What was once a six-game lead is now down to two. On the morning of September 2nd, a mere ten days ago, the Yankees held a six-game lead in the loss column over the Athletics for the top wildcard spot. Now it’s down to two games. Fortunately the Yankees still hold a nine-game lead on a postseason spot. They haven’t clinched anything yet, but a postseason spot is in the bag. Nine up with 17 to play is a comfortable lead.
Homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game is now very much up for grabs, however. The Athletics keep winning and the Yankees keep playing mediocre ball. Oakland won their fifth straight game last night. It was their seventh win in their last eight games. The Yankees got blown out by the Twins last night to fall to 4-4 on the nine-game road trip. That’s a three-game swing in the standings since last Monday. It happened fast.
Some necessary perspective: The Yankees are two games up with 17 to play, and if they go 9-8 in those 17 games, the A’s have to go 11-6 just to tie. And a tie does the Athletics no good because the Yankees hold the homefield advantage tiebreaker. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record and the season series is tied 3-3. The next tiebreaker is intradivision record. The Yankees are 34-26 against the AL East. The A’s are 33-34 against the AL West. Those intradivision records will change before the end of the season, but the Yankees are eight up in the loss column, so they’re in good shape.
If the Yankees go 9-8 in their final 17 games the Athletics will need to go 12-5 to get homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game, and that is completely possible. The A’s have been playing out of their mind for months now — they are 54-21 since June 21st, the best record in baseball — and the Yankees have been spinning their wheels for a while. Look at their records since the All-Star break:
- Athletics: 33-14 (+82 run differential)
- Yankees: 28-22 (+19 run differential)
Going 28-22 over a stretch of 50 games isn’t bad, necessarily, but it doesn’t exactly scream World Series contender either. The frustrating part is this was supposed to be the easy part of the schedule. The Yankees have played 50 games since the All-Star break and 16 have been against good teams (three vs. Mariners, three vs. Athletics, four vs. Red Sox, six vs. Rays). The Yankees most definitely did not take advantage of that favorable schedule.
“We’ve got to do better,” said Aaron Boone following last night’s game. “We go out and lay an egg like that tonight, we did not play well all around. This is the time where we’ve got to start playing up to our capabilities and putting our best foot forward, every single day.”
The Yankees putting their best foot forward is something that starts with Boone. His bullpen management leaves something to be desired and last night he hung Sonny Gray and Jonathan Loaisiga out to dry after they’d loaded the bases with no outs. Those two and Tommy Kahnle put the game out of reach. I know you can’t use your top relievers every game. But how about once every three games? It’s been a while since the regular late-inning guys have pitched.
The Yankees have not played great baseball for a while now and it is not one person’s fault. It’s not Boone’s fault, it’s not the slumping Giancarlo Stanton’s fault, it’s not the slumping Luis Severino’s fault, it’s not because Aaron Judge is hurt … it’s all of that and more, which is what can make snapping out of a middling stretch like this so difficult. Lots of things have to correct. The Yankees can’t just flip the ON switch, you know?
It goes without saying homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game is important. It’s not everything — the road team is 7-5 in the 12 Wild Card Games so far, if you can believe that, and the Yankees did win a game in Oakland just last week — but man, we all would rather have that game in Yankee Stadium. I’m not sure any team in baseball is built for their home ballpark as well as the Yankees. Plus the travel would stink. Flying from Boston to Oakland after Game 162? No fun.
I’ve watched enough baseball to know how a team plays in September is not very indicative of how they’ll play in October. I’ve also watched enough baseball to know the Yankees have been playing mediocre baseball much further back than September. The entire second half, basically. They faded (crashed, really) out of the AL East race and now they’re fading out of the top wildcard spot. That’s bad! And it has to stop, because the Yankees have already used up most of the cushion they built in the first half. Backing into that top wildcard spot won’t happen. The A’s are going to make the Yankees earn it.
“Frustrated, disappointed, I think any of those words fit the bill right now. We’ve got a better team than the way we’ve been playing,” said Brett Gardner following last night’s game. “Hopefully over the next couple weeks that’ll all come together … If we play the way we’re capable of, we’ll look back a few months from now and none of it will really matter. Or if we don’t play the way we’re capable of, we’ll be going home early.”