Are the Yankees on the verge of running away with the American League East?

Brian McCann and Alex Rodriguez have lead the Yankees to a commanding lead in the American League East (Photo: The Associated Press)

Brian McCann and Alex Rodriguez have lead the Yankees to a commanding lead in the American League East (Photo: The Associated Press)

The New York Yankees are en fuego. The rest of the American League East is going down in flames. This week’s sweep of Baltimore may have been a death kneel for the rest of the division.

That’s the simple explanation as to why the Yankees have built a surprising 5 1/2 game lead in the division after going 7-2 in their last three division series, capped by a three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles. They are now 12-4 in the month of July with everyone else in the East sinking. According to FanGraphs, the Yankees have a 79.3% chance of winning the division and even a 26.4% of winning the American League pennant and going to the World Series (higher than Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Houston)

New York has returned Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew Miller from the disabled list to bolster their already dangerous lineup and bullpen respectively. They are second in the majors in runs scored and fifth in wRC+. After six innings, they are 39-2. After seven, 44-2. After eight, 50-0. All thanks to their sturdy bullpen. They are just another piece from becoming serious World Series contenders.

The rest of the division is in dire straights. The Toronto Blue Jays are in second with pitching problems. The Tampa Bay Rays are 6.5 games back when they were in first just a month ago. The Orioles are now seven games back. The Boston Red Sox, after climbing to within 5.5 games ahead of their meeting with the Yankees at Fenway Park before the All-Star Break, have lost eight in a row and have fallen to 12 games back. The Yankees are the only team that has surged in July; the rest of the division’s pain is their own gain.

Obviously it would be foolish to call the race over, but the Yankees are sitting pretty while the rest of the division is scuffling and trying to figure out what to do before the trade deadline next Friday. The Yankees don’t need to make a move as much as everyone else does.

A sweep at the hands of the Yankees may have turned the Orioles from buyers to sellers. Now seven games back, they could look to deal several of their free agents-to be: LHP Wei-Yin Chen (2.86 ERA/4.06 FIP in 116.1 IP this season), slugger Chris Davis (21 HR, 119 OPS+, 2.8 bWAR), submarine reliever Darren O’Day (1.04 ERA and a 11.9 K/9 rate and an All-Star selection in 34.2 IP), and Matt Wieters (.683 OPS in 114 plate appearances but remains one of the best defensive catchers in the game coming off Tommy John surgery) could all be dealt in order for Baltimore to retool their scarce farm system.

Tampa Bay has also been in free-fall since the end of June. They peaked at 40-30 on June 20th, but since they are 8-19. They have an elite pitching staff led by Chris Archer, Nate Karns, and Jake Odorizzi; but the blatant lack of major league caliber hitting has finally come back to bite them. According to Marc Topkin of The Tampa Bay Times, the Rays are already listening to offers for their relief corps, particularly All-Star closer Brad Boxberger (22 saves out of 24 opportunities with a  3.18 ERA) and LHP Jake McGee (1.19 ERA in 22.2 IP).

The Red Sox will also likely (once again) become sellers; for the third time in the last four seasons they sit in dead last in the division (and the entire American League as well!). They have the worst pitching staff in the American League, so they aren’t just one move from being relevant. They have one of the best farm systems in baseball, so it would be a bad move to use it up to make a foolish attempt to climb back from a 12 game deficit in the division and a 9.5 deficit for the second wild card.

The biggest threat to the Yankees is Toronto. The Blue Jays have the most dangerous lineup in all of baseball. They lead the majors in runs scored by a significant margin and their run differential is second only to St. Louis. However, they are just one game over .500 because of poor pitching, which ranks 12th in the AL in team ERA. Their only reliable starter is Mark Buerhle (120 ERA+/3.80 FIP), so they look to be active buyers before the deadline, actively looking for whatever starting pitching they can find, even if it isn’t an ace like Johnny Cueto. Just one starting pitcher with this offense will make the Blue Jays a much more serious threat to the Yankees.

