It only took a week for the New York Yankees to go from being arguably the most disappointing team in baseball to its hottest.
The Yankees (30-31) can return to .500 and notch their longest winning streak in more than two years as they host Brandon Webb and the Arizona Diamondbacks (37-27) on Tuesday in the opener of a three-game set.The Yankees haven't been .500 since they were 16-16 on May 9, and they dropped to 18-23 on May 20. New York was 14 1/2 games out and tied for last place in the AL East on May 29, but a recent hot streak has them in position to move above .500 for the first time since they were 8-7 on April 20 if they can sweep Arizona.By winning a season-high six in a row, New York has matched its longest run from last year. The Yankees haven't won seven straight since a 10-game run from May 7-17, 2005.That winning streak helped the club overcome a nine-game deficit and emerge with its eighth of nine consecutive division crowns. This season, the Yankees' 9-3 stretch since May 29 has cut first-place Boston's lead over them to 9 1/2 games.New York reduced the Red Sox's advantage to single digits with a 13-6 victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday."Looseness. These guys are having fun with each other," Yankees manager Joe Torre said of the difference in his team over the past two weeks.Torre held what appears to be an important team meeting May 28, one day before the club dropped its fifth in a row."Joe sat us all down and talked to us very firmly," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "I think our mood came, and then the winning came after."Stellar hitting also arrived for New York. The Yankees are batting .336 during the winning streak to up their season average to .281, fourth-best in the majors.Right fielder Bobby Abreu has been a big key to that, snapping out of a season-long slump by going 19-for-38 in the last 10 games to raise his average from .228 to .272."I'm swinging at better pitches right now," Abreu said. "I'm more consistent right now. I always stay positive."Abreu's hot hitting and patient approach from the No. 3 spot in the batting order has also benefited cleanup hitter Rodriguez, who's batting .371 with five home runs and 18 RBIs in June after hitting just .235 with five homers in May. He homered twice and had five RBIs on Sunday, giving him 16 in the last six games.Abreu, Rodriguez and the Yankees could be hard-pressed to continue that hot hitting against Webb (6-3, 3.13 ERA), last season's NL Cy Young Award winner who's one of the best in baseball at keeping the ball out of the air. The sinkerballer, looking to win his fourth consecutive start for the first time since a career-best six-game winning streak from April 14-May 10, 2006, leads the major leagues with a 78.5 ground-ball percentage.The right-hander has allowed three runs -- two earned -- with 23 strikeouts in 22 innings over his last three outings, including a seven-inning, seven-strikeout performance in a 1-0 win over San Francisco on Wednesday.Webb will be making his first start at Yankee Stadium. He lost his only outing against the Yankees on June 15, 2004 at Arizona, giving up three runs and seven hits with five walks and five strikeouts in seven innings of a 4-2 defeat."I've never been there, never played there," Webb told the team's official Web site. "I faced them here a couple years ago before the season started in an exhibition game or whatever, so that was cool, but this will be different, (a) big stage."New York will counter Webb with another one of the major leagues' top sinkerballers, right-hander Chien-Ming Wang (5-4, 3.73 ERA).Wang, fourth in the majors in ground-ball percentage at 73.1, is coming off a five-hitter of the Chicago White Sox in a 5-1 road win Wednesday. He'll be making his first start against Arizona as he tries to improve on a 2-3 home record and 4.41 ERA in five starts.Arizona ended a three-game losing streak with a 5-1 victory over Boston on Sunday, pulling it within percentage points of San Diego for the NL West lead. Eric Byrnes had three hits for the Diamondbacks and is 8-for-17 (.471) in his last four games. He's batting .319 this season.The Yankees have won four of six meetings with the Diamondbacks since losing the 2001 World Series to them in seven games.