Mark Your Calendar: MLB announced 2013 postseason schedule

MLB officially announced the 2013 postseason schedule yesterday. The AL wildcard game is slated for Wednesday, October 2nd. The Yankees end their season in Houston on Sunday, September 29th, and the two days in between are saved for any necessary tie-breaker games. The winner of the wildcard game will play Game One of the ALDS on Friday, October 4th. Am I getting ahead of myself? Hell yes. Do I care? Hell no.

The AL East title isn’t off the table just yet

The fat lady has yet to sing. She hasn't even warmed up yet. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)
The fat lady has yet to sing. She hasn’t even warmed up. (Jared Wickerham/Getty)

As of this morning, the Yankees have a 5.4% chance of making the postseason according to Baseball Prospectus. Cool Standings is slightly more optimistic at 8.3%. Both systems give the team a less than 1.5% chance of winning the AL East even though the Bombers come into today six back of the both the division lead and second wildcard spot in the loss column. Is it possible New York’s odds of winning the division are better than they are for winning a wildcard spot?

Yesterday I quickly broke down the schedule of the seven teams currently in the mix for the second wildcard spot. The Yankees are at a disadvantage not only because they’re the furthest back, but also because they only have seven games left against their six wildcard competitors. This late in the year, those head-to-head meetings are crucial. It’s the only chance you get to control what you and your opponent do.

Because four of the six teams the Yankees are competing with for that second wildcard spot come from the AL Central or AL West, they’re going to need a lot of outside help to get into the postseason. They’ll need the Mariners and Angels to beat the Rangers and Athletics, the White Sox and Twins to beat the Indians and Royals, stuff like that. That’s not good; counting on other teams to do your dirty work is not where you want to be heading into September.

The AL East race is much different, however. As usual, the last few weeks of the season are heavy on intra-division games, and the Yankees will play 21 of their final 39 games against the three teams ahead of them in the AL East. That’s seven games against the Red Sox, seven against the Orioles, and seven against the Rays. Furthermore, those three clubs play a bunch of games against each other down the stretch, guaranteeing one will lose (loose?) on a given night.

The Yankees have much more control over what happens down the stretch in the division than they do the wildcard race thanks to those 21 games against Boston, Tampa, and Baltimore. They still need help, don’t get me wrong, but at least now less lies in the hands of other teams. The downside is that the three AL East teams are probably better and tougher matchups than the other wildcard contenders, but that’s life. No one ever said digging out of this hole would be easy.

Because of how the system works, the Yankees would almost certainly climb into a wildcard spot before taking the lead in the AL East. That’s just the way it’s set up. The only way that doesn’t happen is if the various AL East teams simultaneously hit slumps while other clubs, say the Athletics and Indians, get hot and finish with better records. Possible but unlikely. The Yankees will be happy to get into the postseason either way at this point, but all those head-to-head meetings say that, no matter how unlikely, we shouldn’t rule out a division title just yet.

A look at the daunting road to the postseason

As of this morning, the Yankees have a 4.3% and 6.3% chance of making the postseason according to Baseball Prospectus and Cool Standings, respectively. They are currently six games back of the second wildcard spot with 40 games to play, and they’ve managed to gain exactly zero games in the race despite winning six of their last nine games. That’s the problem with having to climb over four teams, someone is always winning on a given day.

The Yankees have a very small chance of making the postseason but it’s not impossible. Their lineup is much improved these days and both CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte have started to pitch a little better, which will help the cause. Here’s a quick breakdown of the team’s remaining schedule compared to the clubs they’re chasing for that second wildcard spot:

GB of 2nd WC Games Left Games Left vs. NYY Games Left vs. WC Contenders Games Left vs. .500+ Teams
Rangers +1.5 39 0 13 16
Rays +0.5 41 6 21 24
Athletics 0.0 40 0 13 17
Orioles 3.0 40 7 20 29
Indians 3.5 39 0 10 16
Royals 5.0 40 0 10 17
Yankees 6.0 40 - 13 20

I included the Rangers and Rays here just because they’re so very close to the second wildcard spot. The Rangers and Athletics have been trading first place in the AL West back-and-forth all season.

Despite their tough overall remaining schedule, the Rays and Orioles are in a good spot because they have a ton of games left against the other wildcard contenders. Those head-to-head matchups are crucial, and as long as they have a bunch of them left, they’re still in the race. The Indians have a really soft schedule down the stretch, with 14 of their final 17 games coming against the lowly Twins, Astros, and White Sox. If they stay close enough to the race these next four weeks, they’ll be in good position to close out the season strong.

