First something that affects everyone
All the talk about the “extra” Wild Card has obscured the fact that it’s not exactly a playoff spot as much as it’s an invitation to play in a play-in game. Gone are the days when teams could coast toward the waning days even if they were close enough to the top of the division to make an all-out run for it. Teams that have won the Wild Card and went on to win the World Series have been numerous since the advent of the third tier of post-season series, but it’s no longer as easy as it once was and, like the team that loses the Super Bowl, few are going to remember the second Wild Card team once they’re bounced after 162+1.
The Yankees fade
The Yankees are staggering into September with their lead in the AL East down to 3 ½ games over the Orioles and 4 over the Rays. They’re playing both of those teams 10 straight times starting tomorrow night; they’re functioning a compromised starting rotation and a closer, Rafael Soriano, who is going to be needed heavily and has already been used extensively—he’s probably getting tired.
Mark Teixeira is out for an indefinite period with a calf strain and the imminent returns of Alex Rodriguez and Andy Pettitte are suddenly being counted on to help right the ship. A-Rod is 37 and Pettitte 40. I don’t think the Yankees had it in mind that they’d be so reliant on these aging stars and Derek Jeter at this point in 2012, but they are.
The last, last, last, last thing the Yankees want is to have to push their veterans to make the playoffs late in September and possibly have to play a 1-game playoff after winning one of the Wild Card spots, but if they keep playing like this, that may be what they’re facing. Or they might get bounced entirely.
The Red Sox madhouse
They cleared out Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford in the massive trade to the Dodgers, but they’re going to lose close to 90 games. If the front office would like to keep Bobby Valentine, the way the club behaves—not plays, behaves—over the final month might be the determinative factor in that decision. Players with free agent options might choose to avoid the Red Sox because of the disarray.
One thing might save Valentine if it’s straddling the line between him keeping his job or being fired is how the club performs against the Yankees. They have six games remaining against one another including the last three games of the season in Yankee Stadium. If the Red Sox end the dismal 2012 campaign by severely harming or ending the Yankees post-season hopes, that would dull the pain of nearly everything that happened from September of 2011 onward.
The Blue Jays and John Farrell
I’m not understanding this love affair the Red Sox have with Farrell to the point that there’s talk that they might be willing to trade players to the Blue Jays to acquire their manager and install him in Boston. He hasn’t done a particularly good job in Toronto with injuries being presented as an excuse as to why the Blue Jays didn’t fulfill their expectations to be contenders.
It’s the same thing every year with the Blue Jays regardless of the manager, general manager, and players. Going back a decade, they’re “on the verge” of turning the corner and it’s one step forward, three steps back. Farrell is to blame for part of what’s gone wrong this season and the Blue Jays haven’t definitively stated that Farrell is off-limits to the Red Sox. They’re willing to consider letting their manager go to a team in their division? That tells me they might not be all that upset if he left. And the talk of the Red Sox trading Daniel Bard for him? Good grief!!!
The Tigers playoff run
Historically under Jim Leyland the Tigers haven’t done well when playing from ahead in the playoff race. In 2006, the came apart and blew the AL Central, but made the playoffs as the Wild Card and advanced all the way to the World Series. In 2009, they led their division by 7 games on September 6th, but were caught by the Twins and lost in a 1-game playoff. Maybe now that they’re chasing the White Sox in the division and the other Wild Card contenders, they’ll write a different story. Their schedule over the last month includes 20 games against the Indians, Royals, and Twins. If they don’t make the playoffs, it will be their own fault.
How far the Indians fall
The Indians have gone 5-25 since they were at .500 on July 27th. It’s not his fault, but manager Manny Acta could be in trouble. Sandy Alomar Jr. is on the coaching staff and will be in line for other managerial jobs after the season. Popular in Cleveland, the front office won’t want to let him leave and his hiring would gloss over the lack of money to do anything significant this winter to improve the roster for the short-term. If they’re seriously considering trading Shin-Soo Choo, it signals another rebuild; it doesn’t make sense to bring Acta back if that’s what they’re doing.
The Angels present and future
They’re 9 games behind the Rangers in the AL West, so they can pretty much forget about the division. They’re 3 games behind in the Wild Card race. With the chaos surrounding the Red Sox, it’s receded into the background how much of a disappointment the Angels have been. Manager Mike Scioscia is clearly not on the same page with GM Jerry Dipoto and owner Arte Moreno’s unwavering support and trust in his manager is dwindling. With 9 games against the Mariners and 3 against the Royals, plus head-to-head games with the Athletics, Tigers, and White Sox, there’s still time to get back into contention.
Barring a shocking run deep into the playoffs, I believe Scioscia and the Angels are going to part ways following the season, but they have the month of September to change that plot.