Baseball is unlike any other sport in that the sheer number of games and individualism within a collective is more important than anything else. By that I mean there’s not an offensive line dominating a defensive line; a hot shooter taking over the game; or a legitimate home field/court advantage. It’s baseball. Any team can beat the hell out of any other team; any closer can give up a game-tying homer; any pitcher can make a mistake to the worst hitter in the opposing lineup and cost his club the game; any manager can bring in the wrong player in the wrong place at the wrong time and lose.
This is why when desperate and panicky fans examine their teams schedule and start checking off wins, it’s a blind, baseless example of faith with no foundation.
With that in mind, let’s look at the schedules of contenders and analyze based on fact and not fantasy and laziness.
Let’s start with the New York Yankees
Yankees vs Red Sox, Sept. 11-13 at Boston; Oct. 1-3 at New York
The Red Sox are gutted, overmatched, and doing just enough to maintain appearances of “trying” while not being fully invested in the outcome. They care about their performance and perception, but knowing that the season is almost over and drastic changes are coming to the club’s construction, they’d just like to get 2012 over with.
The Red Sox are fielding a terrible lineup, but the Yankees haven’t been scoring much either. Jon Lester is starting the opening game of the series, followed by Aaron Cook and Felix Doubront. Hiroki Kuroda, David Phelps, and Phil Hughes are scheduled for the Yankees. There’s not a distinct advantage and the Red Sox might get a boost from putting a dent in the Yankees playoff hopes.
The final three games of the season may mean the difference between the Yankees winning the division, getting one of the Wild Cards, or missing the playoffs entirely. If the Red Sox can win two of the six games, that might be enough to severely harm the Yankees’ chances.
Yankees vs Rays, Sept. 14-16 in New York
The Rays are younger, healthier, and deeper. They’ve been in this position before and come through. With the Yankees concerned about CC Sabathia and waiting for Andy Pettitte (I’d expect him this weekend), it’s not a guarantee that they’re going to get vintage performances from their warhorses. What the Yankees will have to watch is whether the Rays and Orioles battle to a standstill in the six games they have remaining beginning tomorrow night and finishing on the last three games of the season. If one is eliminated by October 1st, it could be a big problem for the Yankees in those last three days.
Yankees vs Blue Jays, Sept. 18-20 in New York; Sept. 27-30 in Toronto
It’s laughable that Mike Francesa and his Yankee-centric guests are looking at the schedule and ticking off wins that they haven’t gotten yet; it’s more laughable that they’re suggesting that the Blue Jays—the team that won 2 of 3 in New York two weeks ago—is going to lay down at the Yankees former might. The Blue Jays have several attributes that should be of concern: they can run; they can hit the ball out of the park; and they have a couple of talented (though inconsistent/slumping) starting pitchers in Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero.
These are not games against the Houston Astros that they can count as wins. Four of those seven games could be pitched by Romero/Morrow. The Yankees are not winning them all.
Yankees vs Athletics, Sept. 21-24 in New York
It was the four-game sweep at the hands of the Athletics in Oakland that began this swoon that’s culminated in September panic, group therapy sessions, tantrums, and confrontations. Now the A’s are fighting for one of the Wild Card spots and are close enough to the top of the AL West to keep it interesting. They have young pitching from top to bottom, power and speed. And they know they can beat the Yankees because they waxed them in four straight in July.
The A’s are going to be watching the Rays and Orioles as closely as the Yankees and they’re playing the Yankees. If things go a certain way, the Yankees might be behind the Rays; behind the Orioles; behind the A’s; and behind the Angels by the time that A’s series is over.
Yankees vs Twins, Sept. 24-26 at Minnesota
The Twins are awful. It’s looking like the Yankees are going to have to sweep that series. Sweeps on the road are not as easy as they’re made out to be and the teams have split the four games they’ve played this season.
To essentially guarantee a division title, the Yankees have to go 16-6. That’s highly unlikely.
To guarantee one of the Wild Card spots (and remember it’s a 1-game playoff and not a ticket in), they have to go around 14-8.
My most likely scenario it a 13-9 run making their playoff spot dicey and probably coming down to the last 3 games against the Red Sox.