By Steve Silverman
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It had to look daunting at the start of the season.
When the Yankees looked at the very tail end of their schedule, they saw three closing games with the Boston Red Sox, while the always-pesky Tampa Bay Rays had three games at home against the Baltimore Orioles.
Manager Joe Girardi had to think to himself that his team needed to have the division clinched before that final series. If they were getting chased by the Rays -- a very reasonable conclusion since Tampa Bay has been among baseball's most consistent teams since 2008 -- they certainly appeared to have an easier path than the Yankees.
So much for early-season conclusions. The Yankees couldn't have asked for a softer season-ending opponent.
The Red Sox are simply awful, and they have been playing out the string since early August. Last season's fried chicken and beer collapse has never ended. It's just been more of the same down-the-drain waste that began in 2011.
They have gotten rid of several of their moving parts, most notably Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett. These moves may not be mistakes, because both players were so disappointing. Gonzalez was supposed to be an MVP candidate and Boston's version of Mark Teixeira. Gonzalez had a good first half of the 2011 season, but after that he was as soft as a bruised banana.
Beckett? His sins are too many to go over, but he was not the same pitcher after "Fried-Chicken Gate". He actually had a good statistical year in 2011, posting a 13-7 record with a 2.89 ERA and 175 strikeouts. But it all vanished after he led Boston's clubhouse party.
Bobby Valentine is almost certainly days away from being dismissed. He has rubbed his players the wrong way since the start of the season, and almost anyone would be better in the manager's office for them in the future.
You know it's gotten past the point of awful when Yankees players are actually defending the Red Sox and predicting good things for them in the future.
Teixeira said he believes that a Boston turnaround is coming.
"That team has been good for a very long time," Teixeira told the New York Post. "I guess it's three years in a row now where they won't make the playoffs. You don't see that very often and you probably won't see it again. I have a feeling they're gonna come back pretty quickly."
The Yankees should win these last two games and come away with the AL East title. Of course, it's the Orioles they are worrying about and not the Rays. Tampa Bay beat the Birds Monday night, and they should have a good chance at home tonight with James Shields taking the mound against Baltimore's Miguel Gonzalez. If Tampa Bay wins again and the Red Sox fold up, the Yankees will have the title.
But with the Yankees, it's not about winning the division. Once they get to the postseason, the World Series is the only thing that matters.
Things look a lot better for New York than they did a few weeks ago. The biggest thing to feel good about is that Teixeira is back in the lineup and Robinson Cano is red-hot once again.
Cano is 18-for-29 in his last six games. With no apologies to Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout or Josh Hamilton, Cano has the best swing in baseball. When he is on, he can carry the team by himself if he has to.
That's not the case. Curtis Granderson has 41 home runs and Russell Martin is getting clutch hits. Then there's Teixeira and Derek Jeter.
Their old rivals are set to clean out the manager's office.
Looking at the schedule at the start of the season, who would have thought that the Yankees would welcome the opportunity to play the Red Sox in the final three games? Offer your thoughts and comments in the section below...
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