Following tonight’s series finale against the Red Sox, the Yankees will play seven of their next ten and ten of their next 16 games against the Blue Jays and ChiSox. After that they run through the AL East gauntlet and close out the schedule with three games in Houston. Those 13 games against the Rays and Orioles can help their postseason cause — or completely bury them — but otherwise they’re at the whim of the other teams. All they can do is win their games. They’ll need a lot of help from the other wildcard contenders. Or, really, they’ll need help from the teams playing those wildcard contenders. The road to the postseason couldn’t get much tougher at this point.

Get swept in the ALCS, win $115,065.28

Playoff shares were announced Monday morning, and the Yankees awarded 58 full shares worth a cool $115,065.28 each. Each LCS loser is allotted 12% of the $65.36M pool. That $115k+ is a drop in the bucket for stars like Derek Jeter and CC Sabathia, but it’s major cash for guys like Chris Stewart and David Phelps. A full share for the World Champion Giants was worth a bit more than $377k, breaking the previous record held by the 2006 Cardinals ($362k). The Tigers earned $284k each for sweeping the Yankees and then getting swept by San Francisco.

Giants win the 2012 World Series

The 2012 season is officially over. The Giants swept the Tigers — the same Tigers who swept the Yankees in the ALCS — in four games to win their second World Series title in the last three years. Pablo Sandoval won MVP honors thanks in large part to his three-homer effort in Game One.

If you’re looking for some Yankees connections here, you’ve got plenty. George Kontos was a September callup last year before being traded for Chris Stewart. Xavier Nady spent a year and a half in pinstripes, and Joaquin Arias was a former top Yankees prospect who went to the Rangers in the Alex Rodriguez trade. Melky Cabrera wasn’t on the active World Series roster due to his PED suspension, but he certainly helped the Giants this summer after several years in New York. Giants GM Brian Sabean also spent a number of years in the Yankees front office immediately prior to heading west. Dave Righetti, Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens, Roberto Kelly, Joe Lefebvre, and J.T. Snow are all on the coaching staff. Former Yankee Phil Coke took the loss in extra innings. Congrats to San Fran, they were magnificent in the series.

Notes from Girardi’s end-of-season press conference

(Seth Wenig / AP Photo)

The Yankees were swept out of the ALCS by the Tigers almost a week ago, but it wasn’t until today that Joe Girardi conducted every manager’s annual end-of-season press conference. He said the team has yet to look back and evaluate the 2012 campaign just because everyone takes a few days off to be with their families and kinda get away from baseball immediately after the season ends. They’ll obviously evaluate the club top to bottom in the coming weeks. Here are the important notes from the press conference…

On Alex Rodriguez

  • “These were things that we evaluated a lot before we made our decisions,” said Girardi when asked about benching A-Rod in the postseason. “I don’t go back and second guess myself.”
  • Girardi has not yet spoken to Alex (or any other player for that matter) about their relationship, but said “that will take place … it just hasn’t yet.” He isn’t worried about things being strained but acknowledged that actions have consequences and he will deal with them if need be.
  • Girardi said he believes A-Rod was healthy in the postseason and was just struggling, particularly against righties.
  • “Can Alex be a very good player again? Absolutely, I don’t have any question in my mind,” said the skipper. He praised A-Rod’s baseball smarts and said he expects him to be his everyday third baseman next season.
  • Chad Jennings has Girardi’s full quotes about A-Rod if you aren’t sick of hearing about it yet.

On the playoffs…

  • “Yes it was somewhat puzzling,” said Girardi on the offense’s struggles. He attributed Robinson Cano‘s disappearing act to being pitched well and just falling into a poorly-timed slump. He did acknowledge that Robbie was frustrated, which likely compounded the problem.
  • Girardi said he doesn’t think the team’s unfavorable postseason schedule contributed to their lack of hitting, ditto all the tough games they had to play down the stretch in September. He basically said he doesn’t believe his team was worn out after a month of playoff-type games.
  • “I hope not,” said Girardi when asked if he may have he lost the trust of some players by sitting them in the postseason. “I was making moves trying to win ballgames … I’ve been honest with our players and I will continue to do that, and I will do my best for this organization to win every game.”
  • Girardi attributed the dull Yankee Stadium atmosphere in the postseason to a lack of scoring on the team’s part, nothing more. “I think our fans are very passionate about the Yankees (because) we see it even on the road.”

