Well, this has been a season. At various times, the Yankees have looked like the greatest team that ever played baseball. At other, more recent and painful times, they have looked like they have absolutely no idea what they are doing on a baseball field. The truth is, of course, somewhere in the middle. The Yankees are a pretty darn good team, and as I write this, they sit with an 86-56 record and a solid six-game lead in the AL East.
With 20 games left to play heading into tonight’s final tilt in this mini two-game set against Boston, it is worth taking a look at what else is going on in the majors as the Yankees take this regular season to its conclusion. My colleagues do the Rivalry Roundup every day of course, but this will take a more macro perspective and peak ahead.
For whom should a Yankees fan root? Who deserves our scorn and ill-wishes? Let’s divide this up into three categories: the AL East, the American League at-large, and the National League. We’ll decipher the appropriate rooting interests for Yankees fans over the final weeks of the campaign.
The AL East
The division features three teams in the hunt for the Wild Card, with two still within shouting distance of the first-place Yankees. So let’s start with the Blue Jays and Rays, who are in the middle of a five-game, four-day set against one another, with four more tilts from September 22-25.
This one is easy. The best-case scenario here for the Yankees is that these two teams just trade wins, with neither gaining any real ground. Rays win the first half of a doubleheader? Time to cheer for the Jays the next (and vice-versa). Thankfully, that circumstance just came to pass yesterday.
As for the Orioles? They’re far enough in the Yankees’ rearview mirror that we can root for them to play the spoiler. For example, Baltimore heads north this weekend for a three-game set in Toronto. Go Orioles, go! And if the O’s manage to sneak into a Wild Card spot in a season when no one expected anything from them, I’m fine with that.
But wait, what about the other team in the division, the cellar-dwelling Boston Red Sox? I understand that what I am about to suggest is heresy, but hear me out. The BoSox sit 10.5 games out of a Wild Card spot and 17 back in the division heading into tonight.
New York has one remaining series against Boston, from September 22-25 (it’ll again be simultaneous with Jays vs. Rays). But with the exception of that four-game set, I think it behooves us all to cheer for the Red Sox down the stretch — or at least for their opponents to stumble and cough up victories. This could kill two birds with one stone. First, Boston has one series remaining against each of the Jays, Rays, and Orioles. They could impact the playoff hopes of any of those teams by beating them up.
Second, the more wins that Boston racks up, the worse their position becomes in the 2023 draft. Why should they be rewarded for incompetence? An 81-81 record, hopefully still last in the AL East, would look beautiful next to Boston’s ledger at the end of the season.
So: Cheer for the Rays against the Jays, or the Jays against the Rays depending on the standings; cheer for the O’s against both of them; and cheer for the Red Sox against all of them. Make sense? Perfect.
The Rest of the AL
There are a couple of points to cover here. The first has absolutely nothing to do with playoff positioning, I encourage y’all to cheer against the Angels... specifically, against Shohei Ohtani. I say this knowing that this could could my fantasy league, wherein I’ve benefitted from his two-way play all season. But I am still haunted by the 2017 AL MVP vote, when Aaron Judge got robbed. A massive swoon from Ohtani, at the plate and/or on the mound, cannot help but completely lock up Judge’s first (see above) MVP award.
Now, onto the playoff implications. Let’s start in the AL Central. A recent rough spell from the Twins has them sitting five games out of first place in the division, leaving the White Sox and Guardians to fight out the division, with the latter up by three games. Neither club has me losing sleep at night. Moreover, counterintuitive as it seems, I am soothed knowing the Twins have an uphill climb to get in. The thought of facing Carlos Correa in the playoffs gives me hives (Minnesota uniform be damned). I will be rooting against the Twinkies as they try to get back into postseason position.
In the AL West, the Astros have it sealed up, and with a six-game lead on the Yankees for home-field throughout the AL playoffs, it’s quite unlikely that New York will chase them down. Just in case though, it still makes sense to hope for Astros losses the rest of the way ... with two key exceptions. Houston has two series remaining against the Rays, and could do yeoman’s work by clobbering Tampa.
As for Seattle? The Mariners, Rays, and Jays are separated by a total of one half-game in the Wild Card standings. In the interests of chaos, I’m just hoping that Seattle ends the season in a four-way tie with the Rays, Jays, and Orioles or something. Maximum chaos is preferred, even if Game 163 regrettably no longer exists.
The National League
Honestly, with all due respect to the so-so Brew Crew (currently on the outside looking in), there is only one race I am watching in the Senior Circuit. The Mets. Once possessors of a massive division lead, the other New York baseball team finds itself up only half a game on the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves. I’m not too proud to admit that I will be rooting for every club that plays the Mets down the stretch, with the hopes that Atlanta can surpass them. The Mets’ schedule is not exactly a Murderers’ Row of opposing squads, but a fellow can always hope.
Aside from the Mets’ battle with the Braves, it’s all just a matter of seeding. The Dodgers clinched the NL West already, the Cardinals’ magic number for the NL Central is dwindling, and the Phillies and Padres are jockeying it out for the final two Wild Card seeds (far behind the NL East runner-up). Again, maybe the Brewers make it interesting, but their faint hopes are not really enough to hold my attention.
Obviously, the first priority here is cheering on the Yankees and hoping they win a ton of games down the stretch. That said, there is a lot going on around baseball with the potential to impact New York’s final few weeks, especially given some of the intra-division matchups in the AL East. A little bit of strategic cheering, with a keen eye on the magic number in the division, surely can’t hurt.