Last week, on Labor Day, I knew the summer was coming to an end when the crowd on the beach looked like a crowd at Citi Field. Then over the next few days it got cold, like hoodie and shorts cold, and then the NFL season started, which is the official end of summer.

I am a summer person, but I love the fall. I love the fall because I love the weather, and I love what it represents: postseason baseball. There is no better time of the year than when the Yankees are getting ready for October, and that time is now. I am usually elated 24 hours a day at this time of the year, but right now I am terrified 24 hours a day. One win in the last eight games, and four straight losses to postseason teams has me wondering if the playoffs might last three games for the Yankees.

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That isn’t exactly optimistic, but let’s be honest, over the last eight games, what have the Yankees done to prove that they are the best team in baseball? They lost two of three at home to the last-place Orioles and needed Nick Swisher to hit a two-run walk-off home run to avoid getting swept at home. Then, the Rangers had consecutive walk-off wins against them (including one against Mariano Rivera) before sweeping them away in Arlington. And then of course we have Monday night’s debacle.

Let’s put it this way, if Nick Swisher doesn’t hit that ninth-inning home run against the Orioles last Wednesday, the Yankees would be in the middle of an eight-game losing streak. And if the injury bug didn’t decimate the 2010 Red Sox, we might be making comparisons between the 2010 Yankees and the 2010 Padres. Luckily, these things are all “ifs.”

The Yankees are no longer in first place in the AL East. They trail the Rays by a 1/2 game with 18 games left to play. The Red Sox are still seven games behind the Yankees, and barring an appearance from the 2007 Mets, the Yankees will be in the playoffs as either the AL East champion or the AL Wild Card winner.

Here is what is at stake currently for the Yankees:

Win the AL East and play the Rangers in the ALDS, and see lefties Cliff Lee and C.J. Wilson at least once each.

Win the AL Wild Card and play the Twins in the ALDS, a team you have beaten in the ALDS in 2003, 2004 and 2009.

Old me would have been all for the Yankees just getting the wild card and getting into the postseason, so that the Yankees could avoid Lee, Wilson, the Rangers offense and Ron Washington’s pitching changes. But I have learned my lesson in hoping to play a certain team in the ALDS. It didn’t work out in 2007 with the Indians, and it didn’t work out in 2006 with Tigers. It doesn’t usually work out.

The Yankees need to play to win the AL East. They need to play to come out on top of the division and not back into the postseason, and obtain home-field advantage in the ALDS and ALCS. I say “need” because right now, you can’t tell me the Yankees are playing with the urgency of a team trying to win their division. Just look at what Dave Eiland said following Monday’s 11-inning loss to the Rays:

“This was a big game obviously, you want to win, but it wasn’t do or die.”

There it is. Joe Girardi would never say it, so Dave Eiland did. The Yankees are going to make the postseason, but they don’t care how they make it. If they happen to win the division, that’s great. But if they have to settle for the wild card, that’s great too. It’s a loser’s mentality for a team that has been losing regularly over the last two weeks.

Then, Eiland pulled a page out of Joe Torre’s playbook when he said, “Sometimes you lose the battle to win the war. We’re going to have all our big guns, so to speak, tomorrow.”

That’s nice. The Yankees will have all of their “big guns” on Tuesday. But what if it’s a blowout game? What if the “big guns” aren’t need on Tuesday? Then they just got an extra day off on Monday. You can’t play for tomorrow at this time of the year because the next time the “big guns” might actually be needed for their given roles might not be for five or six days.

On Sunday, with Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner out of the lineup due to injury, Joe Girardi thought it would be a good day to give Alex Rodriguez a day off too. So against Cliff Lee, Girardi had Austin Kearns, Eduardo Nunez and Greg Golson making up the bottom third of the order. Don’t worry, Joe … there is just a pennant race going on. Not a big deal or anything.

Prior to Monday’s game, Girardi scratched Swisher and Gardner from the lineup once again, citing injuries as the reason. But then in the eighth inning, Swisher pinch hit for Golson and in the 10th, Gardner ran for Lance Berkman. So in a game in which Girardi was willing to use two of his starting position players despite injuries, he was reluctant to use David Robertson, Joba Chamberlain or Mariano Rivera in a game that lasted 12 innings. Instead, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre were both used before any of those three, as Girardi was hoping for a chance to use Jose Veras, Edwar Ramirez, Colter Bean, T.J. Beam and Sean Henn before he would even think about using Robertson, Chamberlain or Rivera.