The Yankees should look to make a move. They don’t seem to be willing to trade the team’s top prospects, RHP Luis Severino and 6’7″ slugger Aaron Judge for a rental like Mike Leake or Johnny Cueto.

According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, however, they will listen to offers for their other prospects, such as 22 year-old catcher Gary Sanchez. Sanchez is an expendable piece with Brian McCann signed to a huge contract and John Ryan Murphy established as his backup.

New York should look to add a starting pitcher, as their rotation has all-around been shaky: 19th in ERA, 12th in FIP. Although Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have overall been solid, their health and consistency is still questionable. CC Sabathia and Nathan Eovaldi have pitched poorly all season, but the Yankees are still hoping for more consistency to come in the coming months.

On a more positive note, Ivan Nova has a 3.34 ERA in his five starts since returning from Tommy John surgery. He does have a 4.82 FIP due to a lack of strikeouts and command issues, so there still is some rust. His improvement will lessen the need for a trade.

While the rest of the AL East is figuring out where they go next, the Yankees have their sights set on October.

MLB Postseason and World Series Predictions

October Baseball is here. Eight teams enter the Division Series, but only one will be crowned World Series champions. So who will take home the Commissioner’s Trophy?

Playoff Teams:

American League:

East Division Champions: Baltimore Orioles, 96-66, Last World Series title: 1983. Second playoff appearance since 1997

Central Division Champions: Detroit Tigers, 90-72, Last World Series title: 1984. Fourth straight division title

West Division Champions: Los Angeles Angels, 98-64, Last World Series title: 2002. First playoff appearance since 2009

1st Wild Card: Kansas City Royals, 89-73, Last World Series title and playoff appearance; 1985

2nd Wild Card: Oakland Athletics, 88-74, Last World Series title: 1989. Third straight playoff appearance

National League:

East Division Champions: Washington Nationals, 96-66, never won the World Series. Second playoff appearance in three years after just one in franchise history (1981 while still in Montreal).

Central Division Champions: St. Louis Cardinals, 90-72, defending NL Champions, seeking fifth pennant in 21st century and third World Series title since 2006. Fourth straight playoff appearance.

West Division Champions: Los Angeles Dodgers, 94-68, last World Series title: 1988. Fourth division title in seven years.

1st Wild Card: Pittsburgh Pirates, 89-73, last World Series title: 1979. Second straight playoff appearance after 20 consecutive losing seasons.

2nd Wild Card: San Francisco Giants, 89-73. Seeking third World Series title since 2010.

American League Wild Card Game: #4 Kansas City Royals defeated #5 Oakland Athletics 9-8 in 12 innings after coming back from 7-3 and 8-7 deficits. Catcher Salvador Perez hit the game winning single in the 12th.

National League Wild Card Game: #5 San Francisco Giants defeated #4 Pittsburgh Pirates 8-0 on Madison Bumgarner’s 4-hit shutout. Shortstop Brandon Crawford opened the scoring with a grand slam off Edinson Volquez.

American League Division Series:

#1 Los Angeles Angels over #4 Kansas City Royals in 5 games

Why: Going to a three-man rotation is a big risk for the team with baseball’s best record, but like the last playoff team to do so (the 2009 Yankees, who of course won it all) have baseball’s best offense led by baseball’s best player and a bullpen that improved substantially with the additions of Joe Smith, Huston Street, and Jason Grilli. Kansas City has the arms in the rotation and the bullpen to make themselves a tough out, but they won’t be able to keep up with Anaheim offensively

#3 Detroit Tigers over #2 Baltimore Orioles in 4 games

Why: Despite their star power, Detroit has underachieved in the regular season in the last four season and once again has to start the postseason on the road. However, their rotation of Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander (still an October threat even after a poor season), David Price, and a much improved Rick Porcello makes them a matchup to be feared in a short series. Despite their success, the Orioles’ roster has red flags as their starting pitching finished third worst in baseball in FIP (fielding independent ERA) and 17th in OBP despite finishing fifth in baseball in ERA+ and first in home runs. The Tigers will have the choice of Scherzer or Verlander in a potential Game 5.

