New York Yankees: Bombers Control Playoff Destiny with Some Help

Brandon MaukContributor IIIOctober 2, 2012

The Bats and CC Sabathia gave the Yankees sole possession of first in the AL East on Monday night
The Bats and CC Sabathia gave the Yankees sole possession of first in the AL East on Monday nightElsa/Getty Images

It has to be October, because the New York Yankees sure looked like a team that could win it all on Monday night at Yankee Stadium.

The Bronx Bombers rode the power of a nine-run second inning against Clay Buchholz, hitting four home runs, one by Mark Teixeira, freshly returned from injury. CC Sabathia did his job, going eight innings, allowing just two runs on four hits and striking out seven. The Yankees defeated a depleted Boston Red Sox 10-2. 

All of this coupled with a Baltimore Orioles loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, puts the Yankees back in sole possession of first place in the AL East with two games to go. With a Texas Rangers loss to the Oakland A's, the Yanks are now on pace to not only win the division, but also clinch home-field advantage throughout the American League playoffs.

Oakland also clinched a playoff berth, and are also trying to steal the Western division title against the Rangers, so they still have plenty left to play for. However, Oakland's win has officially eliminated the Rays and LA Angels, which may take some incentive out for the Rays to beat Baltimore in their final two games with James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson on the hill. 

Still, thanks to the Rays and A's, all the Yankees need to do to win the highest possible seed is beat a Red Sox team that looks like it doesn't care much for playing spoilers. David Phelps replaced the struggling Ivan Nova (5.02 ERA, 83 ERA+) for Tuesday night's game against the also-ran lefty Jon Lester (4.94, 88 ERA+). For the season finale, the Yankees will send the veteran Hiroki Kuroda, who has struggled lately but overall has proved to be a great and reliable signing for the Bombers (3.34 ERA, 125 ERA+), against his fellow countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka (7.68 ERA, 57 ERA+ in 10 starts). 

Winning the division AND the #1 seed is very important for the Yankees in order the put themselves in the best position to win it all. Now that they are one game ahead of the O's, winning these two games guarantees the title. Finishing ahead or tied with Texas would allow them to start the ALDS on Sunday instead of Saturday in Detroit, who look to be a much tougher foe with Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera and crew, despite having the worst record among all playoff teams. 

Losing the next two games could yield the possibility of having to play a tiebreaker on Thursday in Baltimore to decide the AL East, which would require them to use Andy Pettitte. Losing this game would likely mean playing the Wild Card game in Oakland or Arlington, TX on Friday, forcing them to use Sabathia on three days rest.

If the Yankees do indeed get the division and No. 1 seed, they can comfortably set their rotation to:

LHP CC Sabathia, 15-6, 3.38 ERA, 124 ERA+

RHP Hiroki Kuroda, 15-11, 3.34 ERA, 125 ERA+

LHP Andy Pettitte, 5-4, 2.87 ERA, 147 ERA+ (in 12 starts)

RHP Phil Hughes, 16-13, 4.23 ERA, 99 ERA+

That's a rotation that can certainly beat just about anyone in the postseason. Even as inconsistent as Hughes is, he's as good as any No. 4 and could benefit from pitching at home for Game 4 in this 2-3 Division Series setup.

The Yankees are in complete control of their destiny. It's up to them if they want to make their road through the postseason easier or more difficult for themselves.