Back on July 1, I wrote the Yankees clinched the AL East. At the time, the Yankees were coming off a two-game sweep of the Red Sox in London and had increased their lead in the loss column to eight games over the Rays and 12 games over the Red Sox. Since then, nearly a month of games have come off the schedule, and the Yankees have further increased their loss-column lead over the Rays to 12 games and have maintained the same 12-game loss-column lead over the Red Sox.
Worried I somehow might have jinxed the Yankees’ division championship chances with three months to play and plenty of games remaining against both the Rays and Red Sox, many Yankees fans were upset with me calling the division over with 80 games left to play. Well, there are now 61 games left and the Yankees have only increased their lead. The division is even more over than it once was.
The Yankees are 66-35 and they can play under-.500 baseball the rest of the way and still finish with 96 wins. If we set the bar that low and give the Yankees a 30-31 record over the next two months, the Rays would have to go 38-19 and the Red Sox would have to go 40-19 to tie them. But there’s no way, absolutely no way, the best team in baseball is going to play .492 baseball for two months, not with 23 games left against the Orioles, Blue Jays, Mariners and Tigers. Bring out the champagne and put on the goggles because the division is clinched.
Nearly a year ago to the day, the Yankees went to Boston for a four-game series needing to win three of four to stay alive in the division race and needing to win to maintain their first wild-card lead. The Yankees were swept and swept in embarrassing fashion, allowing the Red Sox to coast for the final two months of the season and putting a huge dent into the Yankees’ wild-card lead as well.
A year later, things couldn’t be more different. The Yankees are already in coast mode given the current math and remaining schedule, and the Red Sox are in the middle of a four-team wild-card race, scoreboard-watching every night. Not only are the Red Sox trying to close the gap on the Indians, A’s and Rays, they’re also trying to prevent their roster from being picked apart and sold off by next Wednesday. Another bad weekend against the Yankees and Dave Dombrowski might not allow the defending champions to continue to defend by moving impending free agents, potential opt-out contracts and salary to get a headstart on next season.
The best-case scenario overall for the Yankees would be for the Red Sox to do just enough between now and Wednesday to be buyers at the deadline and then they still don’t make the playoffs, wasting this season and destroying a chance to obtain future prospects and assets to help them in the future with the possibility of losing part of their lineup and rotation to free agency. There’s no way of knowing how the Red Sox will operate within the next six days or in the offseason, so the best-case scenario right now for the Yankees is to ruin this Red Sox season this weekend since that’s the one thing the Yankees can control.
The Red Sox are five games back in the loss column for the first wild card and two games back in the loss column for the second wild card. A bad weekend against the Yankees and the Red Sox will have one path to the postseason: the second wild card. Dombrowski would then have to decide if he’s willing to go for it with one postseason berth available, willing to go for it to play a one-game playoff on the road to advance to the ALDS and willing to go for it when his team needs to pass and hold off both the A’s and Rays for that one postseason berth. Ultimately, it’s Dombrowski’s decision to determine if the Red Sox are going to go for it this season or reset for next season, but it’s the Yankees who control his decision.
If the Yankees go to Boston and beat the crap out of the Red Sox for the fourth straight series this season then it would be hard for Dombrowski to not plan for the future with last season’s success and championship cushion to fall back on. If the Yankees go to Boston and either win two of four or finally lose a series to the Red Sox, it becomes nearly impossible for Dombrowski to not add or at least stay status quo at the deadline with the Red Sox still alive in both the division and wild-card race. With any result this weekend, the Red Sox have will have potential franchise-changing decisions to make in less than a week, and the Yankees can help decide what those decisions will be.
The Yankees have a chance to embarrass the Red Sox in Boston the same way the Red Sox embarrassed them nearly a year ago to the weekend and force the Red Sox to decide their immediate and long-term future by Wednesday at 4 p.m. There’s no pressure on the Yankees for a late-July series in Boston. It feels weird, but it feels great.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available!