Nobody expected the New York Yankees to be in this position with three games left in the regular reason. Up 10 games in the American League East near the end of July, the Yankees lost their lead, which evaporated as they tied with the resurgent Baltimore Orioles.
The O's have to finish the year in St. Petersburg, Florida, against a Tampa Bay Rays team that refuses to quit. The Yankees finish their year back home in the Bronx against the lifeless Boston Red Sox.
The rules of the new postseason format state that if a division is tied at the end of the year, there will be a one-game playoff no matter what. Formerly, the rules were if there was a tie and the loser still gets a wild card, the division is decided on head-to-head record instead of a tiebreaker game, as seen in the 2001 and 2005 regular seasons.
The way it is set up right now, the tiebreaker game would be in Baltimore where the Yankees are 6-3. If the Yankees lose this game, they'll have to hop on an airplane for the wild card game against Oakland the very next day. The result of this game would be the end of the Yankees' season or Game 1 of the ALDS against either the Texas Rangers or Baltimore, also a day after, and could risk the loss of an off day, which could eventually force the Yankees to play for several games without one if they advance.
If this happens, the Yankees will be forced to use two of a trio of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda or Andy Pettitte to make it to the Division Series, and they'll be ill-equipped if this happens.
They will have to beat a broken Sox team that may view this final stretch as their World Series. The Orioles, however, have to play a Rays team that is more than alive in the playoff hunt. They are currently three games behind Oakland for the second wild card spot.
Meanwhile, the battle for the No. 1 seed in the American League and the right to play the wild-card winner in the Division Series is still up for grabs. The Yankees have won the season series against the Rangers four games to three, so the Yankees would win the No. 1 seed in the AL if both teams finish with the same record.
The Yankees may be tied with the O's for the division at the moment but control their own destiny when it comes to making the playoffs and may very likely get help from the Rays and A's to get the division title and the highest possible seed.
Here's what the schedule looks like for the playoff contenders who affect the Yankees' season:
Red Sox @ Yankees:
RHP Clay Buchholz (11-7, 4.22 ERA) vs. LHP CC Sabathia (14-6, 3.42 ERA)
LHP Jon Lester (9-14, 4.94 ERA) vs. RHP Ivan Nova (12-8, 5.02 ERA)
Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-6, 7.68 ERA) vs. RHP Hiroki Kuroda (15-11, 3.34 ERA)
Orioles @ Rays:
LHP Wei-Yin Chen (12-10, 4.11 ERA) vs. RHP Alex Cobb (10-9, 4.18 ERA)
RHP Miguel Gonzalez (8-4, 3.45 ERA) vs. RHP James Shields (15-9, 3.62 ERA)
RHP Chris Tillman (9-2, 2.78 ERA) vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson (9-11, 3.20 ERA)
Rangers @ A's:
LHP Martin Perez (1-3, 5.03 ERA) vs. RHP Jarrod Parker (12-8, 3.44 ERA)
LHP Matt Harrison (18-10, 3.26 ERA) vs. LHP Travis Blackley (5-4, 4.25 ERA)
RHP Ryan Dempster (7-3, 4.64 ERA with TEX) vs. RHP AJ Griffin (7-1, 2.71 ERA)
The Yankees have a relatively easy final opponent to end the year. They hold the advantage pitching wise against the Red Sox. The Rays have the pitching advantage against the O's but will be forced to win Monday's game with Cobb on the mound to keep their season alive. Oakland's playing for the highest seed possible and will likely have to sweep the Rangers to steal the AL West title.
The ball is in the court of the New York Yankees. They do not want to play several do or die games in a row to keep their season alive. Doing so will significantly hurt their chances in the Division Series, granted that they make it.