The New York Yankees are in a really difficult position as we hit the middle of September. As it stands on September 11 they are eight games back from their rival Boston Red Sox in the race for the AL East pennant. With just 18 games remaining that is is incredibly tough for them to overcome. However, the reward if they could is a home playoff series and the ability to avoid the confusion with their rotation the Wildcard game could lead too. On the contrary, going for bust and falling short could leave them in a sticky situation come that Wildcard game.
Chasing the Red Sox
Overcoming an eight-game deficit is always tough but doing it in 18 games is borderline impossible. The make or break on whether they can do it comes in the next week. They finish a two game series in Minnesota before hosting Toronto for three games this weekend and then Boston for three more next week. Win four out of five against Minnesota and Toronto and then sweep Boston and they are likely right back in it. However, win just two against the Twins and Blue Jays or fail to take three games off Boston and their race for the division is likely over.
If they do beat Boston next week then they could have a shot of going into Fenway the final weekend of the season with the division up for grabs. If that happens we are going to have a mini-playoff series before the playoffs even begin!
The reason that avoiding the Wildcard game would be so big for the Yankees is the chaos that game can plunge your rotation into. Right now the Yankees rotation is Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Lance Lynn, C.C. Sabathia and J.A. Happ, with Sonny Gray spot starting. It is actually looking a decent group. However, if they are going to beat the Red Sox, in a playoff series, they need their big three to pitch as much of that series as possible. Severino and Tanaka have ERA’s in the mid-threes and J.A. Happ’s sits at 2.70. Right now C.C. Sabathia is likely the fourth man if they need one.
There is surely no way they will let Sabathia pitch the Wildcard game? It would be extremely brave but the rewards could be huge. Sabathia has given up a 4.50 ERA against Boston in three starts compared to a 3.54 ERA in the season as a whole. It would make sense for him to avoid them. If he pitches in the Wildcard game and the other three are fresh he could.
Given the strength of their bullpen the Yankees could give two of Severino, Tanaka or Happ short first outings and use them in games four and five, if they get there. That way they could have their best three pitchers start all five games against the Sox. To do it they may need to start keeping those guys fresh down the stretch. Doing that may mean giving up on their chances of winning the division though.
Hosting the Wildcard game
The issue for the Yankees is they are actually looking over their shoulder as well as trying to hunt down the RedSox. Right now the Oakland Athletics are 3.5 games back on the Yankees in the Wildcard race. The winner of that hosts the other in the Wildcard game. It may just be one game but who hosts could be extremely crucial. The Yankees would have to fly all the way across the country for one game, only to have to fly all the way back for a series with the Boston Red Sox. Baseball players do not mind travelling but that would be brutal.
What this means is that until they put the Athletics out of sight they cannot get clever with their rotation. They have to stick to their guns. Once the Athletics cannot host the game they can get clever with their pitchers.
The Final Word
The Yankees have got themselves in an interesting position. They have done well to even be having this discussion. It was not long ago that it seemed they might be done for this division. Now the question is how much can they invest in the final chase? For at least the next week there is no harm in going for it. Sweep the Red Sox next week and they have a chance. Lose two of those games and they are toast. However, a strong week could also lock up the hosting of the Wildcard game. That would then allow them to rest their starters and try to work out the best alignment.
Do they burn one of the big three and risk Sabathia against the Red Sox? Or do they risk Sabathia getting blown up by the Athletics again, he surrendered four earned in 3 1/3 innings in his one outing against them this year. It is really tough situation for the Yankees but it could be worse. It is better to have something to play for than be out of the race.