Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles are in the middle of a four-game set, the first meeting of the two AL East rivals this season. Reigning division champion Baltimore took the first two and now holds a one-game lead over the second-place Yankees.

And cue Yankees fans immediately panicking. Baltimore has a great young pitching staff plus veteran Corbin Burnes, who pitches Wednesday night, and has also hit the most home runs as a team. Most notably, as Brendan Kuty wrote in The Athletic, the Orioles fans have returned to Camden Yards, no longer “Yankee Stadium South.”

To be fair, the Orioles have had the more consistent lineup all year long and have outscored New York 6-2 in the series’ first two games. There are no easy outs or taking at-bats off. This isn’t a playoff series, but might as well be one. The road to October runs through Charm City.

And guess what? The Yankees are just fine. They won’t win the division over the Orioles in this series, but it’s hard to imagine them losing it either. Both games have been close enough that both teams match up quite well with each other, a la prime Yankees-Red Sox.

Let’s start with the standings. Even if Baltimore pulls off the clean sweep, that doesn’t pull them away in the division race. The Yankees would still only trail them by three games. That’s plenty of time to re-take first place, be it next week or in September.

But now let’s take a look at the Yankees’ performance over the first two games. Monday’s 2-0 loss was rough, but New York had seven hits to Baltimore’s four. Clarke Schmidt’s lone mistake was Gunnar Henderson’s leadoff home run. Park factor turned would-be home runs from Juan Soto and Oswaldo Cabrera into a single and out, respectively.

Tuesday’s 4-2 loss was more garden variety. Nestor Cortes did well up to a point, and then the Orioles’ bats picked up his stuff in one bad inning. Still, Soto hit a home run and so did Austin Wells, who’s now batting .438 in his last five games.

All this being said, the remaining two games will be telling. The lineup has to solve Burnes somehow, and Luis Gil has to match his pace on the mound. This cannot be a seven-walk performance against a team who ranks second-to-last in walks drawn. Carlos Rodon will hope to continue his strong start to the year on Thursday afternoon.

Again, this Yankees-Orioles series does not set the playoffs in stone. It does, however, set a tone for the rest of the season leading up to the playoffs. Both sides have punched and counterpunched accordingly, with Baltimore taking the first two rounds.

Let’s see if New York rebounds.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.