Results tagged ‘ Rays ’

Yanks, Rays have safety net

Fans seem to like the wild-card system in baseball because if gives more teams a chance to reach the playoffs.  The powers that be in the game certainly approve it of it because the more teams involved in races the greater the interest there is in the sport in the final month of the season.

There is one downside of the system that was adopted in 1994 by which the second place team with the best record qualifies for post-season play as a wild card, and that is it can ruin an old-fashioned race for first place.

Take what is going on this year between the Yankees and the Rays, for example. These two teams entered play Tuesday night tied for first in the American League East for the eighth straight day. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that marks the most consecutive days that a pair of teams has been tied for first this late in a season. The previous record was seven straight days by the Dodgers and the Astros in the National League West Sept. 10-16, 1980.

That season featured one of the wildest finishes in major league history. The Dodgers swept the Astros in a three-game series at Los Angeles to force a one-game playoff that also took place at Dodger Stadium the day after the regular season ended. The Dodgers’ bubble was burst by Joe Niekro’s knuckleball as Houston won the playoff to qualify for the NL Championship Series against the Phillies.

Had there been a wild-card system, there would have been no need for a playoff because both teams would have made it.

Something similar happened in 1993, the last year there was no wild-card in the majors. In fact, the finish in the NL West that year was a major reason the wild-card supporters got what they wanted. The Giants won 103 games but finished one game behind the Braves (then in the NL West) and went home.

It was as wild a race as every existed. Atlanta trailed San Francisco by a season-high 10 games July 22 and by 9 as late as Aug. 7. A seven-game losing streak Sept. 7-15 brought the Giants back to earth as they fell 3 games behind the Braves, who were amid a 9-1 run. It came down to the final weekend. The Braves swept a three-game series from the Rockies, but the Giants lost to their arch-rival Dodgers on the final day of the season.

There was no fallback position for the Giants without the wild card. As tight as that race was, it does not compare really to what is going on between the Yankees and Tampa Bay. The Braves and Giants were tied on the same day only eight times total in 1993, only as often as the Yanks and Rays have been for a little more than the past week.

Over the past 30 days, the Yankees and the Rays have been tied for first place 12 times and have had the same share of the top spot 23 days during the season. But with the third-place Red Sox having fallen seven games behind them and the second-place teams in the other divisions nowhere near contention for the wild-card berth, the juice is missing from the Yanks-Rays race because whoever doesn’t win the division will make the playoffs anyway.

Sure, there is home-field advantage in the Division Series and Championship Series at stake, which is sort of a carrot but not as appetizing as eliminating a foe altogether.

Pettitte targeted for Rays, Sox?

The Yankees will be rooting for Andy Pettitte to have a good bullpen session Wednesday because it would set into motion a scenario that could benefit them greatly against their American League East challengers.

Pettitte, who has been disabled since July 18 because of a strained left groin, was encouraged by his sideline work Sunday in Chicago when he threw at about 75 percent without feeling any discomfort. He’ll try to get closer to 100 percent Wednesday.

If all goes well, Pettitte may be in line to be back on the mound against major-league competition in about two weeks after some injury-rehabilitation assignments or simulated games. That would allow Pettitte to make four starts, all against either the Rays or the Red Sox for the remainder of the season in a theory proposed by WFAN Radio’s Sweeney Murti, to which I subscribe.

If Pettitte can start Sept. 14 or 15 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., then he would be in line to start against the Rays Sept. 20 at Yankee Stadium, against the Red Sox Sept. 25, also at the Stadium, and Oct. 1 at Fenway Park. Yes, I am getting way ahead of myself here, but if Pettitte continues to progress there is reason to believe that schedule could become reality.

Alex Rodriguez, out with a left calf strain, is not eligible to come off the disabled list until Sept. 5, which is Sunday. That means there will be no return engagement with Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden, who will start Thursday’s finale of the four-game series at the Stadium. Remember the firestorm that was created back in April when Braden berated A-Rod for trotting on the mound at the Oakland Coliseum while returning to first base after a foul ball?

Braden, who pitched a perfect game May 9 against Texas at Oakland, was on the DL when the Yankees returned to the Coliseum in July. By then, the bitterness was defused somewhat as both player signed “Get Off My Mound” t-shirts for charity. Braden still thinks Yankees fans will let him have it Thursday.

“It wouldn’t New York if they didn’t,” Braden said. “They have had awhile to think of some good stuff, so I’m sure they won’t disappoint me.”

Another skip for Javy?

Might the Yankees skip Javier Vazquez in the rotation again? It is a possibility, but whether it is a probability is up to the powers that be, general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi, and I am not here to question them, only to point to that possibility.

The Yankees avoided starting Vazquez, who has struggled in his return season to the Bronx, against the Red Sox last Friday night and could choose to do so again. As it stands now with Sergio Mitre making a spot start Sunday against the Twins, Vazquez is in turn to be on the Yankee Stadium mound Monday night against the Red Sox.

The last time Javy was in a Yankees uniform facing the Bosox at the (old) Stadium didn’t exactly work out too well. Ask Johnny Damon. Granted, that was 2004, but, well, you get the idea.

If the Yankees continue to be careful about Vazquez, which they have already displayed, they could skip him again and go with Phil Hughes Monday night and CC Sabathia Tuesday night against the Red Sox. The rainout Tuesday in Detroit pushed the starting pitchers back one day with Girardi only needing a spot guy this Sunday.

However, if Vazquez is to start against the Mets next weekend at Citi Field, he would have to start Tuesday night, which would be against the Red Sox. That would allow him to start Sunday night against the Mets on ESPN. Hmm, maybe that’s not a good idea.

Ideally, the Yankees wanted Vazquez to pitch Friday night in Flushing against a National League team in a National League park. Vazquez has a career of success in the National League, which the Yankees well know. But for him to be able to start Friday night, Vazquez would have to be skipped entirely in the prior series against the Red Sox and Rays. The Yankees could go with A.J. Burnett Wednesday night and Andy Pettitte Thursday night against Tampa Bay on regular rest and tee it up for Vazquez Friday at Citi.

Also, by keeping Vazquez on this schedule, it would allow him to make four more starts against NL clubs next month when the Yankees have inter-league series against the Astros, Phillies, Mets, Diamondbacks and Dodgers.

This is all speculation, of course, but food for thought. Vazquez did himself some good Wednesday night against the Tigers (two earned runs, five hits, two walks, seven strikeouts in seven innings), but he was still the losing pitcher. He may have come away with an “atta-boy” but little else, so it is not out of the question that the Yankees just may spare Vazquez another pairing with the Red Sox or Rays and steer him toward a heavily National League schedule.