This afternoon the Yankees are wrapping up their series with the Orioles, in their 139th game of the season. The final 23 games of the season — only 23 games remaining! — will determine whether the Yankees qualify for the postseason, or miss the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years.
Here, to keep the loyal reader informed, are the current wildcard standings:
The Yankees are four games back of the Red Sox in the AL East, so they’re certainly not out of the division race yet, but I’ve shifted focus to the wildcard spot. Tough to make up ground in the AL East race with no head-to-head games with Boston remaining. Besides, the Yankees have to nail down a wildcard spot before really making a run at the division title.
Anyway, with 23 games to go this year, I figured this would be as good a time as any to breakdown the remaining schedule. New York’s remaining opponents have a combined .487 winning percentage this year, fourth lowest in the AL behind only the Indians (.459), Tigers (.479), and Astros (.483). That doesn’t mean much though. Any team can beat any other team on any given day in this game. Let’s break down the schedule, shall we?
The Unexpectedly Important Series
I gotta admit, I did not expect a mid-September series against Twins the mean much when I first looked at the schedule last year. Heck, I didn’t expect it to mean much when I looked at schedule at any point prior to, like, August 15th. Minnesota wasn’t expected to contend this year and I think most people have been waiting for them to fall out of race. It hasn’t happened. The Twinkies went 20-10 in August and shot up the standings.
Minnesota is coming to Yankee Stadium for three games from September 18th through the 20th, and while a wildcard spot won’t necessarily be on the line — both teams could still make the postseason, and that series could very well be a Wild Card Game preview — the series could go a long way toward determining homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game. The Yankees dropped two of three to the Twins at Target Field in July, but eh. That won’t have any impact on the series in September.
The Other Important Series
A September series against the Orioles being important isn’t nearly as surprising as a September series with the Twins being important. Even when the O’s sank in the standings at midseason — they went 39-55 from May 10th through August 22nd, so they played at a 95-loss pace for 94 games — I think we all knew they’d play the Yankees tough down the stretch. We’ve seen it this week.
The Yankees and Orioles are closing out their series at Camden Yards right now, and next weekend they’ll play four more games at Yankee Stadium (September 14th to 17th). That will represent the last best chance for the O’s to make up a lot of ground in the wildcard race in a short period of time. Depending what happens between now and then, the Yankees will have a chance to bury Baltimore next week, and the Orioles will have a chance to make up some ground in a hurry.
The Remaining Road Series
Fun fact: the Yankees are in the middle of their final road trip right now. Well, technically it’s their second to last road trip, but the last road trip is a quick three-game series in Toronto. Short flight, home before and after the series. It’s not a multi-city trip or anything like that. Here are the remaining road series, not including the current series with the Orioles:
- at Rangers: Three games from September 8th to 10th
- at Rays: Three games from September 11th to 13th
- at Blue Jays: Three games from September 22nd to 24th
Losing today’s off-day and having to fly from Baltimore to the Metroplex this evening kinda stinks, but what can you do? That’s baseball. Also, that series against the Rays might be moved due to Hurricane Irma, possibly to Yankee Stadium. They could also end up playing at a neutral site — I’ve seen Baltimore and Chicago mentioned as possibilities — or possibly even play in Tampa. MLB is expected to make an announcement on the series by tomorrow.
Anyway, I don’t care where the Rays and Blue Jays are in the standings. Intra-division games are always tough. Those games are always a battle. As for the Rangers, they are still in the race despite trading Yu Darvish at the deadline. The Rangers acknowledged they’re not serious contenders and yet they’re still in the race. Go figure. They are without Adrian Beltre though, which will make this weekend’s series a little easier. He’s done for a while with a hamstring problem. Texas won’t be a pushover, but no Darvish and no Beltre makes life a little easier.
The Stray Makeup Game
The Yankees have one off-day remaining this year: Thursday, September 21st. Two weeks from today. They lost what would’ve been their final off-day, Monday September 25th, to a makeup game with the Royals. The two clubs were rained out on May 25th. Because of that, the Yankees will finish the season with ten games in ten days, which isn’t a huge deal, but you’d still rather have the off-day. The Royals are not going away and are an annoyingly scrappy team. A late season game against the non-contending Royals of old would’ve been a cakewalk. Not now.
The Final Week
Here’s the good thing about the remaining schedule: 14 of those remaining 23 games are at home. The Yankees at home this year: 40-27 with a +87 run differential. The Yankees on the road this year: 34-37 with a +52 run differential (wtf???). Even beyond that, travel stinks, man. Getting to sleep in your own bed rules. The Yankees will get to do a lot of that this month.
Anyway, the Yankees close out the 2017 regular season with seven straight home games. They have the makeup game against the Royals on September 25th, a three-game set with the Rays from September 26th to 28th — Hurricane Irma could change that — and a three-game series with the Blue Jays from September 29th to October 1st. With any luck, all three of those teams will be eliminated from postseason contention and playing rookies by then. Unfortunately, that’s wishful thinking more than anything. Like I said, the Royals are annoying and intra-division games are always tough.
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On paper, the Yankees do not have an easy rest-of-season schedule. As bad as the Blue Jays have been overall this year, those head-to-head games are never easy. Now, that all said, I see two positives here. One, the Yankees have all those home games remaining. An undeniable plus. And two, they have an opportunity to control their own destiny, so to speak. Those series with the Twins and Orioles give the Yankees a chance to take care of business themselves in the wildcard race, and not rely on help from other teams, which is what they have to do in the AL East race.