Yankees

Palladino: Yankees Must Conquer Their Demons — Now

Mark Teixeira (credit: Elsa/Getty Images), Phil Hughes (credit: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Mark Teixeira (credit: Elsa/Getty Images), Phil Hughes (credit: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

The Yanks and Baltimore clinched playoff spots of some sort this weekend. But even at this late date, with just two games remaining in the regular season, who knows if it will take a one-game play-in Thursday to determine the top seed’s ALDS foe for Friday.

Despite the uncertainty fogging up the situation — Detroit is basically locked in at No. 3 — it will certainly be fun watching the fight for Nos. 1, 2, 4, and 5 play out through Wednesday, and possibly beyond. But if the Yanks know what’s good for them, they’ll follow up Monday’s easy win over the dead-as-doornail Red Sox with an equally easy two-game cruise to lock up the AL East title and avoid any of the seeding or wild card malarky.

That would make things a lot easier pitching-wise. CC Sabathia went Monday night, which would set him up nicely for Game 1 of the ALDS this weekend, assuming the Yanks avoid that wild card game. If they have to play in it — meaning that either the Yanks fell apart all together to give Bobby Valentine a potentially happy sendoff, or Andy Pettitte lost the 163rd game against the O’s Thursday, it might be worth it for Joe Girardi to push up Sabathia a day in order to avoid Phil Hughes. Hughes, of course, has been nothing if not inconsistent this season. And, let’s face it, you can’t think about resting the ace of the staff in any elimination situation.

But what to do about the rest of the postseason? The rotation hasn’t pitched well of late. Hiroki Kuroda has become somewhat of a wild card, and not in a playoff kind of way, despite his 11-4 win Friday over a Triple-A affiliate that masquerades as Toronto’s major league entry. He failed to get out of the sixth in his last two starts, and has allowed 17 hits in that span.

Pettitte, who may be the most consistent pitcher the Yanks have right now, suffered from a lack of run support in his start Saturday in a 3-2 loss. They’ll need him for the division title game if needed; otherwise, they’ll keep him on ice for the ALDS.

By the Daily News’ count, the rotation pitched to a 6.20 ERA against the Blue Jays. Numbers like that just don’t get a team deep into the postseason.

Then there are the bats. On again, off again. Hit homers, like the four Robbie Cano, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin, and Mark Teixeira pounded off Clay Buchholz and Alfredo Aceves in a nine-run second Monday night, or leave a locker room full of players on base at critical times.

Now that Teixeira is back from the DL — he hit in the five-hole Monday night — perhaps the Yanks will regain some of the offensive consistency that produced that 10-game lead of the first half of the schedule. They need it from their big players — Derek Jeter, Granderson, and Alex Rodriguez. If they expect to put many of their eggs in Eduardo Nunez’ basket, as they did in Sunday’s comeback victory at the Rogers Centre, it’s going to be a short offseason regardless of opponent.

The early-season wins masked a number of demons that could rise up and grab the Yanks in the postseason like so many bogeymen. Despite their dominance of Boston last night, the fact is they still struggled against another dead-in-the-water team in Toronto.

That’s what makes the Yanks so interesting right now. No one truly knows which team will appear on the field this weekend. Or for Friday’s wild card game. Or for a 163rd game in Baltimore.

The next few days can go a lot of different ways, produce a lot of different results. And all could affect a flawed pinstriped team’s future.

The demons are out there lurking.

The question is, can the Yanks muster enough power and pitching to lay them to rest?

Will the Yankees get it done and clinch the division? Make your prediction in the comments below…