I haven’t been this excited about the Yankees since the moment right before Nick Swisher misplayed a ball that became a Delmon Young doubled, which led to Derek Jeter breaking his ankle on the next play, just five pitches later. Because at that moment the Yankees had overcome a 4-0 ninth-inning deficit in Game 1 of the 2012 ALCS. But Swisher misplayed that ball, Jeter broke his ankle, I nearly broke down in tears in Section 230 at the Stadium and aimlessly wandered home. Then the 2013 season happened and the first 114 of games of the 2014 season happened. And that’s where we are now after coming off a 3-1 series win against the Tigers, but more importantly, a 3-1 series win against Max Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello.
Even though I’m excited about the Yankees, I’m embarrassed to say so. In the ninth inning of Thursday’s 1-0 win, John Sterling said the win could be “a great Yankee moment of the year,” and sadly, he’s right. Winning three of four games against the Tigers has been the brightest spot on a season marred by injuries and underachievers as if the 2013 season still hasn’t ended. There was a time when winning a four-game series at home against the Tigers was business as usual and the feelings I felt on Wednesday would have been feelings felt by Tigers fans if they were able to take a four-game set from the Yankees. But that’s no longer the case.
The Yankees are 60-54, six games over .500, which matches their high-water mark for the season. (Six games over .500!) Aside from last year when they were 58-56 after 114 games, it’s their worst record through 114 games since 1995 when they were 54-59. (They were 85-29 through 114 games in 1998, in case you wanted a good laugh.) So why I am excited about the second-worst Yankees team through 114 games in 20 years? The second wild card, that’s why.
When the five-team, two wild-card format was announced, I was the President of the I Hate the Second Wild Card Club. At the time (2012) the Yankees were on their way to another division title and the thought of them having to play a one-game playoff if the Orioles had caught them made me sick. I mean really sick. Like emotionally, physically and mentally sick. I spent a few hours one day on eBay looking at respirators and oxygen tanks in the event the Yankees’ 162-game grind would be decided by one nine-inning game. Luckily, I didn’t need to purchase either.
Last season, the Yankees never really made a run at leading for the second wild card and never got in legitimate striking distance of the division, so any talk of making the playoffs was me trying to tell myself that the Yankees wouldn’t miss the playoffs for the second time since 1995 the way I will be telling myself on Opening Day 2015 that Derek Jeter will be playing shortstop. But there isn’t any delusion this year. The second wild card is real and the Yankees might win it, which is exactly the opposite of what Bud Selig and Major League Baseball wanted when they made a postseason backdoor, thinking the Royals, Blue Jays, Mariners or Indians could take advantage of the additional playoff berth. And oddly enough, it’s those four teams the Yankees are jockeying for position each night with to have the opportunity to go to Anaheim for one game. So I have turned in my letter of resignation as President of the I Hate The Second Wild Card Club and as of Friday morning, I’m officially a card-carrying member of the I Love The Second Wild Card Club.
In the new postseason format, you have to really, really, really, really, really suck to not be in contention for at least the second wild card. The 2013 Yankees had Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay in the middle of the order for nearly the entire season, CC Sabathia turned in the worst season of his career, Hiroki Kuroda ran out of gas, Phil Hughes turned into Sidney Ponson and devastating injuries to Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixiera couldn’t be overcome and even still they weren’t eliminated until Game 158. If you can sit at .500 or just better for five months, you’re going to be in a September playoff race with the current playoff format and that’s what the Yankees have done.
The division is still in play with the Yankees sitting five games behind the Orioles, but with the Yankees just one game back in the loss column for the second wild card, if there is going to be postseason baseball for the Yankees, it’s likely going to result in them playing in the one-game playoff and me googling respirators again. Right now, I would sign up for the one-game playoff right now even if it meant taking the division out of play because mathematically it makes more sense.
If the Orioles play .500 baseball the rest of the season, they would finish at 89-73. The Yankees would have to go 29-19 (.604) just to tie them, which isn’t unreasonable since they are 13-7 (.650) since the break, but it’s unlikely the Orioles will play .500 baseball the rest of the season. Unless of course the Yankees could do enough damage to them in the 10 games the two teams have left against each other.
Last Friday night, I was in Boston for the Yankees series and a woman (and a Yankees fan) sitting next to my girlfriend and I at that game said to us, “The Yankees used to be such a good team and now it’s like … (shrugs her shoulders).” Sure, she was drunk and asked my girlfriend for her phone number so they could hang out and probably never heard of Brian McCann or Michael Pineda let alone Brandon McCarthy or Chris Capuano, so her baseball knowledge was that of the scalpers outside Fenway asking $100 for bleacher seats to see the 12 ½-games-back Red Sox, but she had a point. I’m not sure where the future of the Yankees is going to take me. It’s not likely to be where they took me from ages eight to 26, so they will need every postseason entrance they can get. Second wild card? Sign me up.