National League Division Series:

#1 Washington Nationals (96-66, NL East champions) over #5 San Francisco Giants (88-74, 2nd NL Wild Card) in 4 games

Why: As the old adage goes, you can’t have too much pitching. The Nationals have the best in baseball and that’s why they are clearly the favorites to win the World Series. If they hit enough, they’ll be very tough to beat. The Giants got past the Pirates because of Madison Bumgarner, one of the better pitchers in the game, but not having Angel Pagan and Matt Cain are significant losses. Even with Jake Peavy and Tim Hudson, they don’t have enough to beat the Nationals, especially with Bumgarner going just once.

#2 Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68, NL West champions) over #3 St. Louis Cardinals (90-72, NL Central champions) in 5 games

Why: The Dodgers, the team with baseball’s highest payroll, were many people’s favorites in Spring Training, and for good reason. A rotation made of Clayton Kershaw (perhaps the league’s MVP), Zack Greinke (also a former Cy Young winner), and Hyun-Jin Ryu will be very tough to beat. The Cardinals, however, counter with a terrific rotation of their own: Adam Wainwright (20 wins, 2.38 ERA), Lance Lynn (15 wins, 2.74 ERA), John Lackey (the winner in Boston’s championship clincher last year), and Shelby Miller. The Dodgers have the edge on offense to make the difference in what should be the toughest series.

American League Championship Series: 

Detroit Tigers over Los Angeles Angels in 6 games

MVP: 1B Miguel Cabrera (DET)

Why: The Tigers have the most talented rotation and a great offense, the Angels have the best offense and a dynamic bullpen. The Halos’ weakness will be starting just three pitchers (Jered Weaver, Matt Shoemaker, and C.J. Wilson), which will be a road-block for them to even get to the ALCS.

National League Championship Series:

Washington Nationals over Los Angeles Dodgers in 7 games

MVP: RHP Stephen Strasburg (WSH)

Why: Both are loaded on pitching and have offenses that can score. However, the Dodgers seem to be more top heavy than the Nationals, who seem to have absolutely no weakness on their whole staff.

World Series:

Detroit Tigers over Washington Nationals in 7 games

MVP: Max Scherzer

Why: This may be one of the lowest-scoring World Series in years; that’s how good the pitching is. However, the Tigers have a little more star power, especially on offense, and they will finally get the job done this year after three consecutive playoff failures

2014 American League East Preview

 

I recently did a series of comparisons between the New York Yankees and the rest of the American League East, which is arguably the toughest division in all of baseball. The Boston Red Sox won it last year with 97 wins and went on to win their third World Series in 10 years. The Tampa Bay Rays won a crucial Game 163 in Arlington, TX to sneak in the playoffs and disposed of Cleveland in the Wild Card game before falling to Boston in four in the ALDS.The Yankees and Baltimore Orioles won just 85 games a year after taking it to the limit in the division race and in the Division Series in 2012. The Toronto Blue Jays, last year’s paper champions, were major disappointments and finished dead last.

This season, just about any of these five teams can make the playoffs or even win the division. The Yankees have made improvements but also have their problems. The Red Sox are the defending champions and have young talent on the way, but they did lose some important pieces. The Blue Jays and Orioles whiffed on some major free agents, but Baltimore managed to salvage the offseason with some late pick-ups.

Who will win the division? Will there be more than one playoff team out of the East? Well, as John Sterling says, “you just can’t predict baseball”, but I’ll try.

Division Champion: Tampa Bay Rays (96-66)

USATSI

The Rays have been contenders just about every year since 2008, but they have not been out of the ALDS since that 2008 season when they won the pennant after 10 years of struggle. After months of speculation, they did not trade ace David Price, so they remain serious contenders, perhaps good enough to win it all. Along with Price, they have one of the deepest rotations in the league with Matt Moore, Alex Cobb, and Chris Archer. Their offense looks to improve with a healthy Evan Longoria and a full season of Wil Myers. They also brought back Grant Balfour, who is an improvement over Fernando Rodney, so their bullpen is rock solid. They have enough to make the playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons, and will take their third AL East crown.

