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Blog Entry

3 to Watch: The Yankees' chance edition

Posted on: September 22, 2011 11:36 pm
 
NEW YORK -- The Phillies haven't won since they clinched the National League East.

The Tigers have lost three of five since they clinched the American League Central.

And Thursday, the Yankees played a Triple-A lineup, committed four errors and lost 15-8 to the Rays, the day after clinching the AL East.

What happens next will be more interesting.

What happens next is Yankees-Red Sox, giving the Yankees a chance to push their biggest rivals a few steps further towards what would be an embarrassing collapse.

Could the Yankees possibly sleepwalk through three more days, at the risk of giving the Red Sox life?

Johnny Damon says no.

As the Rays designated hitter, Damon is an interested party. But as an ex-Red Sox and ex-Yankee, he understands the dynamics of the rivalry, too. And he fully believes that whether the Yankees say it publicly or not, they want the Red Sox out of the playoffs.

"Yeah, because it's definitely not a good story if the Red Sox beat them in the playoffs," Damon said. "If the Rays beat them, it may not be acceptable, but it's more palatable.

"And they've matched up well against us. We haven't really done anything to show them otherwise."

The Yankees have been in an unusual spot all week, in a sense having control over who wins the AL wild card and who doesn't. For three games against the Rays, they could pretend that they were solely focused on winning the division themselves.

Now that they're in, they'll claim that they're solely focused on setting themselves up for the playoffs. Yes, catcher Russell Martin said Thursday, "I hate the Red Sox," but everywhere else in the Yankee clubhouse they were insisting they don't care who else gets in.

We'll see.

We'll see what lineups manager Joe Girardi runs out there the next three days, and then for three games at Tampa Bay. We'll see what intensity the Yankees play with.


Girardi is absolutely right that his main objective should be to get his team ready. He's right not to start ace CC Sabathia, since Sabathia wouldn't line up well for Game 1 if he starts again during the regular season.

"Our responsibility is to our club," Girardi said Thursday. "That's the bottom line. I have to make sure our guys are healthy, rested and ready to go [for the first playoff game] next Friday."

Hard to blame him for that.

The Phillies did the same thing on the final weekend of last season against the Braves, who were still fighting for a wild-card spot. On the final day of the season, in a game the Braves had to win, Cole Hamels started but pitched just two innings.

The Phils will likely take the same approach next week in Atlanta. The Rangers may do the same in Anaheim, if they clinch the AL West before their series against the Angels begins Monday.

The difference for the Yankees is that each of their final six games could influence the wild-card race.

The difference is that the Yankees are playing the Red Sox, with a chance to help knock them out.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The Braves, as colleague Scott Miller pointed out, have been collapsing almost as badly as the Red Sox have. They got a break Thursday, when the Cardinals collapsed in the ninth inning against the Mets, but they know that the Cards have a seeming schedule advantage with their final six games against the Cubs and Astros. The Braves will figure they need to win, beginning with Braves at Nationals, Friday night (7:05 ET) at Nationals Park. The Nats just swept the Phillies, and have won nine of their last 11. And this is a Strasburg game.

2. Yes, it's true, the Red Sox were worried enough about their pitching that they contacted the Mets at one point to try to make a late trade for Chris Capuano. It's true, after starting Jon Lester Friday, the Sox are stuck with no better choices than Tim Wakefield and John Lackey the rest of the weekend. Lackey has a 10.70 ERA in September. Wakefield is at 4.95, heading into a likely meeting with equally bad A.J. Burnett in Red Sox at Yankees, Saturday afternoon (4:10 ET) at Yankee Stadium.

3. There are other games that matter more, with the Angels at home against the A's, the Cardinals at home against the Cubs, the Rangers trying to clinch at home against the Mariners and the Diamondbacks trying to clinch at home against the Giants. But Justin Verlander is going for his 25th win, so 3 to Watch has no choice but to close with Orioles at Tigers, Saturday night (7:05 ET) at Comerica Park. No pitcher has won 25 since Bob Welch won 27 for the 1990 A's, and Welch was the first since Steve Stone won 25 for the 1980 Orioles. The last Tiger to win 25: Denny McLain, when he won 31 in 1968. Verlander, who at this point has to be the American League MVP, is 20-2 with a 1.75 ERA over his last 22 starts, holding opponents to a .188 batting average and a .529 OPS. The last guy with an OPS that low and enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title was Alfredo Griffin, in 1990.


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