Now that the Yankees have guaranteed themselves at least a spot in Friday’s Wild Card Playoff, let’s take a look at what may happen after Wednesday’s regular season finale. Keep your tiebreaker rules handy.
Outcome #1: Win Division and Home-Field Advantage
For this to happen, the Yankees would need to at minimum split the last two vs. Boston, Baltimore would have to split the last two against Tampa, and Texas would have to take just one of three from Oakland. That would leave the Yankees and Rangers at 94-68, but since the Yankees have a 4-3 advantage in the seven head-to-head games this season, the Yankees would take home field. They would then take on the winner of Baltimore and Oakland in the Wild Card game in the ALDS, starting on Sunday. This would also mean that the Yankees could essentially line up their rotation as they wish.
Outcome #2: Win Division, but no Home-Field Advantage
Again, to win the division, they need to split the final two against the Red Sox and Baltimore would have to do the same against the Rays. However, in this case, Texas guarantees home field with a sweep of Oakland (two of three would only suffice if the Yanks split). With Detroit clinching the Central tonight, the Yankees would head to the motor city for game one, and a likely matchup of CC Sabathia vs. Justin Verlander. Texas would await the winner of Baltimore and Oakland.
Outcome #3: Tied atop of AL East with Baltimore
A division deciding tiebreaker on Thursday would occur if one of two things happen: (1) the Yankees split the final two vs. Boston and Baltimore wins the final two, or (2) the Yankees lose the last two and Baltimore wins at least one game at the Trop. Andy Pettitte would be in line to start that one, while Steve Johnson would be on full rest for Baltimore. Buck Showlater could opt to pitch Joe Saunders on three days rest. A win would put the Yankees in Detroit, a loss would pin them against Oakland.
If the Yankees and A’s finish with the same record, the tiebreaker would be decided by intradivision record since they split ten regular season games. Oakland holds the tiebreaker thanks to what would be a better winning percentage vs. the West than the Yankees have vs. the East. If Texas was swept by Oakland, the Yanks would host the Rangers in the do or death playoff thanks to head-to-head record.
Outcome #4: Wild Card Spot
If your head is spinning by now (mine is), don’t worry, I’m just about done here. For this outcome, just follow what I wrote in Outcome #3 after the Yankees theoretically lose a division tiebreaker.
There could be a pretty interesting final day of the season if Baltimore wins tomorrow, the Yankees lose, and Oakland takes the first two vs. Texas. Why? That would create a four way tie for best record in the American League after 161 games. Pretty fun stuff, although it would be a lot nicer to just clinch tomorrow.
With tonight’s win, the Yankees do control their own destiny and can take the division now if they can finish off a sweep of the hapless Red Sox. To be frank, there really isn’t any excuse to mop the floor with this Boston team. From there, it becomes a matter of opinion who you’d rather face: Detroit or the Wild Card game winner (Baltimore or Oakland).
There are pros and cons to both opponents. Getting home field advantage would be great in a couple of ways: the Yanks avoid the likes of Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder. On the negative side, the Yankees would need a five man rotation (on full rest for the ALCS) if they won the Division Series in five games. Why? Game one of the ALCS starts the day after game five of the top seed vs. Wild Card ALDS. Since the ALDS is five games in six days, the Yanks can use a four man rotation there. But, game one starter in the ALCS would have to be the starter of game two of the ALDS (Hiroki Kuroda). Sabathia wouldn’t be able to go on full rest until game four (since he would have pitched game five of the ALDS), meaning he’d have to pitch on short rest for a potential game seven. We know CC has a track record of success on short rest (especially with Milwaukee), but we have to keep in mind his elbow soreness he’s dealt with. Game two of the ALCS would require a fifth starter, unless the ALDS’ game three starter (Pettitte) goes on three days rest. Again, in that situation one would have to wonder about Pettitte’s age and ankle. Plus, I don’t want to see Ivan Nova anywhere near the playoffs. I also am skeptical about David Phelps getting a shot, despite his regular season success.
I explained the weirdness of the 2012 playoff format a little while back. Thankfully, scheduling will return to normal next year.
Personally, I’d prefer to finish with the best record in the AL, and take my chances with winning the Division Series in four games or less. Not only that, but Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander just scare the hell out of me a lot more than the likes of anybody that Baltimore or Oakland has to offer.
Enjoy the last few days of the regular season.