Wild Card Qualifier: New York Yankees (94-68)

Associated Press

You may have heard: The Yankees are too old. The Yankees are overpaid. The Yankees are very injury-prone. The Yankees have to get younger. Big deal. The point of them losing Mariano Rivera, Robinson Cano, and Andy Pettitte has been made to death without regarding what they did do: They improved big time at catcher with Brian McCann and twice over in the outfield with Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira are better than what they had at short and first last year.

Pitching wise, they got the best arm available in Masahiro Tanaka, who should be at least half as good as advertised. CC Sabathia has reinvented himself and the rest of the rotation looks great. Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda have looked fantastic this spring and could play a huge role moving forward. Even without Mariano, the Yankees’ bullpen has a backup plan with several pieces in the minors. The Yankees are a much better team than the one that somehow won 85 games last year. That is a fact. They will make the playoffs for the 18th time in 20 seasons.

Just A Bit Short: Boston Red Sox (89-73)

Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox / Getty Images North America

Let’s just get this straight: Everything went right for the Boston Red Sox last season. Everything. They set themselves up to be a solid but not serious team and it all came up pay-dirt. The acquisitions of Mike Napoli, Mike Carp, Stephen Drew, and Shane Victorino all paid off big time. David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia stayed healthy. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John freaking Lackey all pitched great again, and a 38 year-old Koji Uehara became the savior for their bullpen.

This isn’t to say the Red Sox were a fluke. If anything, the 2012 season was a fluke for them. They still have a solid team that should be considered a serious threat, but they will not be as good. They downgraded significantly at catcher with a 37 year-old A.J. Pierzynski replacing Jarrod Saltlamacchia (118 OPS+ last year). They replaced Jacoby Ellsbury with Grady Sizemore. If Boston fans think Ellsbury is injury-prone, look at Sizemore, who has not played in three years and barely has any knees left. With no other significant moves this offseason, the Red Sox are counting on everything to go right again. That will not happen. They will miss the playoffs for the fourth time this decade.

Not Quite: Baltimore Orioles (80-82)

Carlos Osorio/AP

The O’s had a mostly disastrous offseason. They traded Jim Johnson to Oakland to sign Grant Balfour, but Balfour failed his physical and signed with the Rays. Thus, they’re forced to go with Tommy Hunter as their closer. It wasn’t until February where they made some serious moves. They improved their pitching with Ubaldo Jimenez and Korean Suk-Min Yoon and also brought in Nelson Cruz on the cheap after he was embroiled in BioGenesis. Their lineup looks loaded, but do they have enough pitching? Not likely.

In the Cellar, Again: Toronto Blue Jays (78-84)

The Blue Jays were supposed to be great last year after acquiring Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, and R.A. Dickey, but they were anything but, finishing dead last. They whiffed during free agency, specifically on Ervin Santana. They have a very deep lineup featuring Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but can their pitching go from an Achilles to a strength? Their bullpen is solid, but their rotation is old and thin. They will finish  dead last again in 2014.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Each Teams’ Flaws Leaves American League East as Wide Open as It’s Ever Been

“You know, Susan. You just CAN’T predict baseball!”

Yes, I just quoted notoriously obnoxious Yankees’ radio announcer John Sterling, but it couldn’t be more true, especially this coming season.

It was a very eventful offseason for the American League East. The Toronto Blue Jaysmade the biggest splash, beefing up to try to make the playoffs for the first time in 20 years when Joe Carter galloped around the bases to deliver Canada’s second consecutive World Championship.

The Boston Red Sox retooled in the winter following their worst season since 1965, and took the Blue Jays’ former manager, John Farrell, and brought him back to New England.

