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Why the Yankees must grab the top Wild Card berth

The Yankees punched their ticket to the playoffs on Saturday, but they still have important business to attend to before the regular season ends.

The Yankees lead the majors with 144 home runs at home this season.
The Yankees lead the majors with 144 home runs at home this season.
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Every team reports to spring training with one goal in mind: make it to the postseason. Every team, that is, except for the New York Yankees. “World Series or bust” has been the mission statement since Babe Ruth first joined the club back when it called Coogan’s Bluff home.

Forty pennants and 27 world championships later, the organization and its fans are still hungry for more. The desire for October glory remains a thirst which will never be satisfied.

The team took fans on a wild ride last fall. Nightly thrills ended with the Yankees falling just one victory short of a date with their long-time October rivals in the annual Classic.

Following that oh-so-close finish, hopes coming into this season were even higher. With new arrivals like incumbent National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton, and the emergence of rookie sensations Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres, hopes have turned into expectations.

In virtually any other year, the 95-win Yankees would be celebrating a division title right now. Instead, they didn’t even clinch a playoff spot until Saturday, and remain locked in a battle to earn home-field advantage for the winner-take-all Wild Card game.

Perhaps saying the Yankees “must” win the top Wild Card spot is an overstatement. Playing that single-elimination game on the road certainly does not equate to an automatic loss. It’s undeniable, though, that hosting the Wild Card game in the baseball cathedral in the Bronx would provide the Yankees with a significant advantage.

The Yankees are built for their home park, and the splits this season certainly bear that out. The team has a better slash line, has scored more, homered more, and has a higher winning percentage at Yankee Stadium than they do on the road.

2018 Yankees home/road splits

Home 144 453 .260 .345 .474 .819 53 28 .654 5.59 1.77
Road 107 345 .234 .310 .418 .728 42 32 .568 4.66 1.45
Stats courtesy of, table by Brett Borzelli

The Athletics are 50-31 (.617) in Oakland, versus 44-31 (.587) away. They’ve actually hit better on the road, which is unsurprising considering they play in a pitcher-friendly park. The cold air blowing in off the Pacific is not conducive to home runs, which of course, is the Yankees’ bread and butter. The large amount of real estate in foul territory at Oakland Coliseum also works against the Yankees, who like to work counts by fouling pitches off.

The Bombers dropped two of three in Oakland just a few weeks ago, but won the three-game set against the A’s in Yankee Stadium in May. That series featured a thrilling walk-off victory on a Neil Walker eleventh-inning hit. The lone New York loss came when Sonny Gray got torched for five runs. The Yankees clubbed six home runs off Oakland pitching during that weekend series.

Yankee Stadium provides an imposing setting for visiting teams, and it’s not just the aura and mystic embodied in the edifice. The Bronx faithful truly are the 26th man for the Bombers. Countless opposing players have commented on the intimidation factor of walking into that stadium and playing in front of that raucous crowd during the playoffs. Just ask the Twins. They were visibly unnerved after blowing a first-inning lead in last year’s Wild Card bout. The crowd simply took over that game.

Sure, the acoustics in the new venue do not permit the same loudness as the old one did with its stacked grandstands. But The House That Ruth Built still rocks once the crowd gets going. And one thing we can always count on is that the Bronx faithful will be into every pitch come October.

The Athletics simply aren’t accustomed to that. The Oakland Coliseum drew 40,000 for the Labor Day matinee against the Yankees, but only 17,000 showed up the next night. The A’s only managed 30,000 plus paid attendance in two other games this year which didn’t involve either the Giants or Dodgers. Playing the Wild Card game in Yankee Stadium could prove a decisive advantage for the Bombers.

Plus, who wants to take a five-hour flight to the West Coast from Boston following the regular-season finale? Better to let the other team travel.

It would behoove the Yankees to exorcise their Tropicana and Fenway Park demons during their seven remaining games, lock up home-field advantage for the Wild Card game, and get ready to host the A’s on October 3rd. A victory there would send the Bombers to meet the rival Red Sox in the postseason for just fourth time ever, which is the matchup we all want to see.