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Yankees' final series with Boston still the "biggest"

"Keep on winning" is Bombers' best solution for complex playoff puzzle
10/01/2012 11:50 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

CC Sabathia makes his final start of the regular season Monday night against Boston.(AP)
For the last five weeks or so, it seems as if almost every series the Yankees have played has been the “biggest series of the season.”

Tonight, however, the Bronx Bombers come home for the final three regular-season games of 2012, and the hyperbole is 100 percent true: this is the biggest series of the season…and both the Yankees and Boston Red Sox know it.

The Yankees can breathe at least a little bit easier than they did yesterday, as their Sunday win over Toronto combined with the Angels’ loss to Texas clinched playoff berths for both the Bombers and Baltimore Orioles – so, no matter what happens in the final 2012 installment of Yankees-Red Sox, there will be at least one more game after Wednesday for the pinstripers.

But when? That is the question, and it’s one that the Yankees can’t answer on their own. They head into the final series tied with the Orioles for first place in the AL East, and could clinch the AL East as soon as the end of Game No. 161 or as late as never.

There are literally more than a dozen scenarios that could play out over the next three days, but here’s what we do know and where they stand: The Yankees are in the playoffs, and can finish anywhere from the No. 1 seed to the No. 5 seed and can play any one of the six teams still alive in their first playoff game.

As of Monday, the Yankees and Orioles are one game behind Texas for the No. 1 seed, and the AL East Champion will be either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. In addition, for whichever one of the AL East leaders ends up as a Wild Card, the two teams are also one game up on Oakland (and four on Tampa, meaning they would host them for sure if the Rays clinch the fifth spot) for the right to host the Wild Card Playoff Game – and as the A’s own the tiebreaker on both New York and Baltimore, either would need to have a better record than Oakland to avoid going west for the do-or-die game.

Seems simple enough…except that in their final series, Oakland plays Texas and Baltimore plays Tampa Bay, so there are enough fluid parts involved to keep the number of scenarios unmanageable for at least one more day.

If you’re confused already, then hope the Yankees can at least take one piece of advice that their Captain doled out back in Spring Training when the second Wild Card was announced: “Just win your division, buddy.”

The Yankees have three opportunities to assure themselves at least a chance, but standing in the way are the dangerous Boston Red Sox – dangerous in that they’re playing for nothing but the role of spoiler, and would surely relish the chance to be the ones to knock their heated rivals off their division perch.

However, the Yankees hope they are in a good position, as it is their pair of aces, CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, who are scheduled to take the ball to bookend the series. The big lefty, who is 14-6 with a 3.42 ERA, takes the hill tonight against Clay Buchholz (11-7, 4.22), and while this will be his final start of the regular season, a strong performance can only help the possibility of Sabathia getting at least one more start in the postseason.

The Bombers will also have first baseman Mark Teixeira back, as the Gold Glover returns to the lineup for the first time since re-aggravating his Grade 1 calf strain on Sept. 8 in Baltimore.

"I don't like to miss games in April; it's been difficult," Teixeira said of his absence, "(but my calf) feels a lot better than the first time when I came back in Baltimore."

Teixeira will re-assume his regular spot at first base, with Alex Rodriguez taking the DH spot tonight. The full lineups for tonight's game:

YANKEES:
Derek Jeter SS
Ichiro Suzuki LF
Alex Rodriguez DH
Robinson Cano 2B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Nick Swisher RF
Curtis Granderson CF
Russell Martin C
Eric Chavez 3B

RED SOX:
Pedro Ciriaco 2B
Daniel Nava LF
Cody Ross RF
Mauro Gomez 1B
Ryan Lavarnway DH
Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
Danny Valencia 3B
Che-Hsuan Lin CF
Jose Iglesias SS

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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