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.


  • 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.

What Went Right: Postseason Pitching

Over the next few weeks we’re going to spend some time reviewing the entire 2012 season, which featured another division title and unfortunately another disappointing playoff exit.


As we discussed earlier today, the Yankees as a team basically hit like a pitcher in the postseason. They put together a collective .188/.254/.303 batting line in their nine postseason games and scored just two runs in the final three games of the ALCS. It was tough to watch and just flat out pathetic, there’s really no other way to describe it.

The pitching staff, on the other hand, was absolutely stellar up until ALCS Game Four. The starters churned out quality start after quality start, and the bullpen did all it could to preserve leads and keep deficits close. After posting a 3.86 ERA (3.98 FIP) during the regular season, the Yankees received a 2.76 ERA (~3.45 FIP) in 88 postseason innings from the pitching staff.

CC Sabathia
Unfortunately, Sabathia’s season will be remembered for ending on a sour note as the Tigers battered him for six runs on eleven hits (!) in just 3.2 innings in ALCS Game Four. It was an ugly start in a generally ugly postseason showing by the Yankees as whole, but it was also the exception rather than the rule for the pitching staff.

Sabathia, of course, helped get the Yankees to the ALCS with a pair of dominant outings against the Orioles in the ALDS. He allowed two runs in 8.2 innings in Game One against Baltimore, then followed it up by allowing just one run in the decisive Game Five win. All told, Sabathia struck out 19 batters and walked just five in 21.1 playoff innings including the ALCS disaster. He set a new ALDS record with 17.2 innings pitches, nearly two full innings more than the previous record.

Andy Pettitte
A year ago Pettitte was retired back home, but he got the itch to pitch and came back to the Yankees early in the season. He slotted in as their number two starter in the postseason due in large part to the schedule, as the club tried to optimize the amount of rest for each of their starters. Pettitte made two playoff starts, one in each round, and he tossed up a quality start in each. He held the Orioles to three runs in seven innings in ALDS Game Two and the Tigers to two runs in 6.2 innings in ALCS Game One. As per his norm, Andy did allow a lot of baserunners but continually pitched out of jams. For a guy who was out of baseball a year ago, allowing five runs in 13.2 postseason innings is a minor miracle.


Hiroki Kuroda
Kuroda was New York’s best starting pitcher from Opening Day through the end of the season, and he turned in a pair of gems in the postseason. Following Sabathia and Pettitte, the first-year Yankee held the Orioles to two runs in 8.1 innings in ALDS Game One before allowing three runs in 7.2 innings in ALCS Game Two. That second start came on three days’ rest, the first time he’d ever done that in his career. Kuroda struck out a season-high eleven in that game, and it would have been eight innings of one-run ball had second base ump Jeff Nelson not blown an obvious out call on Omar Infante at second base. The bullpen allowed two inherited runners to score (charged to Kuroda) after the error. Sixteen innings (really 16.1) of five-run (really three-run) ball from the number three starter? Sign me up for that every day of the week.

Phil Hughes
Like Sabathia, Hughes ended his season on a down note as a stiff back forced him out of ALCS Game Three after just three innings of work. That shouldn’t erase his ALDS effort however, as he held the Orioles to one run in 6.2 innings while striking out eight in Game Four. Hughes only allowed one run in the ALCS start before exiting with the injury as well, so all told his postseason performance featured just two runs in 9.2 inning of work. As far as number four starters go, you can’t do much better.

The Bullpen
Eight of the nine postseason games were very close into the late innings, and the bullpen stepped up in support of the starters in a big way. They allowed just eight runs (seven earned) in 27.1 total innings (2.30 ERA) while walking just four (!), including one intentionally. The late-inning duo of Rafael Soriano and David Robertson allowed just one run in 9.2 combined innings, striking out seven against zero walks and five hits. The lone run was a solo homer off Robertson in ALCS Game Five, when the game was already out of reach. Boone Logan and Clay Rapada combined to retire 11 of 12 left-handed batters faced, with the one exception being a walk by Prince Fielder. David Phelps, who allowed four runs (three earned) in 3.1 total innings, was the only clear negative on a pitching staff who was absolutely dynamite overall in the postseason.