It’s not the worst possible scenario, as the Yankees will somehow start playing baseball after Sunday’s Game 162.
We don’t know exactly how badly they want that right now.
The Yankees needed one win this last weekend to secure a wildcard spot, but failed to show up for most of Friday night’s loss to the Rays and were annihilated by the AL East champions on Saturday, 12-2. , as they were showered with booing by a ticked-off crowd of 41,648 at the stadium.
There’s really no excuse for being uncompetitive with a playoff spot on the line, and Brandon Lowe essentially only beat the Yankees with a homer hat-trick—a couple of three-run shots at Jordan Montgomery followed by a solo blast. against Michael King.
Montgomery picked a bad time to serve up career highs in runs earned (seven) and home runs (three), cramming all that ugliness into 2 2/3 innings. From then on, the rest of the afternoon was reduced to the Rays taking batting practice, as they finished with 19 hits and improved to 11-7 against the Yankees this season (24-12 in the last 36 games between the two)
“They gave a lot of good shots to everyone who threw today,” Montgomery said. “I think they were just ready to play.”
And what does that say about the Yankees? The Rays arrived in New York with zero playoffs on the line and have continued to humiliate their friends in the big market by pushing them to the brink of a potential tiebreaker on Monday (the 10-1 win of the Blue Jays on the Orioles ruined a back-handle later Saturday).
The Yankees brought a two game lead over Boston and Seattle and a three game lead over Toronto into the weekend and promptly lost it. Now the Red Sox and Yankees are tied for the wildcard lead, and the Blue Jays and Mariners are game behind going into the final day of the regular season — which could become the penultimate day of the regular season.
This weekend should have been a glorified three-game exhibition for Tampa Bay, but manager Kevin Cash & Co. couldn’t be happier to keep the “integrity” of the playoff race intact at the expense of the Yankees.
“We were ashamed today,” Brett Gardner said. “We play a very good team and we have been beaten in every way.”
After Montgomery left, Aaron Boone’s only strategy was arm hold, and he still put King in with the clearing candidates, with the game quickly out of reach. Boone’s bullpen management has been puzzling in recent days, but the Yankees should have plenty of bullets left for Sunday’s final, even if it’s a curious choice to start Jameson Taillon.
Taillon had to leave Tuesday’s game in the third inning after aggravating the partially torn tendon in his right ankle – he threw only 38 pitches – so the Yankees can expect no more than an opener-style effort from him, if the leg that stands upright. keeps long. And if they go this route, it suggests that they weren’t considering Gerrit Cole with short rest at all, which is the right decision.
After exiting his start on September 7 with a tight hamstring, Cole has a 6.35 ERA and opponents have raked him a .304 clip — 28 hits in 22 2/3 innings — in those four starts. Even on his regular turn, Cole doesn’t inspire the usual confidence these days, so pushing him towards the Rays felt like a move that could backfire.
On the other hand, nothing from the Yankees seems to work against the Rays, who are sending out Michael Wacha before the end of the season. Of course, the revamped Wacha has a 2.16 ERA in four games against the Yankees this season, but it jumps to 5.77 against everyone else.
If Boone & Co. taught us this year it is to expect the unexpected, so this chaotic situation is completely on brand for the 2021 Yankees. From week to week they can look like a completely different team, from great to terrible and back again.
Based on that pattern, we should have anticipated this. They came off an impressive 5-1 journey through Boston and Toronto that nearly froze one of the wildcards. Keeping the Rays waiting for the final weekend, however, was a diabolical wrinkle in the schedule.
“It’s not ideal,” Gardner said. “But it’s nice to know that we still have a chance. With the way this season has gone, it makes sense that it would come to the very last day. That seems about right. In a way we are still in control our own destiny moves forward. And of course, if we play the way we played today, we won’t have much baseball left. We just have to get better.”
Saturday’s loss marked the second time this season that the Yankees had surrendered a dozen runs. You’ll never guess who did it to them on July 29, when they were beaten 14-0 (hint: rhymes with haze). So even if the Yankees survive a tiebreak (if necessary) and win the wildcard game, their reward is a Division Series matchup with the same fiendish Rays.
“We’ve been down this road before, where we’ve taken it on the chin,” Boone said. “There will be no shrinkage.”
One thing is certain. They can no longer afford to be a punching bag for the Rays.