Yankees' playoff picture far from perfect
With two weeks remaining in the regular season and a magic number of one to become the first team to clinch a postseason berth this season, it would seem that all is well with the New York Yankees, who last year were left out of baseball's October extravaganza for the first time in 14 years.
Things, however, are not how they appear.
As well as things have gone for the Yankees this season, they have some ghosts in their closet that they can't ignore this week.
It starts with a three-game visit to Anaheim for a meeting with the expected AL West-champion Angels, which in the world of the Yankees of the 2000s is the equivalent of being forced to undergo a root canal without having the area numbed.
And it wraps up this weekend with a three-game visit to Yankee Stadium by the Boston Red Sox, a team which dominated the Yankees early, winning the first eight meetings between the two teams this season, but has lost six of the last seven.
With the magic numbers of one for assuring at least a wild-card invitation to the postseason party and seven for clinching the AL East over the Red Sox, the Yankees could knock that off their to-do list by the end of the week.
It won't, however, be easy.
Nothing's easy for the Yankees when the play the Angels, regardless of what they call themselves. The Los Angeles-turned-California-turned-Anaheim-and-now-known as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are the one team that has dominated the Yankees this century.
While the Angels have won only four of seven meetings between the teams this year, they have won 34 of 44 games since the start of the 2004 season, and are 49-39 against the Yankees in this century, the only team in baseball with a winning record against the boys from the Bronx. The Yankees have lost 17 of their last 22 games in Anaheim. The Angels also eliminated the Yankees in the 2002 and 2005 postseasons, the two times the teams have met.
The Angels have a speed game that the Yankees have been unable to slow down. The always-on-the-go Angels of the Mike Scioscia decade have stolen 113 bases and been caught 44 times (that's a 72 percent success rate) in the 88 games they have played against the Yankees in the 2000s. The fact the Yankees are constantly bemoaning the Angels' approach underscores that they have gotten into the Yankees' heads.
Add in the fact that despite having baseball's best record, the Yankees arrived in Anaheim with rotation concerns, and it becomes evident why playing well the three nights against the Angels, a potential ALCS opponent for the Yankees, is important.
With the expectation of having the best record in the AL, the Yankees can opt for a first-round format that will allow them to use only three starters. That is a blessing considering that fourth starter Joba Chamberlain is 0-2 with a 7.88 ERA his last five starts, and on limited usage because of long-term concerns about his arm. When the alternatives to Chamberlain are Sergio Mitre or Chad Gaudin, who was released this season by both the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres, it's not like there is much of an option.