Last night, for what seems like the first time in a while, the Yankees’ magic number did not budge. It remains at a Ruthian three, and with Boston taking the night off it can only move down one tonight. It might not seem like a bit deal either way; there will be three more Yankees’ wins or Red Sox losses this season. But a win tonight does give the team an advantage heading into the final 10 days of the season. It means that just one win this weekend seals the playoff spot.
Winning the AL East does hold some significance. It means not only facing a theoretically weaker opponent in the ALDS, but it also means home field advantage in the first two rounds. Girardi has gone on record saying they want to win the East. As well they should. But it shouldn’t come at the expense of the big postseason picture. While home field advantage is nice, it’s not as nice as having a well rested crew.
Once the team clinches a playoff spot, Girardi can ease off his relievers for a bit. The top guys have been pressed into duty frequently in the past few weeks and have often been unavailable. Once they clinch up Girardi can throw them a couple of times to keep them sharp, but can generally give them a breather heading into what promises to be an intense month. The same goes for the starters. Clinching over the weekend means that they can rearrange the rotation to fit the playoff schematic. It also means that the playoff starters can go a short five in their final starts.
On offense, the assurance of a playoff spot means that banged up players can take a quick breather. This isn’t to say that the starters should sit regularly, but rather that they could get a day or two where they wouldn’t otherwise. The 29th in Toronto presents an opportunity, since there’s an off-day the next day. Sitting Swisher, Teixeira, and Posada that day makes sense, since it essentially gives them two straight days off. They’ll then have a three-game tune-up in Boston to get back into the swing of things before the ALDS begins.
Before they can think of any of this, they need to get that magic number from three to zero. With a series against Boston this weekend that moment should come soon enough. But a win tonight will go a long way. It means that just one win puts the playoff spot in the bag and allows the Yanks to maneuver as they see best fit in the season’s final week. That seems like a perfect interval. It’s not too long, but it’s still ample time to let some wounds heal and line up the rotation. That might cost the team the East, but at this point I’d far rather the Yanks head into the playoffs a healthy and rested team without home field than an exhausted one that gets an extra home game per series.