It’s been a week in Major League baseball that has featured acrimonious relations between players and umpires, from Zobrist’s comments to Justin Turner’s gripes. But even the turmoil between players and umpires cannot match the ever-intensifying playoff race, especially in the AL. It’s hardly been in copacetic order.
After a walk-off win and a dominant performance by Trevor Cahill, the reeling Houston Astros, a team that has lost eight of its last 11 games and has also had to cope with injuries to MVP second baseman Jose Altuve, catcher Brian McCann and starter Lance McCullers Jr., is now tied for first place in the AL West with the Oakland Athletics.
How does this relate to the Yankees? Well, it relates to them in just about every conceivable way, as far as playoff implications are concerned. The Yankees will almost certainly become just the fourth team since 1969 (the start of the divisional era) to finish in second place in their division despite winning 100 games or more, and they would join the 2001 Athletics, 1993 Giants and 1980 Orioles.
With a spot in the wild card game, it is now a matter of ensuring that the Yankees will at least be at Yankee Stadium for that game. But scoreboard watching is certainly becoming a recurring action in the Bronx, because facing the Astros in the Wild Card game could prove to be a nightmare.
No knock on the A’s, who of course boast one of the best third basemen in baseball in Matt Chapman, an elite slugging DH in Khris Davis (on pace for 49 home runs, which would mark his third consecutive 40-round tripper campaign), and a sturdy rotation with the aforementioned Cahill, no-hitter owner Sean Manaea, and the resurgent Edwin Jackson.
The fact of the matter is that Houston is the defending champion, and if they find themselves in the Wild Card game against the Yankees, it can be close to guaranteed that Justin Verlander will be on the mound. Verlander owns a career 3.49 ERA against the Bombers, along with a 3.16 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
A do-or-die game against the team that dispatched the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS last October is not ideal.
Oakland, while a venerable foe in its own right, is a team that does not possess the rotational depth of Houston, or a bullpen that can match the Astros and Yankees.
Sure, the Mariners are not far behind (3.5 games). But are their chances of successfully usurping the Astros and A’s that high? No. All the Yankees can do is continue to take advantage of a very weak remaining August schedule (remaining opponents have a combined .384 winning percentage) and earn a series win, if not a sweep, against these very A’s September 3rd-5th at Oakland Alameda Coliseum.