Thursday, September 24, 2015

I'm Not Wild About the Wild Card -- Yanks Better Be

Last night, at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, the Yankees played the most important game of the regular season thus far. Never mind winning it for Yogi Berra, in whose memory they are now wearing the Number 8 on their left sleeves: The Yankees needed to win it, period.

They didn't. And as much as I'd like to blame this one on manager Joe Girardi, I can't. Even though he lifted Ivan Nova in the 6th inning, in a tie game, having thrown 110 pitches -- translation: He should have been allowed to at least finish the inning -- and then used 4 pitchers that no sane general manager would have on the major league roster before September call-ups (James Pazos, Caleb Cotham, Andrew Bailey and Bryan Mitchell). It didn't help that the Jays' big hitting hero was former Yankee catcher Russell Martin, a Toronto native (who nonetheless grew up in the better Canadian city of Montreal).

The Yankees lost this game because they didn't hit. Here's what they got off Toronto Blue Jays starter Marcus Strohman (7 innings) and relievers Brett Cecil (1) and Roberto Osuna (1):

* 3rd inning: Didi Gregorius singled with 2 out. Stranded.
* 4th: Brian McCann singled with 2 out. Stranded.
* 5th: Greg Bird leads off with a single, but is erased on a double-play grounder by Chase Headley. Had Headley struck or flied out, it could have meant a very different result, because the game was still 0-0 at this point, and Dustin Ackley doubled, which would have scored Bird. Instead, Ackley is stranded.
* 7th: Carlos Beltran draws a 1-out walk. After Bird flies out, Headley singles. But both runners are stranded.
* 9th: Alex Rodriguez leads off with a double. He is stranded.

Just 7 baserunners all night. The top 2 men in the order, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, both went 0-for-4. You can't have that, and still expect to win the game.

Blue Jays 4, Yankees 0. WP: Strohman (3-0). No save. LP: Nova (6-9).

Note to Trekkies: "Blue Jay Four" was the callsign for Captain John Christopher, U.S. Air Force, in the Star Trek time-travel episode "Tomorrow Is Yesterday." Christopher was played by Roger Perry

*

So now, the Yankees are 3 1/2 games behind the Jays, with 11 games to play. Here's the remaining schedules:

Yankees: 4 at home vs. Chicago White Sox, 4 at home vs. Boston Red Sox, 3 away to Baltimore Orioles.

Blue Jays: 3 at home vs. Tampa Bay Rays, 4 away to Orioles, 3 away to Rays.

If the Jays only split their 10, 5-5, that would give them 92 wins. As I've said many times, 93 is usually enough to win the American League Eastern Division. In order to get to 93 -- in this hypothetical situation, 1 more than the Jays, thus winning the AL East -- the Yankees would have to win 10 of their last 11. They way they're hitting, and the way Girardi is managing? Don't make me laugh.

Even if the Yankees win "only" 8 of their last 11, that would give them 91 wins, meaning the Jays would have to lose 7 out of 10 to give the Yanks the Division.

There's an off-day on October 5, the day after the regular season ends. This is so that, in case any of the Division races ends in a tie, there can be a Playoff. But even finishing in a tie with the Jays will require both a much better effort by the Yankees and a major slump by the Jays.

Face it, the Jays won the Division last night.

So it's the Wild Card play-in game for the Yankees, on Tuesday night, October 6, first pitch at 8:08 PM.

If the current standings hold, the Yankees will host that game at Yankee Stadium II, and play the Houston Astros, a team that was perhaps the worst in baseball for 4 years running, but is fully resurgent now, and still has an outside shot to win the AL West. The Minnesota Twins are a game behind the Astros, and the Los Angeles Angels are a game and a half back. The Orioles, the Rays, the Red Sox, the White Sox, the Cleveland Indians, the Seattle Mariners and the Detroit Tigers are all still alive, at least mathematically. The only AL team truly eliminated thus far is the Oakland Athletics.

The Kansas City Royals' Magic Number to clinch the AL Central is 2. The Texas Rangers' Magic Number to clinch the AL West is 8.

The Mets' Magic Number to clinch their 1st National League East title since 2006 -- only their 2nd since 1988 -- is 5. The Washington Nationals simply aren't taking advantage of the Mets' slowdown, any more than the Yankees did for the Jays.

The only teams to actually clinch Playoff berths so far are the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. The Cards' Magic Number to clinch the NL Central is 7. The Los Angeles Dodgers' Magic Number to clinch the NL West is 5.

The Pirates lead the Wild Card chase, and they'll host the Chicago Cubs on October 7. The defending World Champion San Francisco Giants have an elimination number of 2, and the Nats of 1, and they're the only other NL teams where it's still, however remotely, possible. The Arizona Diamondbacks, San Diego Padres, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, Colorado Rockies, Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies are all out -- indeed, the D-backs are 16 games out; the Phils, a whopping 32.

Face it, the Mets took advantage of a weak NL East this season, a Division which, just as it was when they won it in 1969, 1973, 1986 and 1988, no one else seemed to want to win. Especially in 1973, when the Mets won it with a mere 82 wins. (They've already won 85, 2 more than the Yankees -- of course, the Yankees won the season series, 4 games to 2.)

But the Yankees... Presuming Masahiro Tanaka only misses that 1 start (last night) due to the hamstring issue, the play-in game would come at his turn in the rotation. Unless Girardi screws that up, too.

I'm not wild about the Wild Card play-in game. But the Yankees better be. They will need to hit, and score early. If not, can you imagine...

It's the top of the 6th, and the Yankees lead, 1-0. Tanaka is pitching brilliantly. But he walks the leadoff batter, and Girardi looks over to Larry Rotschild's pitch count, and sees that Tanaka is up to 86. And he walks out to the mound, and takes the ball from Tanaka, and hands it to Adam Warren. Next thing you know, it's 6-1 Astros, and... the Yankees mount a comeback that falls just short, losing 6-5.

No true fan should ever hope his or her team loses, just so that the manager/head coach is fired.

But if the Yankees do not at least qualify for the AL Division Series, Joe Girardi should be fired as Yankee manager.

Simple as that, baby.

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