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Keidel: Yankees Don't Want To Gag Wild Card Lead To A's

Yanks Struggles Could Cost Them Home Playoff Game

Jason Keidel
September 13, 2018 - 10:29 am
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As the Yankees hung on by their fingernails to the top AL wild card spot, just two games ahead of the surging Oakland Athletics, they trotted out their ace Luis Severino, to stop the bleeding in the standings.. 

Though their top starter beamed from the marquee last night, there was some fine print not to be found. Like the fact that Severino had been 3-5 with a 6.95 ERA in nine starts since the All-Star break. Like the fact that fans and some pundits were pondering the idea that Masahiro Tanaka, or even J.A. Happ, had the mojo and momentum to pitch the sudden death playoff game, not their folding ace.

While it's nice to know you have several pitchers with the resume and respect to pitch in the AL playoffs, it also means you don't have a clear star who has out-shined the rest of the rotation. For his part, Severino finally resembled the ace that led the club to its place as the second-best team in baseball, blanking the Twins for five innings, then being pulled after yielding a run in the sixth. 

But the Bronx Bombers were hardly meeting their moniker, going hitless through 7 1/3 innings. 

Meanwhile, in the YES broadcast booth, Al Leiter and John Flaherty were basking in the marked improvement in Severino's performance. But it's a little late in the season to take comfort in moral victories. The Yanks need victories that pad their record. For as well as Severino pitched, Dave Robertson, who relieved Severino in the sixth, leaked two more runs to give the Twins a 3-0 bulge after seven innings. The Yankees never found the hits in their heralded lineup, posting one cosmetic run in a 3-1 loss.  

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Just a few weeks ago the Yanks snuck up to six games behind the Boston Red Sox for first place in the AL East, and we quietly wondered if there was a 1978-style surge in them. Now, Boston has just won 100 games for the first time since 1946 and are moonwalking to the division crown. Even worse the Yankees (90-56) have seen their wild card lead shrivel to one game over the Athletics (89-57), after Oakland drubbed the Baltimore Orioles, 10-0. 

The Yankees have been bit by the injury bug, playing without their best slugger (Aaron Judge) and flame-throwing closer (Aroldis Chapman). But that doesn't explain or justify this losing road trip, or losing this series to the Twins (67-78), a club that hasn't contended all summer and has nothing to play for but pride. 

It surely doesn't explain their team-wide anemia at the plate. While Severino was overpowering the light-hitting Twins, Jake Odorizzi, not known for his triple-digit fastball, was slicing up the Bombers with fastballs and change-ups, switching speeds and locations with an All-Star's aplomb. The Steinbrenner family may own the Yankees, but it felt like they loaned the deed to Odorizzi, who no-hit the Yankees into the 8th inning. 

The last time the Yankees hosted the wild card game, they were blanked by Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros. But this club is exponentially better than the one that failed to score a run at home in 2016. And whatever playoff chokehold the Yankees had over Oakland expired years ago, sometime after Derek Jeter's famous flip to home plate. 

Still, the Yankees don't want to gag this lead to the A's. Not only for the home cooking and familiar mattresses, but also for the symbolism. The Yankees became the most celebrated team in American sports by stretching leads, not blowing them. Maybe Boston is well beyond their reach. But Oakland, with their microscopic, Moneyball payroll and ugly, hauntingly empty home park that they share with the NFL's Raiders, don't have a fraction of the Yankees' historical traction, nor do they have half the Yankees' resources. 

But they do have a disturbingly similar record, and just took two out of three games from the Yanks, in Oakland, a ballpark the Bombers don't hope to see again this season, or at least not in the first AL playoff game of 2018, where anything can happen.

 Twitter: @JasonKeidel