One-hundred and thirty-five games into the season, the Yankees are right back where they started on Opening Day following last night’s loss to the Rays. They’re tied atop the AL East with the Orioles while Tampa looms just two back in the loss column, meaning the only thing left this season is a four-week mad dash to the finish line. A new 27-game season.
“It doesn’t (feel any different having a lead in the division or being tied),” said Joe Girardi following last night’s game, which is typical manager-speak. Of course it feels different having a lead than not, these guys aren’t robots. “When you look at it, you have to play good baseball. If you want to get in the playoffs, you have to play good baseball. And we’ve got [27 games left], and we have to play good.”
As ridiculous as this sounds, the best possible way the Yankees can view their current situation is as a fresh start. The once ten-game division lead is already blown and there’s no going back in time to get it back. They’re actually lucky they blew this thing with 27 games left, because at least now they have time to reclaim the division lead. The Red Sox and Braves had no such luck last year. The Yankees have to look at this as “alright, we’re all 0-0 and the best team over the next 27 games will win it.” What more could they possibly do? I don’t see any other way to look at it.
Oh, and you know what the most messed up part of this is? Driving back to my hotel from Tropicana Field last night, I felt relieved. Relieved they blew this lead. How ridiculous is that? Relieved. The Yankees have been playing so poorly for such a long time that blowing the division lead felt inevitable. Maybe it would happen today, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week. Who knows. It felt like it was only a matter of time before it happened and I guess I was relieved that the wait was finally over. Remember back when you were a kid and you had to get up in front of the class to make a presentation, and how you were all nervous beforehand but felt great afterwards because it was over with? Kinda like that. The collapse part is done, now they can try to rebuild.
Anyway, the Yankees made their bed by playing sub-.500 ball since the All-Star break, so now instead of coasting to the finish line and making sure everyone is well prepared for the postseason, the playoffs basically start today. Tonight is Game One of a best-of-27 series … well, it doesn’t really work like that. But you get the point. The Yankees blew their nice cushy lead and they should be embarrassed by their play. I can’t imagine an athlete feeling any other way after a stretch like this. The season isn’t over though, there is still 16.7% of the schedule remaining and that has be the team’s focus. Looking back at what’s already happened will only doom them further.