CC Sabathia, Kerry Wood and Boone Logan combined for the following line in Monday’s loss: 9.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 12 K.

Gaudin and Mitre combined for the following line and the loss: 0.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K, 1 HR.

Maybe the game wasn’t do or die. But it was still a game in which the Yankees had lost three straight entering the night and six of their past seven, and it was a game against the team they are trying to beat out for first in the East and a team that they will play seven times in 11 days. So even if it wasn’t a playoff elimination game, it was still an important game and arguably the most important game of the season to date. So I don’t need to hear Dave Eiland basically say that the Yankees were willing to lose the game in the way he said it.

I am scared of what the second season will bring for the Yankees if Andy Pettitte can’t make a full recovery and the rotation is CC Sabathia and pray for a four-day rainout. I am scared that Nick Swisher won’t get healthy enough to contribute and will look like the 2009 postseason Nick Swisher. I am scared that Brett Gardner’s injury is something more than the Yankees are letting on. And now, I am once again scared of how Joe Girardi will use the bullpen in the postseason. My complaining might be too much for some to take, but in my eyes, the season is unraveling faster than Vinnie Chase’s life.

So after a game that sent the Yankees to sole possession of second place for the first time since August 3, I think it’s important to address the current state of the Yankees bullpen. You know, the bullpen that Joe Girardi wanted to work backwards through last night. Here are the Bullpen Power Rankings for the Yankees:

1. Number 42, Mariano Rivera, Number 42
There isn’t much to say about this man. Mariano Rivera is in an elite class in my mind with Derek Jeter, and no one else. And no one else might ever get into this class in my lifetime. How elite is this class? Well, let’s put it this way…

Mariano Rivera could steal my social security number, deplete my bank account and burn down my house and I wouldn’t be mad at him.

So, when he drills a guy with the bases loaded in Texas to give the Yankees a walk-off loss, sure it sucks, but it’s not like I can be mad at the guy. He’s Mariano Rivera, and I will take him with the lead in the ninth every single time.

2. Number 30, David Robertson, Number 30
David Robertson won me over in Game 2 of the ALDS last year at Yankee Stadium. I was still physically and mentally exhausted in Section 203 from a game that looked like would knot up the ALDS heading back to Minnesota, only to have A-Rod go yard off Joe Nathan in the ninth. An improbable comeback win at home was then in play, but in extras, it once again looked as though the Twins would take Game 2.

Damaso Marte relieved Alfredo Aceves to start the 11th and allowed singles to Joe Mauer and Jason Kubel to start the inning. Robertson relived Marte and gave up a 1-2 single to Michael Cuddyer to load the bases with no one out, and the wheels were coming off.

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Robertson got Delmon Young to lineout to first, then he got Carlos Gomez to groundout and Brendan Harris to flyout to end the inning and keep the game tied. It was a Houdini-esque act and for that, David Robertson had earned the nickname David Copperfield from me.

He finished the postseason with the following line: 5.1 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 3 K.

Then a new season started for David Copperfield Robertson and from Opening Day until July 2, he had a 6.15 ERA, allowing 34 hits and 15 walks in 26 1/3 IP. But since then, in exactly the same amount of innings (26 1/3), Robertson has allowed 17 hits while striking out 34 and pitching to a 1.37 ERA. He’s back.

3. Number 39, Kerry Wood, Number 39
Kerry Wood is one of my favorite trade deadline acquisitions of all-time. Obviously I like players that do their job. He has this badass demeanor to him on the mound, and when he strikes people out, I almost expect him to drop Kenny Powers’ catch phrase on the hitter (you know what it is and no, I can’t type it here).

Kerry Wood might not be the guy who struck out 20 hitters in one for game in the Cubs, but he doesn’t need to be. He just needs to be the guy who can pitch one scoreless inning a game for the Yankees and he is doing just that.

Kerry Wood as a Yankee: 19.2 IP, 11 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 10 BB, 22 K, 0.46 ERA, 1.068 WHIP.

Brian Cashman and his scouts deserve all the credit in the world for trading for a finally healthy Wood to salvage a bullpen at the trade deadline that had alcohol up 74 percent in the Bronx between the seventh and ninth innings of Yankees games.

4. Number 62, Joba Chamberlain, Number 62
For all the hurtful things I say and tweet about Joba Chamberlain, I still, stupidly, give him the benefit of the doubt. When Joba enters games, I have this positive mindset that he is going to come in and embarrass hitters with a fastball-fastball-slider combination, but it never really happens.

