By NICOLINO DIBENEDETTO
(AP) -- The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles have had their playoff hopes dented recently.
CC Sabathia shoulders some of that blame for the Yankees.
New York looks for some dramatic improvement from its struggling ace as it begins a vital stretch that could determine its postseason fate Friday night against the Orioles.
The Yankees (70-63) have lost four of six and are 2 1/2 games back of Baltimore (71-61) for third place in the AL East. The Orioles are 6 1/2 behind first-place Boston, which leads Tampa Bay by 2 1/2.
Baltimore and New York are also in the thick of the wild-card race, sitting 3 1/2 and five games back of Oakland for the second spot.
The Yankees' hopes of reaching the playoffs may hinge greatly on their next 17 games, with seven each coming against the Orioles and Red Sox.
Starting that stretch by giving the ball to Sabathia (11-11, 4.81 ERA) may not help. The left-hander's ERA is the highest of his 13-year career, and his win total matches a personal low set with Cleveland in 2004.
He's been mostly woeful over his last seven starts, compiling a 7.30 ERA and 2-3 record while failing to complete six innings in four of those outings.
Sabathia completed the sixth Saturday, but he surrendered three runs in that inning before being pulled with one out in the seventh of a 4-2 loss at Tampa Bay.
"It's frustrating," Sabathia said. "One big inning. I just feel like I can't stop the bleeding."
He may have felt the same way in his most recent meeting with the Orioles on June 28, when he tossed five shutout innings before giving up four runs over the next two in a 4-3 road loss.
Sabathia, though, was much better against them at home April 12, yielding two runs with nine strikeouts in eight innings of a 5-2 win. Including the postseason, he's 6-1 with a 2.58 ERA in seven starts against Baltimore in the Bronx.
The Yankees, losers of six of their past eight with Baltimore, may also be looking forward to a return home after ending a 2-4 trip with a 7-2 loss to last-place Toronto on Wednesday.
They've won eight of nine at Yankee Stadium.
The Orioles are feeling energized heading into this three-game set after ending a five-game road losing streak with a 3-2 win over Boston on Thursday night.
"We're going to New York with an upbeat clubhouse," said winning pitcher Chris Tillman.
Turning to Miguel Gonzalez (8-6, 3.77) could be just what Baltimore needs to build some momentum.
The right-hander is returning to the rotation, and he's 2-1 with a 2.27 ERA in six starts against New York, including the playoffs. He's yielded three earned runs despite issuing 10 walks in 12 innings over his last two road meetings, going 0-1 while being backed by two runs in each game.
"We've certainly taken a look at it all the way through, if you notice there are people that fall where they've had a pretty good track record competing in that ballpark or against that team," manager Buck Showalter told the Orioles' official website. "We can't make them all fall perfectly."
Gonzalez has tossed 1 1-3 scoreless innings over his last two relief outings. He lost 7-4 to the Rays in his latest start Aug. 20, giving up three runs and eight hits while walking four in 5 2-3 innings. It was the third time in five starts that he failed to complete six innings.
Updated August 30, 2013