We’ve heard some grim noises recently about the Yankees’ tough end-of-season schedule and what it might mean for their chances of making the postseason. After all, the second-place Bombers head to Toronto and Boston just three-and-a-half games ahead of the Detroit Tigers for the final playoff spot in the American League, while the Red Sox hold the other playoff ticket 5.5 games above their heads.
But it’s hard to justify the worries at this point: only a complete collapse will prevent New York’s entry into the American League playoffs.
The much-discussed rough stretch begins Sept. 11, with the kickoff of a three-game series in Toronto. They’re is just 6-5 against the Blue Jays, who seem to play with extra passion against the Yankees following Alex Rodriguez’s interfering shout to distract Howie Clark as he attempted to catch a pop-up on May 30.
But the Blue Jays are not exactly world-beaters lately, playing .500 ball in September. And the Yankees will get to miss Roy Halladay, Toronto’s ace, who pitched Monday night—against New York’s strongest challenger, the Tigers.
Next up is Boston. The Yankees are 8-7 against the division leaders, and face rookie Daisuke Matsuzaka on Friday night at Fenway Park. The celebrated import has struggled of late, with a 9.57 ERA over his last four starts. Drawing the assignment for the Yankees is Andy Pettitte—the American League Pitcher of the Month for August.
By comparison, the Tigers, already four behind in the loss column, host a streaking Texas team for three games beginning Tuesday night. (Though the Rangers are likely headed for a losing season, they are 12-2 over their last 14 games, having won the last five in a row.)
Then Detroit gets to travel to the Metrodome to face the Twins, including a Saturday date against Johan Santana, whose season will likely include a strikeout title.
And Detroit will be doing all this without Jeremy Bonderman, the Tigers’ Opening Day starter, who has been shut down, likely for the season, due to elbow pain.
At that point, New York will be hearing home to host Baltimore for three games. The Orioles have played the Yankees tough this season, winning eight of twelve games. But these are not the same Orioles. Strikeout specialist Erik Bedard is gone, while fellow starter Jeremy Guthrie will likely miss the remainder of the season as well. Together, those two hurlers started five of Baltimore’s eight wins against New York. These Orioles are 3-16 in their last 19 contests, dating back to a 30-3 loss August 22—the most runs allowed in a single game since 1897.
Meanwhile, Detroit will head to first-place Cleveland, taking on an Indians team that will likely be trying to clinch a division title.
The Yankees finish with four at home against Toronto, three at Tampa Bay, and three more at Baltimore.
The Tigers do have a relatively easy finish as well, hosting Kansas City for three, Minnesota for three, and traveling to Chicago for three against the White Sox.
But that won’t matter unless the Yankees suddenly, inexplicably, go cold.
So let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Yankees tank, losing all six this week, while the Tigers go undefeated to take a 2.5 game lead in the Wild Card standings (two in the loss column) with 12 left, and 13 left for the Yankees.
Even in that nightmare scenario for the Yankees, a subsequent 8-5 finish by New York would still get them in the playoffs if the Tigers finish worse than 5-7. Considering that the Yankees have a .667 winning percentage since the All Star Break, while Detroit’s stands at just .439 since the break, neither of those scenarios seems outlandish.
More likely, of course, the Yankees will win at least some of their games this week. Even if the Yankees finish 9-10, it will take a 13-5 finish by Detroit to pass them. 12-6 would get Detroit tied, sending the Tigers to a one-game playoff—at Yankee Stadium.
Of course, baseball history is littered with overwhelming favorites packing champagne crates back into musty basements after the improbable occurs. But based on current standings and future matchups, Yankee fans should start planning now for a busy October.