The Yankees are good at baseball:
Most of the second half of this season has felt like a long, hard, slog for Yankee fans, watching the team muddle through injuries and inconsistent play to come down to the pack in the A.L. East, but that was not the case this past week. The Yankees took five of the six games they played, including both ends of the double-header on Tuesday and two out of three from the very talented A’s, including obviously that thrilling comeback on Saturday. Yes, they missed a chance to make it a clean sweep for the entire week yesterday, but I’d wager that everyone is still feeling pretty high as the final legs of the season moves on to Minnesota tonight.
So are the Orioles:
On the other side of things, the Yankees didn’t make any hay with respect to the standings over that time, because Baltimore continues to match them step for step. I’ll be honest, I have continued to expect the Orioles to hit a skid at some point this month, and I thought it was going to happen in Seattle, but the Orioles swept that series and took two out of three in Boston to match, so I’m now willing to concede that it’s time to stop waiting for them to choke. They’re for real, they’re not losing games they need to win, and the A.L. East race is essentially a toss up right now. We all know how easy the Yankees’ remaining schedule is on paper, but the Orioles’ isn’t much harder.Like the Yankees, they have four games with Toronto and three games with Boston remaining, but their tough games are the final three of the season, when the Rays come to Oriole Park. The way things look right now, however, Tampa Bay could well be eliminated from postseason contention by then, so they may well not be going all out to win that series. A not-so-bold prediction: the loser of this race is going to be the team who makes a major mistake and blows a game they should win over the next ten days.
Pitching will make or break the Yankees:
I don’t want to say that the offense is bad, per se, but be honest: do you have any semblance of faith in their ability to carry the team for the rest of this year? I mean, they have the talent to do it on any given night, but they’ve still got so many holes (and Ichiro Suzuki isn’t going to stay this hot forever) that they can also be shut down and/or fail to come through when they need to. The starting rotation, however? I suddenly feel very good about them. C.C. Sabathia finally had the dominant performance we’ve been waiting to see from him, Andy Pettitte made his triumphant return from a long stint on the disabled list and was about as sharp with his stuff as you could have possibly hoped for under the circumstances, Hiroki Kuroda has been solid all year long, and Phil Hughes suddenly seems like the proverbial guy who gives you a chance to win every start, which is a huge plus from a fourth starter. Yeah, Ivan Nova was bad again, but as a fifth starter he’s only marginally relevant now, at least if the other four guys are at the top of their games over the next couple of weeks. If they can get the best of those guys, they shouldn’t have much trouble nailing down the division crown, and that’s not exactly an unrealistic proposition right now.
The rest of the league? Not that impressive:
I typically don’t get a chance to watch a lot of games outside of the A.L. East that are played at the same time as the Yankees’ games, so I took the opportunity to watch a lot of other teams’ games last week, and the conclusion that I drew is that there just isn’t any sort of clear favorite for the postseason out there. Texas still has a great offense and Cincinnati has all of the core pieces you want to see a team built around for the playoffs, but they’ve got weaknesses as well, and I can more or less see any team with a shot at making the playoffs going all the way. For the Yankees and Orioles, winning the division and avoiding having to expend their number one starter in the one game wildcard round is going to be crucial, although the Yankees’ rotation is deep enough that I think they could easily survive it on paper. Either way, this should be an incredible fall for MLB.