees in the Bronx August 30-31 before they responded by capturing three consecutive series in a row. Their lone remaining series on the road is Sept. 26-28 in Toronto.

“Every time we play someone, they’re chasing us, so it’s important that we continue to win games and win series,” Joe Girardi said. “This time of year, you need to win series — because if we’re going to accomplish what we want to accomplish, we need to keep doing that, especially with the teams we’re playing.”

Still, the Red Sox have a favorable remaining schedule as well — featuring three-game sets with the last-place A’s, Reds and Blue Jays. And the Yankees wrapped up Sunday with just a 10 percent chance of winning the division. But those odds were slightly worse on Saturday. And if the Bombers keep hitting, it feels like anything is possible.

“That’s our goal,” Judge said of capturing the AL East crown. “That’s been our goal from Day 1. If we keep playing our game, good things will happen and we’ll be where we want to be.”

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