Losing two of three in Toronto this week was pretty much the worst-case scenario. Well, on second thought, getting swept by Toronto would have been the worst-case scenario, but that's not the point. Dropping two of three against the Blue Jays is pretty unacceptable for a team trying to steal the second wild card. Depending on how tomorrow's action in the respective Tigers/A's and Rays/Angels games go, the Yankees will be either five or six back in the race for the second wild card and either five and a half or six and a half out for the first wild card, which perhaps makes the weekend series against Baltimore do-or-die.
Based on the luck they've gotten this week, or in this case bad luck, the Yankees may very well find themselves six back of the second wild card, currently held by Oakland, with a hair under five weeks to play. My general rule of thumb, and maybe some of you follow this as well, is that when you're X games behind with less than X weeks to play, it's time to start worrying just a little bit, as if we haven't already. It's not that they'd be six (or five) games behind while having to jump one team. They're six (or five) games behind with three teams to jump. Aside from Oakland, the other teams New York would have to jump are the Indians (who they don't play again) and the Orioles, who they do play seven more times this year, including three this Labor Day weekend at the Stadium.
This weekend's series against Baltimore is the biggest series to date. Every series here on out, if they continue to stick around in the race, is bigger than the last one, and this three-game set is no different. CC Sabathia is going on Friday, and they need to hope his first five innings last Saturday at Tampa were more of a sign of things to come rather than his sixth inning failure. Miguel Gonzalez opposes the lefty, and he always seems to pitch well against the Yankees (career 2.48 ERA, 3.56 FIP in five career starts versus New York). Saturday, Ivan Nova opposes Scott Feldman. Feldman, who was acquired from the Cubs over a month ago, has only been okay since joining the Baltimore rotation. Sunday's series finale includes Wei-Yin Chen and Phil Hughes. If the Yankees are serious in their attempt at capturing a wild card, they should strongly consider pushing Hughes' start back to Monday against the White Sox, or preferably pull him from the rotation altogether.
Of course the Yankees can't crawl back into the race on their own. They'll need some help along the way, and that help could come by the Bay. The Rays and A's happen to play a three-game set this weekend. I'd think we'd want the A's to sweep the Rays because then it'd give the Yankees a chance to get within three or four games of Tampa by Monday if they happen to sweep Baltimore. Of course this is all pretty unlikely, but bear with me here. The Yankees would then have a chance to gain more ground on Tampa in late September, as they still have three more games to play against each other, while New York and Oakland have no more scheduled match ups against one another. So go A's, I guess.
You could say this homestand, which includes three against the White Sox and four against Boston starting next week, would be considered their "final stand," but I think these three games against Baltimore are it. At the very, very worst they need to win two of three. Anything less would basically be a back-breaker. The Yankees have painted themselves into this corner and though they'll need some help along the way, they still, somehow, have a chance to get themselves out of this mess and creep closer in the race.