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If the Yankees are going to struggle, now is the time

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The very forgiving postseason format allows the Yanks this frustrating bump in the road without too harsh a punishment.

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Yankees have been difficult to watch over the past two weeks. After rolling out of the gate to one of their best starts in franchise history, injuries began to pile up and established contributors began to wane, causing the Yanks to drop 10 of 14, many of them coming in close games where the team had held a lead in late innings.

Where the Bombers flourished in 2019, plugging every hole left behind by injury to roll to a 103-win season, the team has struggled in 2020, having uncharacteristic bullpen struggles while the offense has failed to maintain its production since the bats of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton went down with injuries.

To add insult to their many injuries, the Yankees were thoroughly manhandled by the Rays this year, falling four back in the loss column heading into the weekend. With just three weeks left in the season, catching the Rays will be a challenge to say the least, putting the team’s quest at back-to-back division titles in serious doubt.

But let’s look at the positives after a fortnight that has had too many painful losses: if there was ever a year to absorb some uncharacteristic struggles, this is the one.

The 2020 season has brought plenty of weirdness already, from doubleheaders galore to drone delays, but it also brings the expanded playoff format and the likely playoff bubble format, which would put all teams in a neutral site when the postseason begins in October. The normal postseason format, at least in the eyes of this blogger, is among the best in sports because it puts so much emphasis on winning the division. But this year, there is very little advantage to winning the division, as there is no Wild Card Game gauntlet to avoid. Instead, just a three-game series at a neutral site, meaning battles for home field will be moot.

As it stands now, the Yankees would face Cleveland in the first round, which of course wouldn’t be easy given Shane Bieber likely getting the ball in game one, but Mike Clevinger is now in San Diego, and it would be a winnable series should the Yanks get some of their wounded back by then. Other possible opponents include the banged-up Astros and the White Sox, both winnable series. All series are winnable when the Yankees are at full health, and they can take the next three weeks to get healthy while still treading near the top six teams in the American League.

The Yankees have remaining games against the Orioles, Marlins and Red Sox, all beatable teams, even not at full strength. Two series against the Buffalo Blue Jays won’t be easy, but that schedule certainly makes a top-five finish in the league well within reach, all while taking time to get relievers like Aroldis Chapman and Zack Britton back on track after missing time in an already shortened season, and bats like Judge, Stanton and Torres back up to speed following IL stints.

Yankee fans have seen a lot of ugliness in recent weeks, but the consequences of the team’s struggles are much more diminished than a typical season. If there was ever a time to struggle and heal, it’s now.