Yankees have 20 days to cement quest for 28

Second wild card could end up as a beneficial fallback
09/14/2012 12:03 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

CC Sabathia can help the Yankees put the Rays further in their rear-view mirror this weekend.(AP)
When Major League Baseball announced that it was adding a second Wild Card spot in each league this season, reaction was mixed among fans and the media; many saw it as an opportunity to make September and October baseball more exciting, but some posited in no uncertain terms that it would simply allow another team into the postseason that was “mediocre,” “undeserving,” or some other unflattering adjective.

If any of that latter group was Yankees supporters, then right now, there’s a big plate of humble pie getting prepared – because with just 20 days left to go in the season, it’s that second wild card spot that has the Yankees ticketed for the postseason as of Friday morning.

Following Thursday’s win over Boston, the Yankees are 81-62, on the surface tied with Baltimore for first place in the AL East. But dig deeper, and you’ll see that the Bombers and Birds aren’t just tied for the AL East lead, but they’re also tied for the second wild card spot, one game behind 82-61 Oakland.

Even further, if the season did end the same way it stands now – with a Yanks-O’s tie and the two teams occupying sure playoff spots – then based on this year’s tie-breaking procedures for the postseason, the Yankees would be the road warriors in a one-game playoff against the Orioles to determine which squad would be the AL East champ and which would head to Oakland for the Wild Card playoff game.

Makes it seem like Derek Jeter’s “just win your division, baby” statement from Spring Training was quite the epic advice, no? Indeed, and of course, if the 2012 season operated on the same schedule as 2011, then that one-game Birds-Bombers battle would be a true “win or go home” game, and not just a “win or go West” one.

For now, at least those who saw the second wild card as an excitement builder were right. Heading into the final three weeks, there are three teams (Angels, Rays, and Tigers) within six games of the A’s/O’s/Yanks triad in the Wild Card race, and that AL East drama will likely be the biggest one down the stretch.

But in the National League, where every division leader has at least a 7 1/2 game lead, there are six teams (now including the Padres, who defeated St. Louis on Thursday) within seven games of the Braves/Cardinals for a wild card spot – and if there were just one, there would be just two teams, the Cards and Dodgers, within seven games of the Braves.

Sure, St. Louis and Tampa Bay came back from similar deficits in the final three weeks of 2011, but that was most likely the exception and not the rule – so the extended playoffs are certainly making September a nail-biter for at least a few more teams than last year’s rules would have.

Back to the Yankees, they have a chance to distance themselves from the competition a bit over the next 10 days, as they will play three games each with Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Oakland on the penultimate homestand of the season.

The first three gives them a chance to perhaps cut the Rays entirely out of the playoff picture, and they begin the quest Friday night with their ace, CC Sabathia (13-5, 3.56) on the hill against Tampa’s top hurler, David Price, who leads the AL in wins (17-5) and ERA (2.54).

And so, for the Bombers, tonight begins a stretch of 19 games that will determine how (and if) they'll try to complete their quest for No. 28…can they heed The Captain’s advice?

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