As the New York Yankees proceed in their improbable run, they must take advantage of the lowly Rays this weekend in the Bronx.
These New York Yankees just won’t quite now will they?
Just a little over a month ago, this team was expected to be a sinking ship, at best, as the organization waved the white flag with their fire sale at the trade deadline.
Entering that date (August 1), New York’s record sat dead even at 52-52 while rotting seven games back in the American League East and 5.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot.
The media, the fans, and even the organization came to grips with the fact that 2016 was not about winning, and more about the development of youth as rookies Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Cessa, and Tyler Austin were thrown into starting roles for the remainder of the season.
Perhaps the mystery now is, what the hell happened?
Since declaring as sellers and, indeed, selling, the Yankees own a 21-13 record which is good enough for the best record in the AL East and tied for the second-best record in all of baseball during that span.
They also find themselves just 4.5 games out of first place in the division, 2.5 games out of a Wild Card spot and have seen a playoff odds increase from 3% to 8.4% since the deadline.
More importantly, they —including the kids— are taking part in an event that barely seemed reasonable for the Yankees back in May: a relevant month of September.
After sweeping the juggernaut offense of the Toronto Blue Jays, the accelerator cannot stop there.
Today, New York will begin a stretch of 24 games in which 21 are against AL East teams with 14 of those games coming against three of the teams that lie ahead of them in the postseason race.
So, while their destiny is entirely in the palm of their hands, they must take advantage of the last-place Tampa Bay Rays this weekend at Yankee Stadium.
Why? Look no further than the “Chase for 87.”
For weeks, it had been the chase for 88 as FanGraphs projected the winner of the second wild card spot to finish with that total of wins. Now, they project the winner to finish with 87 which means the Yankees must go 14-10 in order to potentially turn their contention into a reality.
Among remaining games, seven of them will be contests against the team in the cellar of the division.
If New York were to pull off a sweep of the Rays for the remainder of 2016, they would hypothetically only need to go 7-10 against the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, AL East-leading Boston Red Sox, the mighty Toronto Blue Jays, and the home run-happy Baltimore Orioles.
Given this past series the Yankees put together against Toronto, outscoring Baltimore 27-15 last time they flew into the Bronx, and their last series win against Boston, that record is not far-fetched.
It all comes down to taking care of business and they have a huge opportunity to make up even more ground fronting one of the worst teams in baseball.
If this Yankees’ team is confidently postseason worthy, they’ll take advantage of and smash a team clearly inferior to them in front of their home crowd as the Baby Bombers continuously take care of business in the heat of a playoff hunt.
While the central focus should be around working out the kid’s growing pains —like Judge’s strikeout issue— during meaningful contests, nothing is ever wrong with some extra icing on the cake (aka, a playoff berth).
After all this 2016 Yankees’ team has been through, one of the most improbable playoff berths in franchise history will shine a spotlight on what has been a dreary campaign for most.
Squander this slam-dunk of an opportunity, however, and baseball’s postseason could exclude the Bombers for the third time in the last four years.