New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi would love to have CC Sabathia in game one of a division series on regular rest. (Image: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE)

Dizzying playoff scenarios lurk for Yankees

I know, I know let’s make sure the New York Yankees actually get to the postseason, but this is a site dedicated to opinion, commentary and of course speculation so here it goes. On the assumption that the Yankees can reach the postseason in which spot and against which team would the Yankees be best situated to begin the playoffs?

Initially, we need to look at the chance of a tie-breaker situation with four teams bunched within less than three games of each other and the Yankees currently in a dead heat with the Baltimore Orioles with each team holding 91-67 records. I’m not going to delve into how they are determined if there is more than one tie-breaker because reading how they are handled causes the kind of headache resulting from bashing one’s head into a wall. So to save a few hundred words and a run on Tylenol let’s move on to how a tie-breaker could affect the Yankees.

First, the Yankees don’t want to be involved in one unless it is for the division title. At least if they were to win that type of tie-breaker, they would get a small amount of rest and a travel day before the division round began. Should they play a tie-breaker for the AL East title and lose they would then immediately play the wild card play-in game the next day assuming it doesn’t create another tie-breaker and barring miracles from the Los Angeles Angels or Tampa Bay Rays.

Such a circumstance would have the Yankees play in minimally two games while wiping out their best pitchers and no assurance of moving on to an actual playoff series. Any professional team can win one baseball game against another. The Yankees have a loss to the Minnesota Twins (66-92) and now two against the Toronto Blue Jays (70-88) in just the last five days. The Yankees do not want to put themselves in a situation where they are playing multiple survivor games against superior talent before the real playoffs begin. Their rotation is just not deep enough to perform well in those circumstances.

So, the best thing the Yankees can do is win out and hope the Orioles lose a game in their next four. At the very least they would not have to worry about playing tie-breaker games.

It goes without saying that getting to the playoffs is a great measure of above average play for a better part of the season. That said being a wild card team is not quite as good as it used to be. Initially it only guarantees the right to play another wild card team for the chance to play the best team in the league determined by win/loss record.

For this season the wild card play-in winner will end up hosting the initial two home games against the team with home field advantage, while that team would get games 3, 4, and 5 at home. I’m not a big fan of this and have written about that before, but I’m not out to debate the merits of the system. It was scheduled as such because of the timing of getting the play-in approved AFTER the regular season schedule was made up. The format eliminates a travel day in between had the previous 2-2-1 system been in place.

To me this is a factor that has to be considered when evaluating which scenario best suits the Yankees. Were they to hypothetically take over the spot for home-field advantage in the American League playoffs or win the American League East ending up the #2 seed — they would travel to the wild card winner (if #1) or AL Central winner (if #2) after receiving a reprieve from the regular season.

Either scenario of course allows them to fully rest everyone in the rotation (assuming no tie-breaker) giving position players like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, plus anyone else who comes up gimpy over the next four days some time to unwind and rest for a bit. The downside is starting on the road where the Yankees are just six games over .500 this season. Below is a chart of the Yankees record against potential postseason teams both away and home.

The only team which the Yankees seem to have a decisive edge over away from New York is Baltimore. I would venture to guess regular season history can get thrown out the window if those two teams meet considering the Yankees were beaten up by the Orioles in the Bronx this season. Regardless, if the Yankees are the #1 or #2 seed they’ll have more home games in the division round, BUT they’ll have to win three straight should their opponent take the first two from the Bombers.

The theory is that the better team (by seeding) should be able to take one of two games away from their home park. However, there is no guarantee of that and rest assured the wild card winner will be riding an emotional high so winning two straight in front of their fans is not out of the question. Losing the first two games of a five-game series (home or away) could cause plenty of problems for any team; to win three straight in the postseason is not easy regardless of the venue.

The only way the Yankees host the first two games in the division series is if they are the winners of a wild card play-in game. They cannot be the #3 seed if they win the AL East because they have a better record than either of the AL Central teams vying for that division’s crown.

Mark Teixeira could get some extra rest if the Yankees secure the #1 or # 2 seed in the division series round. (Image: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE)

There is one benefit to being the #1 seed versus the #2 seed, besides the presumed “luxury” of playing the wild card winner. The true advantage for the Yankees would be getting one more day of rest. This would aid the position players who are trying to heal up more so than the rotation since earning the #2 seed would ensure the Yankees can throw CC Sabathia on normal rest on October 6; assuming of course they did not have to play in a tie-breaker to win the East.

So let’s talk about whether the Yankees will even want the number one seed (they are a game and a half back of the Texas Rangers heading into Sunday’s play for that spot). Would the Yankees want to travel to play any of the potential wild card teams instead of playing the Tigers or the White Sox? First, for location purposes traveling to California to face the Oakland Athletics or Los Angeles Angels seems daunting. A five-game series against the upstart Orioles or the Rays is scary-short especially since it pits the Yankees against teams who are very familiar with them and with whom the Yankees split the season series.

While looking at the records of the potential teams, there isn’t one that screams an easy series or one that spells doom for the Bombers. In my opinion the best thing for the Yankees might be to face the Tigers or White Sox AFTER they need to play a tie-breaker game for the AL Central title. Detroit ace Justin Verlander is perfectly lined up for such a start if needed as is Chicago’s top hurler Chris Sale. The way the Central has played out this season, the chances are good for such a finish and would truly benefit the Bombers. It is asking for a lot with the Tigers now up by two games over the ChiSox, but it is certainly plausible considering the back and forth that has gone on in the Central in September.

What’s important to note is the Yankees somewhat maintain control of their own destiny despite yesterday’s disturbing loss to the Blue Jays. They obviously want to win the AL East above all other things and winning out gives them a chance to at least earn a tie-breaker game with the Orioles. Being a wild card team means little now than a major uphill battle, but again provides a path nonetheless.

Should the Yankees win the East, I think traveling to Detroit or Chicago gives the Bombers the best chance to win a short series, even though Verlander or Sale depending on the opponent can pitch in game one of the division series. After them their respective rotations are not exactly stellar. If the Yankees had to face either ace in a game five at least it would be at home. Each of the potential series opponents the Yankees would face as a #1 seed causes me more concern than the Tigers or White Sox.

But, the Yankees funny enough may not have a choice in the matter. The Rangers are closer to sealing their division than the Yankees and they could sit back and fall into the #2 seed should they want to; while for the Yankees, winning a bulk of their remaining games is a must as they continue their dogfight with the Orioles. The necessity of winning virtually every game left on the schedule could play the Yankees into the #1 seed by default.

If the Yankees end up a wild card team and win the play-in game they may be happy just to make it that far considering the path. They’d  hope to win both games in the Bronx and steal one against the number one seed. Again, not a simple task, but also far from impossible. It is just not a preferred method to reach the World Series.

In the end the Yankees will have to perform at the top of their game despite their seeding, the opponent and the venue. That is playoff baseball. Tie-breakers, short series and new formats could all play a part in the Yankees’ fate. Will the pressures of winning in September make the team stronger in October? Or will these “playoff-like” series have sapped all of their energy just to reach the postseason? Hope I didn’t give you a headache. Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Tags: New York Yankees

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