On injuries…

  • “(It has) not taken place,” said Girardi when asked if CC Sabathia has gone to visit Dr. James Andrews about his elbow. He is encouraged by his ace left-hander’s performance in September and the ALDS and he expects to have him in Spring Training. “We’re always concerned that it’s maybe something more than you think it is … I don’t like people going to see doctors (but) sometimes people have to be evaluated to make sure everything is okay.”
  • “We expect him to be back and playing for us next year on Opening Day,” said Girardi about Derek Jeter and his fractured ankle. He added that there are always concerns following a surgery, including Jeter pushing his rehab too hard and having some kind of setback.
  • Mariano Rivera did throw sooner than expected this year but Girardi never did ask him if he will definitely return next season. “I don’t think you push a rehab like he pushed it unless you have some interest in coming back,” he said.
  • There were no undisclosed or “hidden” injuries this year, so to speak. Russell Martin‘s hands are banged up but that is typical catcher stuff and isn’t a long-term concern.
  • Both hitting coach Kevin Long (elbow) and third base coach Rob Thomson (hip) will have surgery this offseason, if you care.

On free agents and the team moving forward, etc…

  • “There’s a lot of hunger and fire in him,” said Girardi about Andy Pettitte, but he doesn’t know if the veteran southpaw will return next year. He expects him to discuss things with his family before making a decision.
  • He mentioned briefly that like Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda is among the players who will make a decision about his future and playing beyond this year.
  • Girardi said he was unsure about Ichiro Suzuki coming back next year but he knows the veteran outfielder enjoyed his time in New York. He also praised Ichiro for making adjustments like playing left field and batting towards the bottom of the order.
  • “I think this kid has something to offer us,” said the manager about Eduardo Nunez while also acknowledging that his role for next year is undetermined because other parts of the club are unsettled. “There is talent there, there is speed, there is excitement, he has a lot to offer.”
  • “There’s a lot of players we have to decide what we’re going to do with, but I believe when Spring Training starts next year, we’ll be a championship club,” said Girardi, acknowledging that the team has a lot of players with open contract situations.
  • He also spoke about the Yankees getting power from non-traditional power sources (specifically catcher, second base, and center field) and their ability of the offense to absorb the loss of a homerun hitter (i.e. Nick Swisher) if that happens this winter.
  • Girardi acknowledged that the team has a busy offseason coming but doesn’t expect the chaos to be a problem. “Sometimes quiet is a bad thing,” he joked.

On the status of him and his coaches…

  • “No. The pressure you see I put on myself,” said Girardi when asked about the pressure of entering a contract year. He doesn’t expect the team to talk about a new deal until his current one expires and he doesn’t anticipate asking for an extension before then either.
  • Girardi expects the entire coaching staff to return next year but again pointed out that the team has not yet discussed everything.

Miscellaneous…

  • Girardi praised his role players for stepping up into more prominent roles than expected this year, mentioning Raul Ibanez, David Phelps, and Cody Eppley by name.
  • When asked about Cano’s general lack of hustle down the line to first base, Girardi said he “will address with every player to play hard.”

The Yankees, Cardinals, and a lesson in offense

(Christian Petersen/Getty)

The World Series starts Wednesday night and the Yankees won’t be playing in it because of their complete inability to generate offense against the Tigers in the ALCS. They scored six runs in the four-game sweep, and four of those runs came in two-thirds of an inning against Jose Valverde. It’s still fresh in everyone’s mind so I don’t need to remind you of how ugly the series was.

The Cardinals also won’t be playing in this year’s World Series because they too just stopped hitting. They blew a three games to one lead against the Giants in the NLCS and were outscored a whopping 20-1 in the final three games. That’s despite the presence of Carlos Beltran, a .363/.470/.782 career hitter in 151 playoff plate appearances and the proud owner of the highest postseason OPS in baseball history. It’s hard to believe that their offense just evaporated.

I bring this up because the Yankees and Cardinals have more in common than their LCS exits. They each led their league in offense during the regular season (113 wRC+ for NYY and 107 for STL), but they did it in very different ways. The Yankees hit .265/.337/.453 as a team and led the world in homers (245) while the Cardinals hit .271/.338/.421 with just 159 homers. The big difference is that New York hit .262/.345/.449 with men on base while St. Louis hit .272/.345/.435 in those situations. Same OBP but less power production for the Cardinals (due in part to the pitcher hitting), but they hit for a higher average in those spots (.272 was the seventh highest team average with men on base this year). Their offense was built more on sustained rallies and getting so-called “clutch hits” whereas the Yankees just bludgeoned their opponents.

Anyway, a lot of people attribute New York’s postseason failure to their inability to score runs without the long ball and want to see them embrace a more contact-oriented approach. I don’t necessarily buy the former but I am on board with the latter to a certain extent. However, the Cardinals had a contract-oriented approach and their offense still disappeared for a stretch in the playoffs. The point I’m trying to make is that there is no magic formula for a winning offense, there’s no right or wrong. You can do everything right and hit all the homers and drive in every runner in scoring position … and it still might not matter because anything can happen in a short series. It’s not luck, it’s just the day-to-day randomness of baseball and life in general.