The Tampa Bay Rays, because of payroll restrictions, traded season veteran and gamer James Shields to Kansas City and brought Wil Myers, who appears to be the real deal and Tampa’s future franchise player (along with Evan Longoria)

The Baltimore Orioles did very little to improve on their return to relevance in 2012, but appear to fully trust their skipper Buck Showalter and their shut down bullpen and look to welcome young studs Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Manny Machado (already had his taste of the show last fall)

And then there’s the two-time reigning division champions, the New York Yankees. Needless to say, their offseason was a disaster, losing their temporary closer, catcher, and right fielder to free agency and worst of all, three stars who would have been in the Opening Day lineup.

The media is already writing the New York Yankees’ obituary, with the same tired “too old, too many injuries.” talking points. But reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated. The Bronx Bombers remain a threat in the American League, despite their age and injuries.

For one, the three men who have carried this franchise to five championships in the last 18 years are all back and healthy. Mariano Rivera returns for his final ride after having his 2012 cut short. Andy Pettitte and his health will be key to the Yankees’ rotation. Most of all, as long as his ankle holds up, Derek Jeter should have no trouble being his usual consistent self, even at soon to be 39.

While the Yankees don’t have age or overall health on their side, their strong pitching led by CC Sabathia should be able to keep the Yankees competitive.

What helps the Yanks’ chances even more is the state of the AL East. Looking at things objectively, it’s very clear that each team have strengths to boast about and serious flaws that could turn fatal.

We already know about the Yankees. The current injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira leave them with their weakest lineup in almost 20 years. The concerns are very real and justified. But injuries will eventually heal and people will step up in this marathon of a baseball season.

Moreover, there aren’t many teams in the American League (besides Detroit) that can match their strength in pitching arms. As long as their top three of Sabathia, Pettitte, and Kuroda and their 8th-9th combo of David Robertson and Mariano Rivera are healthy, they could outpitch almost any team in the majors.

Meanwhile, their arch-nemeses the Boston Red Sox have completely retooled their lineup, adding the likes of Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, and David Ross. They also added Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan to be their 9th inning man. However, if Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz can’t rebound from a poor 2012 to lead a train-wreck of a rotation, they’ll easily miss the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

Returning for the upstart Orioles are long time O’s Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts. If they’re healthy it makes Baltimore’s offense better. Everyone from the second best bullpen in the AL and is still here. The only question is if they can still be successful in 1-run ballgames or in extra innings (29-9 and 16-2 records respectively) or if they don’t need to be. Plus, their rotation has to be better (21st in MLB and 9th in the AL in ERA) or last year may just be a fluke. But, Buck Showalter is the perfect skipper for this team and they will still be a thorn in the big dog’s side.

Tampa Bay, however, boasts arguably the best manager in the game, Joe Maddon. Despite losing James Shields, they still have possibly the best pitching staff in baseball. Fernando Rodney won’t have another season with an ERA under one, but he’s still automatic in the 9th along with the relievers before him. The reigning AL Cy Young recipient David Price leads a very young but immensely talented rotation. However, the offense lives and dies by Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist. Like the Yankees, their hitting could stall if both those guys get hurt.

Finally, we got the Toronto Blue Jays, who bulked up in the winter, adding Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle from the Miami Marlins, taking a low risk/high reward signing on previously suspended Melky Cabrera as a free agent, and adding NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. It seems the Blue Jays, like Red Sox were in 2011, are everybody’s pick to win it all this year.

However, if we learned anything from Boston in 2011 and Miami in 2012, it’s never to crown a champion before the games are played. Toronto was historically plagued by the injury bug last year, using TWELVE different starting pitchers. Over the span of five days, they lost three different starters to injuries: Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, and Drew Hutchinson.

Other prominent injuries included catcher JP Arencibia, Brett Lawrie, and of course, franchise player Jose Bautista. Even players they added have injury histories. Jose Reyes has a long one, especially relating to his legs, suffering injuries to his calf and hamstrings during his time in New York, so playing on the Toronto turf for 81 games has to be somewhat of a concern. Josh Johnson also had somewhat of an injury history in Florida, but he has looked stellar in Spring Training.

