Yankees find themselves battling for Playoff LivesOn July 18th everything was great in Yankee land. The Bombers held a 10.0 game lead over all of their AL East rivals. Even sweeter was the fact that arch rival Boston was beginning to crumble from every inch of the organization. The Red Sox had already traded fan favorite Kevin Youkilis to the White Sox. Rumors of Bobby Valentine's (eventual) dismissal were beginning to surface. About a week later the Red Sox players held a coup - in New York during a series with the Yankees no less - to get Valentine fired. Mostly notable of those players, depending on which reports you read, was Adrian Gonzalez. At the end of August Gonzalez along with Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett (and Nick Punto to be exact but no one cares about him) were sent packing to Los Angeles.
The biggest threat to the Yankees, back on July 18th, was the Baltimore Orioles who happened to be the team that was 10 back. At the time Yankee fans were probably celebrating what they thought to be an inevitable division championship. I mean it was the Orioles and they were 10 back. No hope, done deal. Might as well give them the banner now, right?
The Orioles have done the remarkable. Entering play on Wednesday September 5th the Yankees find themselves in a tie for first in the AL East with those pesky birds.
Yes the season still has three weeks to play and the Yankees could once again reclaim a lead in the East. At the same time they may not.
I can't imagine many people expected the Orioles to be in this position. Even the most devout O's fan must have looked at that 10 game deficit in July and thought, "hey at least we're having a good season and maybe we'll snag a Wild Card". At that time the Orioles were 47-44 and a half game out of the second Wild Card. They'd gone 3-7 in the last ten games and appeared to be fading. It was the Orioles so of course they had to fade. They had to come back down to Earth. There was no way the Orioles could legitimately be in the playoff race, could they?
Well here we are, it's September and yes they are very much alive. The team that shouldn't be tied with the mighty Bronx Bombers somehow is.
But the Orioles can't be the Yankees only concern right now. The Tampa Bay Rays are also knocking on the door, sitting a game and a half back in the East. Not to mention the whole slew of teams that are positioning themselves in other divisional races and are likely going to be in on the battle for those Wild Card spots. We could be looking at as many as 8 teams fighting for the 5 playoff spots. The Yankees, Orioles and Rays in the East, the White Sox and Tigers in the Central and the Rangers, A's and Angels in the West. Someone is going to have to give.
But could that be the Yankees? Is it possible that a team that appeared to have secured a playoff spot in mid-July is somehow going to be on the outside looking in?
At the time the Yankees 10 game lead was almost double that of the next closest division leaders lead (Texas had 5.5 on the Angels). The 5 other division leaders at the time were Chicago White Sox, Texas, Washington, Cincinnati and San Fransisco. Now go look at today's standings (go on, I'll wait) ...
Do you notice what I noticed. Yes, that's right all five of those teams are still in the lead of their respective divisions (sole possession I might add).
Almost two months ago it seemed inconceivable that the Yankees wouldn't win the division. Now it becomes a reasonable suggestion.
Fortunately for New York the remaining schedule is quite tame. Aside from an upcoming, 4 game, weekend battle with the O's the Yankees face off against the likes of Toronto, Boston and Minnesota.
If the Yankees lose the division (and maybe even miss the playoffs) they'll only have themselves to blame.
It's hard to believe but the Baltimore Orioles could be AL East Champions for the first time in 15 years. Even harder to believe is the fact that the Yankees could miss the playoffs entirely. A notion that just might ease some of the pain in Boston.