The Indians completed their sweep of the Tigers this afternoon, giving the Yankees a five game lead (six in the loss column) in the Wild Card race with eleven left to play. Meanwhile, the win gave the Indians a half-game lead on the Angels for the second seed in the American League.
As for the division, even if the Yankees go 8-3 over the rest of the season (which essentially means they have to take three of four from the Blue Jays best pitchers and sweep one other series, though a win tonight would count for that sweep), the Red Sox will have to go 5-5 for the Yankees to take the division via the tiebreaker of their head-to-head record. That's not impossible, but it is unlikely.
Curiously, this is all beginning to feel like a replay of 2005 when the Yankees rallied from a poor start of the season behind an MVP season from Alex Rodriguez to take the division from the Red Sox via a tiebreak in the final two days of the season. That year, the Yanks, Sox, and Angels all finished with 95-67 records, while the Indians, who were ahead of both for the Wild Card with six games left, finished just out of it at 93-69. Of course, all of that late-season drama was for naught as both the Yanks and Sox got bounced in the ALDS and the White Sox went on to sweep their way to a World Championship.
Tonight Andy Pettitte looks to bounce back from his rough outing in the opener of the Boston series and hand the Yanks a sweep of the Orioles. As great as Andy has been in the second half, he has a 5.94 ERA over his last three starts and has allowed 27 hits in those 16 2/3 innings, nine of them going for extra bases. The Yankees need Pettitte to pitch the way he did in August (6-0, 2.36 ERA) in order to have a chance in the ALDS, no matter how the matchups shake out. Andy will make one more regular season start after tonight, after which he'll be in line for Game One of the Division Series. He needs to use these starts to sort things out.
Opposing Pettitte is Brian Burres, who has split time between the rotation and bullpen for the Orioles this year. Burres has been far more effective as a starter, the role he filled in the minors each of the last two years. He's also handled the Yankees well this year, limiting them to a run on four hits and three walks while striking out eight in 7 1/3 innings between one start (6 IP) and one relief appearance. In Burres' last start, his first since August 4, he held the Blue Jays scoreless over seven frames.