The Yankees improbable postseason hopes stalled this weekend with a sweep at the hands of the rival Red Sox at Fenway Park. They entered the weekend series just one game back of the second postseason slot, but lost two games in the standings to the Wild Card leaders, Tampa and Texas. More importantly, the Yankees have seen both Cleveland and Baltimore, teams they were ahead of when the weekend started, leapfrog over them in the pursuit of baseball’s coveted final postseason berths.
The question now is, what will it take for the Yankees to secure a postseason spot for a nineteenth time in the past 20 years? The short answer is that the pitching staff, a component of the team which has carried the Yankees for much of the season, must find a way to regain their mid-season form. The depleted and overused bullpen has found itself ranked last in the American League during this crucial month of September. Battling fatigue and injury, they have pitched to a league worst 6.27 ERA and have blown five of nine save opportunities in the month’s first sixteen days. Many of their reliable relievers have seen their numbers swell to unsightly proportions, including Shawn Kelly, Boone Logan, and David Robertson who each have an ERA that is in the double digits and a WHIP over 2.00.
The bullpen has not been aided by a starting staff that has been unable to pitch deep into games. CC Sabathia’s woes have been well documented all season. The larger concern has been the inexplicable drop in production from assumed ace, Hiroki Kuroda, as well as, Ivan Nova. Both AL Players of the month for July and August respectively, the two have seen a dramatic shift in their effectiveness on the mound since their award winning months. The injury to David Phelps and the utter ineffectiveness of Phil Hughes has caused what was largely deemed a strength for the Yankees heading into the season to become a hindrance.
The health of the everyday players also continues to be a major concern. They have used fifty-six players this season, a franchise record. Players like Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira have been lost for the season, after barely playing at all. Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez have missed a lot of time as well. With the season winding down, the injury bug continues to haunt the Yankees. A-Rod, one of their most productive players despite the controversy swirling around him daily, is battling a calf injury.
Alfonso Soriano, who single-handedly took the Yankees season off life support with his arrival from Chicago in late July, has a nagging thumb injury and Brett Gardner, perhaps the season’s unsung offensive hero, is now most likely lost for the season with a Grade one rib cage strain.
Couple all of this with the fact that there are now more teams ahead of them than before, with only a limited number of games left, and the Yankees are quickly losing the ability to control their own destiny. Of the six teams battling for the two AL Wild Card spots, the Yankees have just the Rays remaining on their schedule.
The Yankees appear to have squandered many opportunities to take control of this race, yet, after Monday’s games, they are only two and half games back of the second Wild Card spot. It’s not as bad as it seems.
The bad news is that the Yankees record in September is 7-8. However, they are 6-2 against teams that aren’t the Boston Red Sox. Their hated rival is also responsible for a lot of those inflated pitching numbers, the Red Sox scored fifty-nine runs off Yankee pitching in the past seven games that the two teams have played. To put that number in perspective, the Yankees have given up a total of 35 runs in the other eight games that they have played this month.
Take Boston out of the equation, and the Yankees haven’t played that bad in September. Also, the teams that they are chasing aren’t exactly running away and hiding. The Rays, who the Yankees will see next week, are 7-8 in September.
The other current Wild Card holder, Texas, is 2-12 and have lost seven straight games after Monday’s loss to Tampa, a four game set that holds ramifications for all the Wild Card teams involved. The concern is with the other three teams in this race. The Orioles are 8-7 and finish against a Red Sox team that will surely be in cruise control by the final weekend of the season. Cleveland is 10-6 on the month and just had their four game winning streak snapped by the Kansas City Royals last night, stymieing the momentum they had gained after a four game sweep of the White Sox over the weekend.
Cleveland also has the easiest remaining schedule of all the teams in the race. The Royals are now tied with the Yankees at three games back and have now posted an impressive 10-5 record in September. In order for the Yankees to win a postseason spot, they will need KC to continue to defeat the Indians, but it’ll be a moot point if the Yankees don’t win their games as Kansas City will leap right over them.
The Yankees have a favorable schedule. They open a three game set on Tuesday in Toronto, a team they have been able to handle all season long. They also play the Giants in the Bronx and finish the season vs. the lowly Astros in Houston. Sandwiched between these series’ is the showdown with the Rays at the Stadium and fortunately, for the Yankees, the Rays are under .500 on the road for the season.
Yes, many things now have to break the Yankees way for them to find themselves playing baseball beyond September 29th. Most notably, the Yankees offense will likely have to carry the team to the finish line after the pitching staff has exhausted all of its ammunition in getting the team to this point in the season. Many fans may question what a postseason berth would be worth as it is unlikely that this bandaged and bruised bunch would be able to advance far into October. Cliched as it sounds, it has to be taken one game at a time. As Yankees’ Radio Broadcaster, John Sterling, is so fond of saying; “You can’t predict baseball, Suzyn.”