Yes, I am still living in 2007 in my mind when it comes to Joba. If you have ever watched a Yankees game with me, you know how much I despise and berate Chamberlain. But deep down, I am hoping and praying that 2007 Joba is still alive and you know, just taking a two-year hiatus from the game.

It’s almost like Joba Chamberlain is my kid (which is weird since he is older than me and he has a kid of his own), since as much as I criticize and hate him, I still believe in him and want him to do well, and there isn’t another player on the Yankees like this year. It probably has to do with the early success he had in his career and the fact that he is a homegrown player.

Maybe I’m stupid and maybe we won’t ever see 2007 Joba for an extended period of time again. I still hope we do and think we will.

5. Number 48, Boone Logan, Number 48
I think it’s time. And by time, I mean it’s time for me to apologize to Boone Logan. Since June 29, Logan has appeared in 27 games and has allowed one earned run in 18 1/3 innings. I think that is enough for me to finally say sorry to Boone Logan. What am I sorry for exactly? Well, here are two examples of many bad things I have said about Boone this season:

“I hate Boone Logan. Some say “hate” is too strong of a word, but when it comes to Boone Logan, I just don’t think any other word could justify my feelings about his pitching.” – May 11, 2010.

“My hatred for Boone Logan is well documented. I think I would take my chances running across the Major Deegan at 5:30 p.m. before I gave Boone Logan the ball with a lead. I am willing to pay for his bus ticket back to Scranton-Wilkes Barre if that is what his roster spot is about, and I’m also pretty certain I can take up a collection before tonight’s game to pay off his salary, so the Yankees can rid themselves of him.” – May 18, 2010.

Yes, I said those things. So, Boone Logan, I apologize.

Now, I say I am sorry, but I know that at some point between now and the last game the Yankees play this season, Boone Logan will be asked to get a BIG out, an important out, a significant out in the 2010 Yankees season. And mark my words … he will put a scare into every Yankees fan.

6. Number 45, Sergio Mitre, Number 45
Bald Vinny, the leader of roll call in Section 203, likes to ask “Who ordered a meat tray?” when Sergio Mitre enters game. On Monday night, it was Reid Brignac who ordered a meat tray.

I never quite understood, and still don’t understand, the Yankees’ or Girardi’s obsession with Mitre. I know that Mitre pitched for Girardi when both of them were with the Marlins in 2006, so maybe Mitre has some compromising photos of Girardi from a night they went out in Miami one night, and that is why he is still a part of the $200 million Yankees.

When you hear about Mitre, you usually hear about a guy who is now over a year removed from successfully recovering from Tommy John surgery, so he is finally getting back to where he once was. The only problem is that where Sergio Mitre’s career was before Tommy John surgery was 10-23 with a 5.36 ERA in 78 games in the majors.

He hasn’t been all that bad this year (0-3, 3.65), but let’s not pretend like he is good enough to be pitching in extra innings of a must-win game against the Rays on September 13. Maybe if the game went 18, 19 or 20 innings, but not when three of your best relievers are still available.

7. Number 41, Chad Gaudin, Number 41
The Yankees didn’t want Chad Gaudin after spring training, so the A’s took him. Then, they didn’t want him, so the Yankees took him back.

Since the start of the 2008 season, Gaudin has been on the following teams: A’s, Cubs, Padres, Yankees, A’s and Yankees. It’s not exactly the career movements of Alan Embree, but to be moved five teams in almost three seasons says something. So instead of letting him find his way with one of the other 29 teams, the $200 million Yankees have him in their bullpen. A bullpen that once was home to Chan Ho Park this season prior to him ending up in the Tuesday night Central Park slow-pitch softball league before landing on his feet with the Pirates in August.

It seemed inevitable that Chad Gaudin would let the Rays win in the 10th inning last night since whenever there is a potential walk-off situation facing Gaudin, he usually turns into A.J. Burnett. But when Gaudin lets the opposition get a walk-off win against the Yankees, it is never over quickly like it was against Mitre in the 11th on Monday.

Nope, with Gaudin it usually goes something like … 10-pitch walk, then stolen base, then a hit by pitch, then a sac bunt, then a walk, then a single to left. And that is why when he loaded the bases against the Rays in the 10th on Monday, I would have bet the house if there was a place with a line available on whether or not the Rays would win the game against Gaudin. But being the nice guy that Gaudin is, he let Mitre take the fall for a change.

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