Although many media members have fallen in love with the Blue Jays and have completely counted out the Yankees (even the Red Sox), it’s clear the American League East is the most wide open perhaps ever. Every team has a good chance of winning it or taking a wild card berth, but any of them can go down in flames if their weaknesses are not overcome.

Currently Baseball Prospectus has the Yankees as the favorites to win the division and Tampa Bay to get a wild card berth: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/fantasy/dc/

NYY: 91-71 (AL East champs)

TB: 87-75 (Wild Card berth)

BOS: 84-78

TOR: 84-78

BAL: 74-88

It’s pretty realistic to say the winner of the division may not win more than 95 games, because they will spend the whole summer beating each other up. Remember: It’s a marathon, so don’t be encouraged or discouraged by the Yankees’ CURRENT situation with their injuries. The Yankees are more than alive in this race.

New York Yankees Still Have Advantage vs. Orioles but Offense Needs to Wake Up

Aside

If you told me the New York Yankees‘ rotation combined for 15 and 2/3 innings and allowed just five runs in the first two games in this ALDS against the Baltimore Orioles, I would guess the Bombers would be up 2-0 going home to Yankee Stadium.

This isn’t the case, however, as the Orioles managed to win yet another one-run ballgame and the series is tied, knocking off Andy Pettitte and the Yanks 3-2 in Game 2 on Monday night.

The Yankees dropped a very winnable game, leaving ten men on base and going 2-8 with runners in scoring position, which has been a problem all season long. Their biggest chances came in the 1st, 4th, and 7th innings, yet they came away with just two runs.

The Orioles staged a decisive two out rally in the 3rd, with five men reaching base via hit or walk after Pettitte got the first two men out, and scored two to take the lead on a two run single by Chris Davis.

Overall, Pettitte was solid in his return to the postseason, going 7+ IP, allowing three runs on seven hits, walking one and striking out five. He was the hard luck loser in his attempt to extend his postseason wins record.

Him and CC Sabathia, who nearly finished a masterful performance on Sunday night, have combined for 15.2 of the 17 innings thrown by Yankee pitching so far this series. Set-up man David Robertson has thrown the other 1.1.

Compare that to the pitching of the Orioles in this postseason, including the one game playoff against Texas. Between Joe Saunders, Jason Hammel, and last night’s starter Wei-Yin Chen, the Orioles have only gotten 17.2 innings out of their rotation. The bullpen has pitched the other 9.1 of the 27 innings the O’s have played, closer Jim Johnson 2.1 of those.

This could be an advantage to the Yankees. The Yankees have yet to use their important relievers (besides Robertson) in Joba Chamberlain, who hasn’t given an earned run in a month, lefties Boone Logan and Clay Rapada, and Rafael Soriano, who has been huge filling in for an injured Mariano Rivera. The Yankees could also call on rookie David Phelps to come in in case the starters get into trouble for these next few games.

Also, most fortunate to the Yankees, they’re going home to the Bronx for the rest of this series. The Bombers had the best home record in baseball, as they have for most years and almost every year since they opened the new stadium in 2009 with their 27th world championship.

The Orioles, however, have been very successful at Yankee Stadium this season, going 6-3 and taking every series they’ve played the Yankees there. However, three of those games were pitched by two guys who aren’t even on the Yankees’ postseason roster, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia.

The Yankees were 2-3 in the games started by their Games 3 and 4 starters, Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes. Kuroda is coming off a full week of rest, having pitched the division clincher against Boston on the final day of the year. He may have been fatigued in September, having set a career high in starts and innings pitched. Hughes gives up a ton of HRs, but actually pitches a full run better at home than on the road despite giving up more bombs there.

The Orioles counter with righty Miguel Gonzalez in Game 3, who won both of his starts against the Yankees this year, both at Yankee Stadium. He allowed just four runs in 13.2 IP and struck out seventeen. Gonzalez had a 3.25 ERA in 105.1 IP this season for Baltimore, but a low K rate (6.58 per 9) and high fly ball rate (42.6%, which would be sixth in the AL if he qualified) calculates to a mediocre 4.38 FIP and 4.63 xFIP.

