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September 30, 2005

Mission: Possible
by Larry Mahnken

Last night I was thinking that the Yankees' win last night didn't matter, because Boston won. Had the Yankees lost, they'd need to win 2 of 3 this weekend. Having won, they need to win... 2 of 3 this weekend.

Well, I was wrong. Last night's win does matter, a lot.

Let's go through the scenarios:

Yankees win 3 of 3 or 2 of 3. These are the simple one: Yanks win AL East, if Chicago gets swept, the Yanks have HFA in at least the first scenario, and possibly the second. Also, Boston would be out.

Yanks win 1 of 3. The "ugh" scenario. This clinches, at the worst, a one-game playoff for the Yankees on Monday at Yankee Stadium.

But if the Indians lose just one game this weekend, and the Yankees win just one game this weekend, then they've clinched both a tie for the AL East and Wild Card, setting up a one-game-playoff between the Indians and the loser of Monday's game on Tuesday. And if the Indians lose two games, all the Yankees need to do is win one game this weekend, and they clinch the AL East outright by virtue of their record against Boston.

If the Yanks get swept -- guh -- the Red Sox are AL East champions, period. In that case, the Yankees need Chicago to win 2 of 3 to set up a Monday playoff for the Wild Card between the Yanks and Indians, or sweep for the Yanks to win the Wild Card.

Here's the scenario that appeals most to me: if the Yankees win tonight, and the White Sox win tonight, the Yankees, at the worst, have clinched both a tie for the AL East and Wild Card, leaving them with two games this weekend, and two playoff games next week. To miss the postseason, the Yankees would have to lose four straight games (which of course has happened in more crucial spots), which they haven't done since June 25th, when they lost 4 straight to Tampa Bay and the Mets. They haven't lost 4 out of 5 since July 27th, when they lost 4 of 5 to Anaheim and Minnesota.

They did lose 3 of 4, which could knock them out of the playoffs, to Seattle and Oakland Between August 30th and September 2nd, though they haven't lost three straight since losing the first three in Anaheim in July.

So basically, what last night's win did is make it so the Yankees don't need to play over their heads to win make the playoffs, they just need to not completely collapse. It still could happen, but assuming the White Sox can take just one game in Cleveland (which is a very reasonable assumption, considering that Chicago doesn't want the Indians in the playoffs), the Yanks only need to win 2 of 5 to make October.

It's all in their hands now, and they'd have to fumble pretty badly to lose it. But don't count your chickens, because they've done it before. And they've done it even worse.