9:09 am Sep. 4, 2012
The New York Yankees are coming off an awful weekend that leaves them in legitimate peril for the first time of missing the playoffs. And it could have been worse.
They lost two of three to the Orioles, then fell to the Rays on Monday, 4-3. But even their win had more to do with some mistakes by the Orioles than any assertion of the dominance that saw the Yankees open up a 10-game lead in the division back in late July.
The Yankees won 4-3 on Saturday thanks to a three-run inning with scoring plays consisting of a bloop single, a bases-loaded walk and an infield error. They were that close to being swept.
As it stands now, the Yankees are only a game ahead of the Orioles, who won again Monday. And the Rays, who beat the Yankees and get two more shots at them Tuesday and Wednesday, then again next week, are just 2.5 games behind the Yankees.
Winning the division in 2012 carries far more importance than it has in previous years, with the two wild card teams playing a single game playoff for the right to advance to the American League Division Series. Still, making the playoffs is better than missing them. And for most of the year, it looked like both the A.L. East division winner, and the two runners-up in the division, would all make the playoffs.
But while the Orioles and Rays have been surging, and the Yankees faltering, the Oakland Athletics have hardly lost, compiling a 19-5 July and an 18-10 August. And the Texas Rangers have continued to play well enough to keep ahead of the Athletics. Both teams have better records than anyone in the A.L. East.
So third place in the division now looks like a ticket to playing golf in October.
Lately, the problem for the Yankees has been their faltering offense, with a team currently second in the American League in O.P.S. and fourth in runs scored averaging less than three runs per game over these past four crucial contests.
Alex Rodriguez is now back in the lineup, and Mark Teixeira will be back soon. But the team's best hitter, Robinson Cano, suffered a hip injury Monday, leaving him in doubt for Tuesday. Truly, that's the stuff collapses are made of: just as one reinforcement returns, another new hole opens up.
So many things have to go wrong for the leaders, and right for those chasing the leaders, to see a team lose a 10-game lead in late July to a pair of rivals.
The upcoming pitching matchups are likely to be favorable for the Yankees. And on paper, they've still got the all-around talent to pull it out.
But if it doesn't happen this week, after two more with the Rays and four this weekend in Baltimore against the Orioles, it will be the Yankees who need to make the dramatic comeback.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Thanks to a ninth-inning decision that Andres Torres missed first base en route to a double (and, more importantly, to a poor outing by Collin McHugh) the Mets fell to the Cardinals 5-4 on Monday.
Rookie sensation Matt Harvey will probably pitch only twice more this season, so enjoy him while you can.
Ahead of Wednesday's season opener against the Cowboys, the Giants are inspiring envy.