By Ernie Palladino
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With 26 games left in the season, Joe Girardi would never let on to his true wishes outside of some general, obvious statement about creeping into a postseason spot.
But if the manager did open up, this would be a plausible scenario:
Knock a game or two off the five-game deficit to the second wild card by Sunday, celebrate Derek Jeter Day by beating the Central-leading Royals, and spend the rest of the season in a death struggle with their AL East foes.
Of course, a nice hot streak against the Orioles, Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles again, and Red Sox would certainly put them at the second wild card's door, if not through it, providing some help comes from Seattle, Cleveland, and that spot's current tenant, Detroit. But that is not likely with Girardi's squad, given it problems winning important series like the last one in Toronto.
Winning any series is more like it. The Yanks have won just two of the last seven series, and one of those multiple-game disasters came against the eminently beatable Astros. Another came against the Blue Jays, who sat a game-and-a-half behind the Yanks in the wild-card race and who, aside from a proclivity for the long ball, haven't had a whole lot going for them this year.
It would certainly be nice to bounce back from Tuesday night's loss to Boston and wrap up a series win against KC on the day they honor a guy who, until recently, didn't know what it was like to sit home in October. Though players do play for themselves, and playoff spots are team rather than individual accomplishments, there has never been a doubt that the Yanks would love to send Jeter off with one, final playoff appearance. Girardi, Jeter's former teammate, would like nothing better.
But the reality is that this team may not be capable of any such feat. This year was one of Girardi's finest managing jobs yet, what with the mountain of injuries to both position players and pitchers. A total of 53 players have taken the field at one point or another, second-most in franchise history. Twenty-eight made their Yankees debut. The 32 pitchers he used marked a franchise high and was second-most to the Rangers' 36 this year.
That's a lot of change for one team to handle.
The fact that they sit in moderate reach of the postseason is a credit to his lineup juggling and handling of an ever-changing starting rotation, not to mention the development of Dellin Betances into a legitimate eighth-inning setup man for David Robertson's effective closing.
It's actually a near miracle that their proximity to the last wild card will make for an entirely meaningful September.
And yet, the numbers point toward some early October tee times. Unless Detroit, Seattle, and Cleveland fall completely apart in front of them, the Yanks will have to play close to .600 ball the rest of the way. That means they'll have to win two out of every three games.
It means, for the most part, winning at least five of their six remaining three-game series, and probably winning the two four-game series. They certainly can't afford to get swept by anyone.
The chances of them ripping off an 18-8 September are slim, considering they sit just four games over .500. Heading into Tuesday's game, MLB.com put New York's probability of gaining the wild card at six percent.
It's not a pretty picture. It's not a realistic picture.
But if the Yanks can fulfill the above-mentioned scenario, it could happen. Baseball can be strange sometimes, as seen when the Yanks battered Toronto pitching for nine straight hits last Friday, and then were one-hit the next day.
Giving Jeter a good appreciation day by cutting the deficit ever so slightly would be a good start.
Without it, the task becomes impossible.
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