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August 14, 2006

by Larry Mahnken

Well, isn't that annoying?

Eight games, and we're right back where we started, only it doesn't feel like it, does it? Both the Yankees and Sox went 3-5, though the Red Sox did it the more streaky way, losing 5 then winning 3, and the Yankees cling to a 1-game lead.

But, there is this: the record of Boston's opponents over that span was .398, the record of the Yankees' opponents was .527 -- Boston should have gained a game over this span, instead they gained nothing. Well, it's something, at least.

The unfortunate fact is that the Yankees should have won at least two games in Chicago, and really should have won all three -- they had the Sox beat on Tuesday and only lost by their own mistakes on Thursday -- and instead they nearly got swept. The Angels always give the Yankees all they can handle and then some, so losing 2 of the first three, and potentially the third of four today isn't a huge surprise. But the good news is that while the Red Sox face the Tigers this week, the Yankees get the Orioles at home.

The bad news is that the Tigers are in free-fall, but there's a silver lining to that, too, I think. I think the Yankees are going to have a better record than the Tigers the rest of the way, and if the Yankees can catch Detroit, I think they clinch a playoff spot. I don't think Detroit will catch the Yankees once they've been passed, and if the Yankees stay ahead of Detroit and the Twins, the White Sox, and the Wild Card, are no longer a concern.

But, of course, what we want is the East, which I still think the Yankees should win without tremendous difficulty. Boston has some advantages the rest of the way -- more home games, and a more convenient off day going into the five-game set this weekend, but the Yankees' schedule is easier than Boston's -- a lot easier. It's easier than anybody's except Oakland's.

The average record of the Yankees' remaining opponents is .496, while it's .527 for the Red Sox, .510 for the White Sox and Tigers, and .503 for the Twins, and the Yankees' schedule is tougher than Boston's until September 26th.

But what this season will come down to is those nine games in seven days against the Red Sox. Particularly the way the pitching situation shakes out, this weekend presents a marvelous opportunity for the Red Sox to do some major damage to the Yankees, but if the Yankees' offense shows up against the Red Sox pitchers, it's an opportunity to put the Red Sox away for the Yankees. The September series offers another challenge, but it's this weekend's series that is the most dangerous for both teams. I'm sure both teams will be relieved to lose "only" 3 of the five games, which would be minimally damaging.

But that's this weekend -- what's important now is the Angels, who the Yankees almost have to beat tonight. If Randy Johnson pitches like he did last time, they still might not win -- John Lackey is a good pitcher. And the Yankees can't count on Johnson pitching well.

Remember what it was like when these games didn't count fifteen years ago? It sure was a whole lot less stressful. But it sure was a lot less fun.