Baltimore has yet to announce a Game 4 starter, but it’s likely they either go with Wild Card game winner Joe Saunders, who the Yankees beat in the AL pennant clinching game in 2009 when he was the Angels, or Chris Tillman, who has pitched very well in short duty time.

However, none of this matters if the Yankees cannot hit. The Bombers have left 18 total men on base in this series. Derek Jeter, Ichiro, and Mark Teixeira are currently the only players with good numbers in the first two games. The number one target for blame is Alex Rodriguez, who is 1-9 with 5 strikeouts and has left several opportunities go by himself. The Yankees cannot win if he is not performing batting third or fourth.

Still, even though losing Game 2 really stings, being home for three straight games is a big advantage to the Yankees, but like they were in the last couple of weeks of the regular season to hold off the O’s for the division, the Yankees are in must win mode right now, and this opportunity is big

The Yankees Are Now in Complete Control of Their Playoff Destiny Thanks to Some Help From the Rays and A’s

It has to be October, because the New York Yankees sure looked like a team that could win it all Monday night at Yankee Stadium.

The Bronx Bombers rode the power a nine run second inning against Clay Buchholz, hitting four home runs, one Mark Teixeira, freshly returned. CC Sabathia did his job, going eight innings against the PawSox, allowing just two runs on four hits and struck out seven.

All of this coupled with a Baltimore Orioles loss to the Tampa Bay Rays put the Yankees back in sole possession of first place in the AL East with two games to go. With a Texas Rangers loss to the Oakland A’s, the Yanks are now on pace to not only win the division, but also clinch home field advantage throughout the American League playoffs.

Oakland also clinched a playoff berth and are trying to win out to steal the Western division title against the Rangers, so they still have plenty of play for. However, them winning has officially eliminated the Rays and LA Angels, which may take some incentive out for the Rays to beat Baltimore in the final two games with James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson on the hill.

Still, thanks to the Rays and A’s, all the Yankees need to do is win out against a Red Soxteam that looks like it doesn’t care much for playing spoilers in order to win the highest seed possible. David Phelps replaced the struggling Ivan Nova (5.02 ERA, 83 ERA+) for Tuesday night’s game against the also-ran lefty Jon Lester (4.94, 88 ERA+). For the season finale, the Yankees will send the veteran Hiroki Kuroda, who has struggled lately but has proved to be a great and reliable signing for the Bombers (3.34 ERA, 125 ERA+) against his fellow countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka (7.68 ERA, 57 ERA+ in 10 starts).

Winning the division AND the #1 seed is very important for the Yankees in order the put themselves in the best position to win. Now that they are one game ahead of the O’s, winning out guarantees the title. Finishing ahead or tied with Texas would allow them to start the ALDS on Sunday instead of Saturday in Detroit, who looks to be a much tougher foe with Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and the crew despite having the worst record among all playoff teams.

Not winning out the next two games could yield the possibility having to play a tiebreaker on Thursday in Baltimore to decide the AL East, which would require them to useAndy Pettitte. Losing this game would likely mean playing the Wild Card game in Oakland or Arlington, TX on Friday, forcing them to use Sabathia on three days rest.

If the Yankees do indeed get the division and number one seed, they can comfortably set their rotation to:

LHP CC Sabathia, 15-6, 3.38 ERA, 124 ERA+

RHP Hiroki Kuroda, 15-11, 3.34 ERA, 125 ERA+

LHP Andy Pettitte, 5-4, 2.87 ERA, 147 ERA+ (in 12 starts)

RHP Phil Hughes, 16-13, 4.23 ERA, 99 ERA+

That’s a rotation that can certainly beat just about anyone in the postseason. Even as inconsistent as Hughes is, he’s as good as any #4 and could benefit pitching at home for Game 4 in this 2-3 Division Series setup.

