By Matt Citak
It’s not often you find a team sitting on 90 wins with 17 games remaining frantically panicking in the middle of September. Yet that is the case with the New York Yankees.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Yankees were battling with the Boston Red Sox for the American League East division title. Up until the All-Star Break, it was a back and forth affair between the two clubs. New York fell a few games back from their longtime rivals, but remained within striking distance for the first half of the year.
But since the All-Star break, the winning-est franchise in all of sports has not looked like the Bronx Bombers we have grown accustomed to watching.
In the near two months since the ASG, the Yankees have gone 28-22 with a +19 run differential. Of course, this is not a dreadful mark that the team should be ashamed of. But, playing only six games over .500 baseball doesn’t really scream World Series contender by any means.
To make matters worse, the 50 games they have already played in the second half of the season was supposed to be the easy part of their second-half schedule. Only 16 of those games came against teams that are above .500 (six vs. Tampa Bay, four vs. Boston, three vs. Oakland and three vs. Seattle). Losing series against teams like the Mets and White Sox certainly did not help the Yankees’ cause.
Despite being one of the best teams in all of Major League Baseball for most of the season, New York now finds itself in a peculiar situation.
With 17 games left in the regular season, the Yankees are now just two games above the Athletics for home-field advantage in the American League Wild Card Game.
While the Yankees have stumbled a bit coming out of the gate in the second half, Oakland has done the opposite.
The Athletics have been on an absolute tear since June 21st, leading all of baseball with a 54-21 record during that span. Since the All-Star break, the AL West club has gone an impressive 33-14, and unlike the Yankees, has dominated their opponents with a +82 run differential.
Looking at both teams’ remaining schedules, the Yankees could be in trouble if they don’t find a way to right the ship ASAP. Seven of their final 17 games are against the Twins, Blue Jays, and Orioles, teams that rest well below the .500 line. However, the other 10 games are not going to be a walk in the park for the somewhat struggling New York club.
The Yankees will go on the road for a four-game series in Tampa Bay, while having a three-game set both at home and on the road against the Red Sox, including the final three games of the season at Fenway.
Meanwhile, the Athletics have it a lot easier during this closing stretch. Oakland has two three-game series against good teams on the road, with one against Tampa Bay and the other against Seattle. But, the other 11 games will see the club face off against Baltimore (two games), the Twins (three games), and the Angels (six games).
Let’s get one thing straight- it would take a collapse of epic proportions for the Yankees to fall out of one of the two WC spots (they are 10.5 games up on the Mariners). Even with their middling performance over the last two months, New York will be in the postseason.
But the question is, will that win-or-go-home WC game occur in New York or Oakland?
Considering how things have been going for the Yankees, from the struggles of Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez to the inconsistent performances of Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, the team will need any and every advantage it can get. Although road teams in Wild Card Games are 7-5 so far, New York does not want to find itself in Oakland for the most important game of their season.
Flying from Boston to Oakland following the regular season finale would be completely draining. And, even if New York could escape The Coliseum with a victory, the team would then have to fly all the way back across the country overnight and begin preparing for an ALDS matchup against the Red Sox the next day.
Two cross-country trips in 24 hours? No thanks.
Despite all of New York’s struggles, I for one believe they will get themselves back on track before their WC lead turns into a deficit. Aaron Judge’s return to the lineup will help alleviate some of the pressure from Stanton, and should provide a much-needed boost to the Yankees’ lineup. As for the starting pitching, we have seen just how dominant Severino can be when in the right mindset. It’ll be up to Aaron Boone to get his ace into that ideal head-space before the calendar turns to October.
No matter who comes out on top, one thing is for sure- this race for home field advantage will be incredibly close until the very end.
Matt Citak is a contributor for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter.