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Palladino: Yankees’ Girardi Pushing Right Buttons To Lock Up AL East

(credit: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

(credit: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

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By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

The Yankees website announces that postseason tickets are now on sale, a worthy statement considering that with nine games remaining after last night’s 6-3 win over the Minnesota Twins, they’re all but a cinch to make the postseason.

Though they haven’t mathematically clinched a spot, the probability percentage on MLB.com’s standings page puts them at 99.4 percent to achieve some sort of playoff berth. Just what kind, be it one of the top three seeds as division champion or that silly one-game playoff setup between the No. 4 and 5 seeds the Sleepy Heads of Baseball instituted this year, remains to be seen.

If, in fact, the Yanks happen to fall behind the Orioles in this final nine, that big comeback Saturday against the A’s might go down as the highlight to the season, for their postseason experience could turn out to be extremely short. Given the inconsistent pitching from both starters and bullpen, there’s no telling what could happen in a single-game play-in.

But at least Joe Girardi has taken some steps to avoid that situation.

Recognizing that the aging but obviously still productive Ichiro Suzuki was on fire, Girardi moved him from the bottom third of the order into the No. 2 hole. He did get a hit in his second game there Sunday. And though he failed to knock in anybody, there is little doubt that he, at this point, can be a catalyst up top that the Yanks sorely need.

Indeed, he seems to be the only Yankee who knows how to hit with runners on base, as he went into the Minnesota opener with five hits and six RBI in his last 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

It also helped that Girardi had plans for stretching out Andy Pettitte in his Monday start from the 75-pitch limit the manager imposed on him in last week’s return from nearly three months on the DL. Pettitte produced his fifth win with six innings of seven-hit, shutout ball.

Should a one-game playoff fall to the crafty left-hander, as opposed to the hard-throwing CC Sabathia, they’ll need Pettitte to do his thing. In other words, keep his team in the game for a good six innings.

Just as important, the Yanks should be getting Mark Teixeira back at some point between Minnesota and Toronto. His bat, despite the four-homer barrage the offense mounted against the Twins Monday, will be a welcome addition.

Given all that, the Yanks have a great deal of optimism looking forward, as well they should. They won’t face a team above .500 again this year. And they’ll wind it up Oct. 3 against the floundering Red Sox, who may or may not have Bobby Valentine calling the 2013 shots the day after their season ends.

With a magic number of eight to wrap up the division, it would seem a lock for a one-way ticket to the ALDS — do not stop at that one-game playoff. But funny things can happen in short periods of time in baseball.

Maybe that’s why Girardi played it cool recently when he said as nice as a division title would look, it’s not imperative for the playoff future.

It would, however, make for a potentially easier road for a team that, despite the injuries, the pitching problems, and the lack of clutch hitting, hasn’t left first place since June 10.

Are you willing to predict a Yankees division title? Be heard in the comments below!