The Yankees are in complete control of their destiny, it’s up to them if they want to make their road through the postseason easier or more difficult for themselves.

New York Yankees Need Help to Win AL East but Still Control Their Own Destiny

Nobody expected the New York Yankees to be in this position with three games left in the regular reason. Up 10 games in the American League East near the end of July, the Yankees lost their lead, which evaporated as they tied with the resurgent Baltimore Orioles.

The O’s have to finish the year in St. Petersburg, Florida, against a Tampa Bay Raysteam that refuses to quit. The Yankees finish their year back home in the Bronx against the lifeless Boston Red Sox.

The rules of the new postseason format state that if a division is tied at the end of the year, there will be a one-game playoff no matter what. Formerly, the rules were if there was a tie and the loser still gets a wild card, the division is decided on head-to-head record instead of a tiebreaker game, as seen in the 2001 and 2005 regular seasons.

The way it is set up right now, the tiebreaker game would be in Baltimore where the Yankees are 6-3. If the Yankees lose this game, they’ll have to hop on an airplane for the wild card game against Oakland the very next day. The result of this game would be the end of the Yankees’ season or Game 1 of the ALDS against either the Texas Rangers or Baltimore, also a day after, and could risk the loss of an off day, which could eventually force the Yankees to play for several games without one if they advance.

If this happens, the Yankees will be forced to use two of a trio of CC Sabathia, HirokiKuroda or Andy Pettitte to make it to the Division Series, and they’ll be ill-equipped if this happens.

They will have to beat a broken Sox team that may view this final stretch as their World Series. The Orioles, however, have to play a Rays team that is more than alive in the playoff hunt. They are currently three games behind Oakland for the second wild card spot.

Meanwhile, the battle for the No. 1 seed in the American League and the right to play the wild-card winner in the Division Series is still up for grabs. The Yankees have won the season series against the Rangers four games to three, so the Yankees would win the No. 1 seed in the AL if both teams finish with the same record.

The Yankees may be tied with the O’s for the division at the moment but control their own destiny when it comes to making the playoffs and may very likely get help from the Rays and A’s to get the division title and the highest possible seed.

Here’s what the schedule looks like for the playoff contenders who affect the Yankees’ season:

Red Sox @ Yankees:

RHP Clay Buchholz (11-7, 4.22 ERA) vs. LHP CC Sabathia (14-6, 3.42 ERA)

LHP Jon Lester (9-14, 4.94 ERA) vs. RHP Ivan Nova (12-8, 5.02 ERA)

Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-6, 7.68 ERA) vs. RHP Hiroki Kuroda (15-11, 3.34 ERA)

Orioles @ Rays:

LHP Wei-Yin Chen (12-10, 4.11 ERA) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (10-9, 4.18 ERA)

RHP Miguel Gonzalez (8-4, 3.45 ERA) vs. RHP James Shields (15-9, 3.62 ERA)

RHP Chris Tillman (9-2, 2.78 ERA) vs.RHP Jeremy Hellickson (9-11, 3.20 ERA)

Rangers @ A’s:

LHP Martin Perez (1-3, 5.03 ERA) vs.RHP Jarrod Parker (12-8, 3.44 ERA)

LHP Matt Harrison (18-10, 3.26 ERA) vs. LHP Travis Blackley (5-4, 4.25 ERA)

RHP Ryan Dempster (7-3, 4.64 ERA with TEX) vs. RHP AJ Griffin (7-1, 2.71 ERA)

The Yankees have a relatively easy final opponent to end the year. They hold the advantage pitching wise against the Red Sox. The Rays have the pitching advantage against the O’s but will be forced to win Monday’s game with Cobb on the mound to keep their season alive. Oakland’s playing for the highest seed possible and will likely have to sweep the Rangers to steal the AL West title.

The ball is in the court of the New York Yankees. They do not want to play several do or die games in a row to keep their season alive. Doing so will significantly hurt their chances in the Division Series, granted that they make it.