Yankees third baseman Miguel Andujar is greeted by Luke Voit after hitting a two-run home run against the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 28, 2018, at Yankee Stadium.


Keidel: Wild-Card Loss Would Qualify Yankees' Season As A Disappointment

100 Wins Mean Little If Bombers Are Ousted Wednesday

Jason Keidel
October 03, 2018 - 9:09 am

Had someone told you before the season that the Yankees would win 100 games, that would sound about right. Had the same person told you that they would not win the AL East, that wouldn't sound as proper, or promising.

Yet here we are. The Red Sox (108-54) morphed into a monolith, moonwalking with the division crown, leaving the Yankees (100-62) in the ominous position of playing in the one-game wild-card crucible against the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium. (First pitch is at 8:08 p.m. on TBS.) If the Yankees win, they get another crack at their Bostonian tormentors. 

MORE: The Ultimate Yankees-A's Wild-Card Preview

But first they face the hottest team in the American League. After losing 87 games in 2017, the A's finished 97-65 in 2018. Consider that Oakland was toiling in fourth place on June 15, with a 34-36 record and a starting rotation in tatters. Since then, the A's have been a scalding 63-29. In most years, the Yanks and A's would win their respective divisions with these records, but they happen to share the air with the soaring Red Sox and world champion Houston Astros (103-59), whom many fans feel are on a collision course for the ALCS. 

Saddled with the twin burdens of history and epic expectations, the Yankees bear all the weight of winning this game, and the meat-hook realities of losing it. No one expected Oakland to be here, and few expect them to make a serious run at the World Series. But the Yankees came within a whisker of the Fall Classic last year and, on paper, are exponentially better this year. 

If the young Yanks were loaded last year, consider they added two of the AL's best rookies in Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar. Then consider they added J.A. Happ to the rotation, Zach Britton to the bullpen and Andrew McCutchen to the lineup. They also traded for Luke Voit, who transformed into Lou Gehrig since being traded from the Cardinals, batting .333, with 14 home runs and 33 RBIs in just 39 games in pinstripes. 

Oh, and they also added the best player in the National League last year, trading for 2017 NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, slapping another layer onto an already robust batting order. With Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius back from injuries, you have as lethal a lineup as you will see in the sport. 

MORE: On WFAN: Boone Talks Severino, Sanchez, Gregorius, More Ahead Of Wild-Card Game

There's a certain irony to the pitching matchup. Though the Yankees have the best bullpen in baseball --a conga line of flamethrowers from the sixth to ninth innings -- it is Oakland snapping the bridge from the starter to the closer. The Yankees will start their ace, Luis Severino. But the A's will ride their bullpen the entire nine-inning road, starting with right-handed reliever Liam Hendriks. 

The Yankees just set the MLB home run record for a team, with 267. But the A's bring some lumber, as well, with designated hitter Khris Davis leading Major League Baseball in homers (48) this season. In fact, the A's and Yanks win in similar ways. The Yanks just do it a bit better, or at least a bit more often, this season. Oakland may play for a penurious general manager, in a dungeon for a ballpark, before a freckling of fans, but they are a live underdog, are dangerous and could easily win this baseball game. 

Any team would loathe being booted from the playoffs in nine innings after 162 grueling games. But Oakland is a small-market team with corresponding dreams. You don't have to have your check signed by a Steinbrenner to realize the Yankees fan feels the World Series is a a rite of late autumn, a stratospheric expectation passed like a baton down the generations. And the Yankees fuel this fire with endless references to their bulging trophy case, the 27 rings and a spool of Yankeeographies on eternal loop from the YES Network. They don't hide from their history; they trade on it. No doubt you feel the history in your wallet when you try to buy season tickets.

Maybe Aura and Mystique left with the old ballpark, or retired after the 2004 ALCS. All the same, the Yankees would rather have this game in the Bronx. Even in this gentrified version of Yankee Stadium, there's something proper and autumnal about playoff baseball on River Avenue, about men in pinstripes hitting long balls in long sleeves.      

Aaron Boone knows something about big deeds under brown leaves. Now he's the first Yankees skipper to reach the playoffs in his maiden season since Dick Howser in 1980. But Boone's Bombers need to play like it's 1978 -- and beat Oakland -- to consider this season a success.

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel​.