Andy Pettitte winding up for a throw
In recent years, MLB has seen the wild card races repeatedly heat up in September. The St. Louis Cardinals rose from obscurity to win the World Series, and the Boston Red Sox haven't been to the playoffs since 2009, despite coming close the past two seasons.
This year is no different. According to Deadspin, the American League wild-card race is the closest the league has experienced over the past 17 years. Among the teams included are the New York Yankees. Owners of a double-digit lead in the division as recently as July 18, the Bronx Bombers are now tied for first with the Baltimore Orioles, and have only three-game lead on the last wild-card spot.
So how does the most successful franchise in baseball turn things around? There are several keys to avoiding the fate of the 2007 New York Mets.
Will the Yankees make the playoffs?
Pettitte has been out since June 27, and the Yankees need him back badly. In the nine games he started, he kept his ERA at 3.22, but his contributions are about more than his performance this season.
Pettitte has more playoff wins than anyone else in MLB history, and that kind of experience is invaluable. His leadership and poise will be crucial to keeping the team grounded as each game begins to have monumental implications.
According to the New York Daily News, Pettitte could return as soon as Tuesday, and it's not a moment too soon.
If the injury to Pettitte was the only health issue the Yankees faced this year, it would be a big loss. Unfortunately for Joe Girardi, he has had to deal with many more.
According to ESPN, Mark Teixeira has been sidelined once more with a calf injury. Ivan Nova will return to the lineup on Sunday, but he is the second starting pitcher coming back after CC Sabathia returned four starts ago.
Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson have also missed time. Injuries happen to every team and are in the hands of fate, but the Yankees will have a tough time getting wins if they send a different lineup out every night.
The Yankees have hit 25 more home runs than anyone else in the league this year. They have the second most runs and the second most RBI in baseball.
The problem isn't overall hitting. The problem is timing. The Yankees have players capable of getting hot at any given moment, but they need their stars to step up simultaneously. No more having Granderson be the big man for a while before disappearing to leave room for Robinson Cano.
The Yankees need their players to be consistently productive, and they need it now.