The Yankees are in the playoffs, but with three days to go, the Yankees could still land anywhere from No. 1-seeded AL East Champion to No. 5 seed headed West to Oakland for a virtual play-in game. They could begin postseason play on Saturday or be eliminated by then, or even have Saturday be their first day off in almost three weeks.
The Yankees are still alive for the No. 1 seed, and hold the tiebreaker with Texas (by virtue of winning the season series 4-3) for that honor; however, they would lose the tiebreaker with Baltimore (for the right to host a one-game playoff for the AL East crown) and Oakland (for the right to host the Wild Card Game) if they finish as the No. 2 or 4/5 seed.
Amazing how clinching a playoff berth was the “easy” part so far, no? It would take up way too much space to attempt to play out all the possibilities, but here’s the quick and dirty for both scenarios and seeds:
-If the Yankees finish Wednesday tied with Baltimore, the Orioles would host a one-game division playoff on Thursday; in that game, the winner takes the AL East, while the loser faces Oakland or Tampa Bay (almost likely the former) in the Wild Card Game, with locale based on records and Oakland holding the only possible tiebreaker over the Yankees.
-If the Yankees win the AL East as the No. 1 seed, they will play the winner of the Wild Card Game between Baltimore and OAK/TB starting Sunday, with Games 1 and 2 on the road.
-If the Yankees win the AL East as the No. 2 seed, they will play the AL Central winner (likely Detroit, who is three up on Chicago with three to play) starting Saturday, with Games 1 and 2 on the road.
-If the Yankees are the Wild Card, they will play the A’s or Rays on Friday in the Wild Card playoff, and a win there would send them on to play the No. 1 seed (either Texas or Baltimore) beginning Sunday with Games 1 and 2 at Yankee Stadium.
That’s all subject to change almost by the minute as the week plays on, but one thing that isn’t subject to change is that as of now, the Yankees face some tough rotation decisions. CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Hiroki Kuroda are the scheduled to start the final three games of the season, and while CC is a sure thing, beyond that is almost anyone’s guess.
Nova has struggled in the second half, and media speculation has already kicked in about whether his start on Tuesday could go to David Phelps or someone else, especially if the Yankees lose tonight and find themselves in second place and facing a “win or wild card” possibility. Meanwhile, if the opposite rings true and the Yankees clinch the AL East on Tuesday night, then Joe Girardi could opt to do what he did last season – have the bullpen pitch the entire season finale – and hold back Kuroda, who has already pitched a career-high 212.2 innings and would surely benefit from an extra few days’ rest.
Beyond that, there is the possibility of the Yankees having to play Thursday, Friday, or both, scenarios that would require Girardi to test the ideal that Wild Cards might have to burn their ace early and be put at a “disadvantage” in the ALDS.
If the season continued, it would be Andy Pettitte (Thursday) and Phil Hughes (Friday) on schedule to pitch. Pettitte would surely go in the first game the Yankees have to play beyond Wednesday, but if he has to go Thursday and loses, will Hughes go Friday? He also has had an up-and-down season, and facing an ALDS schedule of Sun./Mon./Weds./Thurs./Fri., there is the possibility Girardi could ask CC Sabathia to pitch on three days’ rest to get the Yankees to an ALDS where then a Kuroda-???-Sabathia-???-Kuroda rotation would likely shake out with Pettitte filling one of those blanks.
It’s up to Girardi which buttons he presses, and as of now all the Yankees can do is try to take care of their own business and hope Tampa Bay and/or Texas can help them out if they can’t. But no matter the results, one thing is for sure: the next 72 hours are going to be bumpy ones.
Strap in and enjoy!