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The Final Stretch

Ten days and ten games remain on the calendar for the Yankees in the 2012 MLB Regular Season.  Ten games against teams that are a combined 60 games under .500.  If the Yankees can’t win say—7 out of 10 against the Twins, Blue Jays, and Red Sox, who all will be looking to play the role of spoiler—then shame on the Yankees.

The Yankees and Orioles will be fighting for playoff positioning for the first time since the mid-90s.

The Yankees hold their fate in their own hands.  They currently have a one game lead on the Baltimore Orioles for first place in the AL East—a division title that has not been as important as it is this season since the original Wild Card expansion in 1995.

From a national perspective, expanding the playoffs to five teams has brought the pennant race back into Baseball.  It is, without question, the best decision Major League Baseball has made since instituting the first Wild Card expansion because it promises to provide exciting games in the last two weeks of the season—something the league has desperately lacked in recent years.  (Of course I will change my opinion on this subject as soon as the format change comes back to bite the Yankees in the ass).  In past seasons there was no disadvantage for winning the Wild Card.  In fact, 10 of the 34 teams that have played in the World Series since 1995 have been Wild Card winners; a trend that will surely change with the new playoff format.

The fact that two teams, in this case the Yanks and O’s, are so close in the standings with just ten games left is nothing new, but this year one team cannot concede the Wild Card in order to get it’s pitching rotation in order.  There is also the very real possibility that the Yankees and Orioles finish tied for the AL East Division, in which case they would have to play a one-game tiebreaker to determine the Division and the loser would then have to play the one-game Wild Card game.  The potential for two play-in games, while great for Baseball, should scare the Yankees (and Orioles) enough to make this final stretch do-or-die.

If the Yankees want to avoid being put at that disadvantage this season, and avoid missing the real playoffs altogether, then they have to play their best baseball of the season starting tonight in Minnesota.