NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 04: Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees holds up the trophy as he celebrates with A.J. Burnett (L), Jorge Posada (2nd L), Mariano Rivera (2nd R) and Robinson Cano after their 7-3 win against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game Six of the 2009 MLB World Series at Yankee Stadium on November 4, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
With only one week left in the 2015 regular season, the Yankees are closing in on clinching their first playoff berth since 2012. I, for one, still hold out hope that they will win the division and I will continue to do so until the end. The current 4 1/2 game lead the Yankees have over the Astros for the first wild card spot should allow them to set things up to their liking for the start of the playoffs, no matter how things end up this last week.
The Astros have been in a bit of a free fall since relinquishing the division lead to the Texas Rangers this month. They are in a real battle for the second wild card with the Angels and Twins, holding only a 1/2 game lead over the Angels. If the Yankees do end up in the wild card game, they would more than likely have the luxury of setting up Masahiro Tanaka to pitch in that game. Since the other team involved will possibly have to fight to the last game just to get in the wild card game, they may not be able to use one of their top starters.
I know that there is a perception among parts of the fan base that being the wild card team is a failure and not winning the division means you don’t deserve to be in the playoffs. But a look at the 20 years since the wild card came into being shows these teams have had more than reasonable success.
Combining the AL and NL qualifiers to get 40 participants in the Division Series since 1995 shows that 19 wild card teams have lost in that series. 9 of these teams have lost in the LCS of their respective league and 12 have gone on to play in the World Series, including 6 World Series wins. Over half of the seasons since wild card play began have seen a wild card team participate in the World Series.
Obviously winning the division gives a team a definite advantage not only from a home field standpoint, but most importantly from not playing in a winner take all game with the introduction of the second wild card. There is not a single MLB team that is not capable of winning a one game playoff, especially if they can line up their top starting pitcher for that game. This makes just getting to the Division Series a bit of a crapshoot for the wild card teams. The flip side of this is that it could be a momentum builder for the rest of the postseason because momentum is what it is all about. It could be argued that a one game playoff win was the springboard for the Giants and Royals run to the World Series in 2015.
11 wins. 12 for the wild card team. That’s what it takes to win a World Series. And the momentum required to win those games can come and go quickly. A 5 or 7 game series can be decided by a couple of bloops or a couple of defensive miscues. It sometimes is more about BABIP and OBP than anything, with the unlikeliest of heroes emerging to help win games.
Whatever postseason fate awaits the Yankees after this final week to the season, it should be celebrated. Anyone who suffered through the stretch from 1982 until 1995 will tell you that 2 years without a playoff berth is nothing. I am ready for the Yanks to overtake the Blue Jays this week, but if that doesn’t happen and they end up in the wild card game one week from Tuesday, I will be ready as though it would be Game 7 of the Series. It’s almost playoff time and that is like Christmas for me. C’mon October.