By Jason Keidel
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Every time I take the Yankees to task, I’m branded every foul noun in the book, my baseball loyalty is doubted, and I’m accused of morphing into a closet Mets fan.
Truth is, when you’re on this side of the sport, from reportage to commentary, you want stories that stir the masses. So, frankly, it’s just good for business when baseball is salient on both sides of the Harlem River.
Yankees fans are in full fear, if not retreat. The bedrock lead the Bombers had over the Blue Jays has been vaporized and they are now looking up at their foes from the north. Toronto has been scalding since it made the best dual deals in the sport, bagging Troy Tulowitzki and David Price. Between its coalescing pitching staff and nuclear lineup, Toronto isn’t budging from playoff contention.
But those who bleed Bronx blue shouldn’t panic. If you don’t win the division you’ll surely snare a wild card spot, and history smiles upon the October underdog.
Six teams have won the World Series starting that far from the pole position. A wild card club reached the Fall Classic six consecutive years (2002 through 2007), including three straight world champs between 2002 and 2004.
Sure, the arc has changed. The one-game, sudden death format has made it far less cozy for teams to coast into second place. But last year’s world champion, the San Francisco Giants, snaked their way from the wild card, as did their World Series opponent, the Kansas City Royals, who needed 12 innings just to escape the perilous, play-in game.
What should bother Yankees fans is the drained health and power from Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez. If the two lineup elders don’t snap back to springtime form, the Yankees are doomed. As it is, they don’t have one regular batting at least .290.
And there’s the lack of aces in their deck of pitchers. The Yankees don’t have a David Price, or a Clayton Kershaw, or a Matt Harvey. Few teams do. While pitching is king now more than ever, with no-hitters as prevalent as sunflower seeds on the dugout floor, it’s still hard to unearth a monolithic starter.
And even when you get one you’re not assured of a postseason spot. Just ask the Washington Nationals, who vomited $210 million for Max Scherzer yet still trail the inferior Mets with a vanishing month to go.
Madison Bumgarner isn’t enough to give the Giants a shot at defending their title. The Dodgers spend a quarter of a billion dollars on their roster, yet still haven’t played in a World Series since Orel Hershiser exacted his wizardry on the baseball world back in 1988.
Despite their cosmic rise in the standings, Toronto is just a whisker ahead of New York (one game in the loss column), and the teams have seven more games against each other. Who really scares you? Houston? Texas? Minnesota? Kansas City is the only AL squad clearly better than the Bombers. So if October is streaked with pinstripes, the Yankees are as viable as anyone east of the Mississippi.
Maybe the Yanks can bank on their old prerogatives. If anyone has playoff pedigree, it’s the old salt in the Bronx. Joe Girardi has spent much time in the autumn vortex, as have Teixeira, A-Rod, Brett Gardner, Carlos Beltran, and Jacoby Ellsbury. Add a bear trap for a bullpen, and who knows? Maybe Mystique and Aura don’t just dance at your local go-go bar.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel