The New York Yankees are making it harder on themselves. Needing just one win to secure home-field advantage for Tuesday night’s American League wild card game, the Yankees lost their doubleheader to the Baltimore Orioles.
Or the Houston Astros losing would do the trick. Well, they won both their games against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Now it comes down to game No. 162 as the Yankees look to avoid further drama and defeat the Orioles behind starter Michael Pineda.
As it stands, the Yankees can host Houston, travel to Houston, host the Texas Rangers, travel to the Rangers, or host the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The way the Yankees are playing, it may not matter whether they’re at home or on the road come Tuesday night.
Playing in front of a sparse Saturday crowd, the Yankees continued their sloppy play, appropriate considering the miserable weather much of the day. Their inability to come through in a big bases-loaded situation in the fifth inning was the difference.
This is how it’s been going for the Yankees much of the season. I’ve referenced the 2000 Yankees who clinched the AL East with an 87-74 record and won the World Series. They lost 15 of their final 18 games in September, and this year’s current iteration of the Yankees seem to resemble that team down the stretch more and more. The losing that is. Make no mistake about it — this team does not possess the same championship caliber.
The Yankees look the part of the wild card teams in the American League. Good but not great.
Who exactly instills confidence? Carlos Beltrán has been the hottest hitter in the second-half for New York — .283, 12 home runs, 37 RBIs. In all of MLB, the Yankees are 25th in team batting average (.247) and 28th in September (.233).
Their pitching is also troubling, to the tune of a 4.23 cumulative ERA in September. The dominant bullpen the Yankees boast is anything but lately. Dellin Betances is No. 1 among relievers with 131 strikeouts; Andrew Miller is third with 100. Betances also leads all relievers entering Sunday with 84 innings pitched, Miller despite losing time to injury is still 30th among AL relievers with 61.1 innings pitched. Relievers Justin Wilson and Chasen Shreve round out the top 50 in IP.
Betances had a 1.42 ERA in August, a 1.84 ERA in September. In 14.2 September innings, he has allowed 11 hits, three home runs and earned runs, while walking 11 and striking out 20. His 11 walks are the most for any month this season. His control issues Saturday night were evident, issuing two wild pitches.
Shreve has been fantastic much of the season, but downright awful in September — 11.12 ERA in nine appearances, 13 hits, seven runs, four home runs and seven walks in 5.2 IP. Entering game 1 of the doubleheader, Shreve turned a three-run deficit into a seven-run hole. Through Sept. 5, Shreve was 6-1 with a 1.86 ERA.
For better or worse, the Yankees will win or die trying with whoever is best equipped to take them far. Or as far as they inevitably might go. Despite struggles, no question Betances gets the ball in the eighth. Wilson has been a bright spot for the pen in September, his ERA at the beginning of the month 3.19 now down to 3.12. He appeared in 14 September games, allowing four runs, but none in the two appearances that were Yankee losses.
Adam Warren provides the innings-eater role for the playoffs, at least the wild card game, if needed. Should New York see a best of five series post-tuesday, who gets the ball Thursday? Masahiro Tanaka would be unavailable but would likely start Game 2. Luis Severino or CC Sabathia would be in line, both pitching well down the stretch — CC 1-1, 2.25 ERA in September, Severino, 3-1, 3.42 ERA.
Iván Nova has been bad, and if he even makes the playoff roster, would only see mop-up action out of the bullpen. Pineda went 3-1 in September with a 4.41 ERA, his most recent outing against the Boston Red Sox especially bad as he allowed six first inning runs. He did settle down enough to last six innings. Prior to that outing he lasted six innings against the Chicago White Sox allowing one run, and 5.1 shutout innings against the New York Mets.
Who knows how far the Yankees will go. As the quest for home-field comes down to game No. 162, the goal remains simple. Win.