Yankees fighting hard and holding on

Bombers clinging to first place entering season’s final weekend
09/28/2012 11:48 AM ET
By Jon Lane

Ivan Nova and the Yankees suffered a tough loss on Thursday, but their fate remains in their hands.(AP)
Thursday night in Toronto was an opportunity lost for the New York Yankees. The chance to increase their AL East lead to two games over the Baltimore Orioles while up two in the loss column. All they had to do was defeat a Blue Jays team with an inferior lineup thanks to a myriad of injures and a group with eyes towards 2013.

Instead, Ivan Nova failed to make it out of the fifth inning, putting his spot on the Yankees’ postseason roster in jeopardy, and New York dropped a 6-0 decision at Rogers Centre. Meanwhile, the scorching Orioles (16-9 this month) are a mere one game out of first, and this weekend they play host to a Red Sox team who are losers of six out of seven while the Yankees continue to contend with a pesky Blue Jays squad.

If that wasn’t enough, the Tampa Bay Rays are making their annual late-September push at the speed of Secretariat. Winners of eight straight games, their longest streak since 12 in a row in 2004, the Rays trail the Yankees by four games and are just two out of the second wild card spot. The Rays resume their series against the fading White Sox this weekend, and then host the Orioles for three next week in a set that could decide who will play baseball on Friday and who will be packing their bags for the winter.

SBNation New York does a breakdown of the pennant races in both the American and National League. While the senior circuit is set with the exception of if the St. Louis Cardinals can hold off the Los Angeles Dodgers for the second wild card spot, the junior circuit will test the cardiographs of baseball fans until the middle of next week.

In the AL East, the Yankees may end up kicking themselves for not winning Thursday’s game, one in the heart of a soft schedule that sees three more with the Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox for three next week at Yankee Stadium. Scheduled to start Friday night, Hiroki Kuroda owns a 5.29 ERA in his last five starts after recording a 1.66 ERA in his previous eight. Down in Maryland, the Orioles are trying to hold on for their first playoff berth since 1997 and are 10-5 against the 69-87 Red Sox, outscored 43-21 during their current 1-6 skid.

"We know what's at stake right now and we've just got to go out there and keep picking up wins," said Nick Swisher. "We've got a little six-game playoff race."

To do that, the Yankees must regain their consistency, having alternated wins and losses in their last five games after winning seven straight. Will they rue the day they couldn’t take advantage of the Orioles’ off day and increase their AL East lead? Not if Kuroda can recapture the magic he’s had for most of his first season in pinstripes and certainly not if the Yankees continue to get back up each time they’re knocked down and declared dead.

“I just think the result’s frustrating,” said Russell Martin. “It doesn’t really matter what the outcome is because of what other teams are doing. I’m not really concerned about other teams. I’m just concerned with our team.”

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC comments