Thanks to a well-timed and largely media-free vacation on the Maine coast, I missed the latest Yankee stumble against the sub-.400 Devil Rays. Not having witnessed the infuriating manner in which the Bronx Bumblers blew the final two games of that series earlier this week, I sense that I might have a slightly different perspective when sizing up the remaining six weeks of the Yankees' season than those embittered by watching those games unfold.
What I see when I look at the standings is that the Yankees are four games behind the Red Sox in the AL East with six games left to play against Boston and one and a half games behind the A's in the Wild Card race with three games left to play against Oakland. That means the Yankees' destiny is in their own hands. If they are able to match just one of these two clubs win-for-win over the remainder of the season and sweep their head-to-head confrontations, the Yankees will make the playoffs for the eleventh consecutive season.
Not that I expect that to happen.
But then again, why not? Aside from those nine games against the teams they're chasing, the Yankees have just three remaining games against the other two AL teams with better records than their own, those being the three games they will play against the AL best White Sox in Chicago this weekend.
Otherwise, the Yanks have three home games against the league-worst Royals, three games at the West's worst Mariners (against whom the Bombers are 5-1 on the season, including a 2-1 series win in Safeco in May), and a whopping 22 games against the three teams below them in the AL East standings.
The A's, meanwhile, have those three games against the Yankees, four in Fenway against the Red Sox, and seven against the division-leading Angels. The Red Sox have those six games against the Yanks and four against the A's, and six more against the Angels, who whupped them 13-4 last night to open a four-game series in Anahiem.
For those keeping track, that's 11 remaining games against what I'll, for lack of a better term, call "playoff caliber" teams for both the A's and Yanks, and 14 for the Red Sox. Overall, I think it's fair to say that the Yankees have the easiest remaining schedule as, while the A's, Yanks and Bosox will all do battle with each other, the A's and Hosers each have a pair of series remaining with the Angels (who as of this moment are my pick to win the AL pennant) while the Yankees get a second chance at the slumping White Sox.
Yes, the White Sox still have the best record in the American League and a convincing 10.5 game lead in the Central, but that was almost entirely the result of a smoking first half that saw the Chisox peak at 57-26 (.687) before being swept by the A's in their final series before the All-Star break. Since then, the Pale Hosers have gone 16-18 (.471), dropping their overall winning percentage 60 points to .627. Best of all for the Yankees, the bulk of that losing has come in August, a month in which the AL's "best" team has gone 6-9. Most of that is due to an active five-game losing streak that started immediately after the Southsiders squeaked out a 2-1 series win against the Yanks over the course of three one-run games early last week.
Since that series, each team has made just one roster move. The Yankees have dumped bullpen flotsam Wayne Franklin in favor of an apparently healthy (knock knock) Jaret Wright, who turned in what was easily his best Yankee outing in his first start off the DL this past Monday and will start against a hopefully less determined Jose Contreras on Sunday. The White Sox, meanwhile, have had to disable lead-off man Scott Podsednik, giving his roster spot to 23-year-old rookie outfielder Brian Anderson and his spot in left field and the batting order to < a href="http://cubtown.baseballtoaster.com/archives/166042.html">Timo! Perez.
The Yankees move clearly makes them better, while the White Sox move clearly makes them worse (Timo! actually started two of the three games in last weeks' series due to a Carl Everett injury, but not as the White Sox's lead-off hitter, and good as Timo is in the field, Podsednik is better). As the last meeting between these two teams resulted in a net score of 6-5 White Sox, it's not irrational to think that these simple changes just might have tipped the balance in the Yankees' favor.
Tonight the Yanks send staff anchor Mike Mussina against the major-leagues' second winningest pitcher, Jon Garland. Coming off a pair of stomach-punch loses against the Devil Rays, with the FOX jinx lurking over tomorrow's El Duque/Chacon match-up, and the two teams the Yankees are chasing starting their respective aces tonight (Harden and Clement), the Yankees really need to pull out a win tonight to keep morale high and the hitters loose.