The long, short road ahead

Yanks killing themselves with double plays
The Boone Logan appreciation thread
Thankfully, the Yankees aren't chasing anyone in the standings. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The Yankees have been playing for more than five long months now, and there’s just 22 games left in their season. Believe it or not, they have just a single homestand remaining, a seven gamer that starts on September 20th with the Rays and ends on the 26th with Boston. Sandwiched around that homestand are a nine game road trip and a six game road trip that feature just three games (total) against a club with a losing record, and that’s the same Orioles team that just took two of the three in the Bronx.

Ben’s written about it ad nauseum over the last few weeks, so we all know that the Yanks have a tough schedule over the season’s final weeks. The good news is that they’ve basically locked up a playoff spot already, so even if they were to go 8-14 the rest of the way, the Soxes (White and Red) would need to go at least 18-5 and 17-5, respectively, just to tie. But the Yanks aren’t the kind of team to settle for just getting in, we want the biggest and the best.

Winning the division will bring really just one key benefit because, for all intents and purposes, it will guarantee not just the best record in the American League, but the best record in baseball overall. That benefit is obvious: homefield advantage in both the ALDS and ALCS regardless of opponent. While it’s nice to have that comfort, it’s really not critical. The Yanks have one of the best road records in baseball at 38-28, and as R.J. Anderson explained, the team with homefield advantage in a given series typically only benefits if it goes the full five (ALDS) or seven (ALCS) games. Not having homefield advantage shouldn’t be enough to derail a team of this caliber.

Capturing the AL East crown is a nice feather in the cap and a great accomplishment, but in the Wild Card Era it’s hardly imperative. There’s really not much of a difference between facing the Twins or Rangers in the Division Series, because facing Francisco Liriano twice in a five game stretch is just as bad as facing Cliff Lee. Given the playoff schedule, the Yanks will only need three starters in the ALDS, something that should put everyone’s mind at ease. CC Sabathia obviously goes in Game One, presumably Andy Pettitte in Game Two, then either Phil Hughes or (more likely) A.J. Burnett in Game Three. If Game Four is needed, Sabathia can go on three days’ rest, then Pettitte lines up perfectly to start a potential Game Five on normal rest.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. If the Yankees plan on winning the division, they first have to navigate this final 22-game stretch. The biggest games are obviously the seven with Tampa, particularly the four game set at the New Stadium in two weeks. There’s a chance the division race will be decided by the end of that series, but at the very least the Yanks should have a playoff spot locked up by then. It’s pretty cool to think that even though the Yanks and Red Sox play six times in the final nine games of the season, those games are essentially meaningless and will have no bearing on either team’s playoff hopes, but only if you’re not a Red Sox fan.

Even though Nick Swisher sent everyone home happy yesterday, let’s not forget that the Yanks played some awful looking baseball over the last four days. They need the rotation to sort itself out, and really all that entails is a healthy return from Andy Pettitte and someone from the Hughes, Burnett, and Javy Vazquez trio to step up and establish themselves as that third guy. Derek Jeter‘s not going to magically turn back into the .334/.406/.465 hitter he was last season, but he needs to step up and do better than the .233/.300/.322 crap he’s pulled over the last two months. Robbie Cano needs to snap out of his slump and get back to being the best player on the team. Nick Swisher needs to get healthy, ditto Austin Kearns and Jorge Posada.

At the moment, the Yanks have a 99.2% chance of making the playoffs according to CoolStandings.com, so Joe Girardi can afford to rest his regulars and core bullpen guys over these final 22 games no matter how much it frustrates us. The big picture should always trump the here and now. The season is almost over, but the Yanks still have a long way to go to get where they want to be, and that’s firing on as many cylinders as possible.

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Yanks killing themselves with double plays
The Boone Logan appreciation thread
  • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

    I wonder if, for example, they’re locked in to the division title or wild card with a week to go, if they’d skip CC once? He’s so essential to the Yankees this year that I think it’s imperative to have him fresh and ready to go for the playoffs.

    • Guest

      Interesting thought. I think you are right that they should skip him once, and then let him make his final start so he doesn’t have a long lay-off before game one.

      • Pete

        I’d say hope that he gets his 20th win next start so that none of that stuff comes into play, then skip him on his 2nd to last start and then have him go 5 innings his last start a la 2009

        • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

          Yeah, that’d be optimal. Have his last start be on 6 or 7 days rest, too.

    • Jerome S

      No, There’s a few days between the last game of the season and the first game of the ALDS. So unless he somehow gets scheduled to pitch the last game, I don’t think he’ll be skipped.

  • Rich

    It’s not inconceivable the Twins could end with best overall record.

    • I am not the droids you’re looking for

      You keep using this word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

      /inigo’d

    • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

      Can’t argue. The Twins play:

      6 vs Cleveland (3 home 3 away)
      3 @ Chicago
      3 vs Oakland
      3 @ Detroit
      3 @ Kansas City
      4 vs Toronto

      That’s pretty easy sailing..

      • Yank the Frank

        The twins are a 500 team on the road so unless we mail it in we should be ok.

  • Magnus Stultus

    so Joe Girardi can afford to rest his regulars and core bullpen guys over these final 22 games no matter how much it frustrates us.
    —————————–
    Personally, It frustrates me to see Ramiro Pena and Cervelli gets so many ABs. Nothing drives me hotter than seeing weak hitters garners playing times because lack of better options. Also, the Jeter crap (233.300/322) has made me wanting more of Nunez.

    • jsbrendog (returns)

      until more of nunez makes you want more of jeter. and in september with a playoff spot sewn up id rather see me some pena cervelli so i know there is less chance of other guys getting injured before it matters again

  • vin

    I can’t remember the Yanks playing a more difficult down-the-stretch schedule.

    I’m happy to hear that the they’ll only need 3 starters in the 1st round, regardless of their seeding. I’d be OK with AJ getting the start, with Phil there to back him up. Just keep that leash VERY short.

    • Magnus Stultus

      Hughes starts ahead of AJ for me at this point.

  • Mark from Chicago

    Mike – don’t you think Ivan Nova deserves a chance to be our third starter in the ALDS, especially given the way Hughes and Burnett have been pitching? I know he’s a rookie, but he sure seems to have been our second best starter for about a month now. If he were to bomb, AJ or Hughes would be there to relieve, as well as fill-in for the ALCS.

    • http://www.twitter.com/brandonholley B-Rando

      I’d say to this lets see how he does down this stretch against playoff caliber teams. If he continues to prove he can pitch the way he has, then we consider it. However, he needs a few more starts under his belt, particularly against a team like the Rays.

    • ROBTEN

      Nova has done a good job thus far, but it is important to be careful about putting too much emphasis on just 24 innings of work. It seems to me that it would be a lot to expect from him to name him the third starter in the playoffs at this point.

  • ZZ

    Are you even capable of writing a post anymore without whining about Jeter’s season or his upcoming contract?

  • BG90027

    If Lee gets healthy and back on track, I’d much rather face Liriano twice in a short series than Lee. They are both great pitchers but Lee pitches much deeper in games than Liriano.

    • Jerome S

      Yeah, but the Yankees have proven that Lee is quite beatable. On the other hand, I recall a Yankees-Twins game from earlier this year when I couldn’t stop calling Liriano a motherfucker because he was keeping the Yankees down pretty well.