September is the month when teams start to seriously think “playoffs.” At this point, only nine of the original 162 games remain, and every game counts. For the Yankees, they truly care about every game left; their own and the teams above them in the standings. It’s important to remember that the Yankees are in the American League Wild Card race not only because of their performance, but also because of the floundering franchises around them. In fact, the Bombers have not played much differently throughout the entire year; they have always been seven to ten games above the .500 mark. Meanwhile, the Orioles of Baltimore have slipped somewhat. On August 23, the O’s were eleven games above .500 and only 4.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox for the AL East lead! And while the Red Sox did pull ahead by routing (sorry) the Yanks, the O’s are eleven games back in the standings.
Those Tampa Bay Rays haven’t been splendid either. An overall record (83-69) belies their recent skid in which the ballclub has played 9-16 since late August, definitely a sketchy number for a potential World Series contender. However, the starting five man rotation has been consistently dominant despite numerous injuries for the Rays, and an experienced bullpen (three players are 36 or older) has helped preserve leads. The Evan Longoria-led offense continues to be solid, but not stellar. Phenom Wil Myers has been a boon for offense with a history of underachieving players, such as James Loney and Delmon Young. For a team tied for first place in the AL East a month ago, the Rays’ collapse could be as catastrophic as the 2007 Mets debacle. But of course, the Yankees won’t complain.
Additionally, the Texas Rangers, Cleveland Indians, and Kansas City Royals are vying for the second Wild Card spot along with the Yankees. Yes, you read that right. The Indians and Royals are no longer the teams that the better teams beat up on. Former Yank Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis headline a franchise that appears to be in the midst of a renaissance of sorts. With an evenly distributed pitching rotation of hurlers all around a 3.50 to 4.00 ERA, the Indians have managed to limit the amount of runs allowed more than previous years.
Meanwhile, Kansas City’s success is related directly to Eric Hosmer; when he hits, the team wins. He doesn’t have amazing power numbers, but he drives in runs and is hitting .303 after starting the season dreadfully. And with a league leading 3.50 team ERA, these Royals are no longer the serfs they used to be.
Finally, the Texas Rangers, a heavy-hitting team last year, has been forced to transform into a pitching oriented team. This past calendar year has included the losses of Josh Hamilton and Michael Young and the suspension of Nelson Cruz, leaving much of the weight on the shoulders of Adrian Beltre and Ian Kinsler. With Beltre proving once again that he is an elite third baseman, Kinsler playing consistently, and other role players filling in exceptionally, the Rangers have vaulted themselves up the standings. A strong throwing staff doesn’t hurt either, especially when the top two starters are Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, and a lights-out closer in Joe Nathan.
It’s important for the Yankees to finish strong if they even hope to make the playoffs, but even if they win ten of the next twelve decisions, the other ballclubs have to lose, too. While an 89-73 record could be enough to propel the Yankees into the postseason again, other teams could also become hot. It’s frustrating when luck is the deciding factor in determining a major decision, and just like in Texas Hold Em’ or The Hunger Games, the odds are not always in your favor. But hopefully this year, the odds are. After all, it doesn’t matter if the Yanks sneak into the playoffs. It’s just about getting there.