This past week, Major League Baseball witnessed one of the best three-game, going-for-the-division slug fests in history. Three one-run games. Two extra inning games. Cy Young caliber pitching. Heavy hitting. Seven lead changes.
The New York Yankees, Tampa Bay Rays clash featured playoff-caliber baseball, a preview of next week's four game set in New York, and a preview of the potential ALCS opponents.
Next week's games could very well determine who wins the best division chase baseball has ever seen. Throughout baseball's 120-plus year history, at no time have two teams with this good of records been in the same division, and still duking it out for the division crown.
Consider New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman less than impressed.
"We're in this thing to win a World Series. Our focus is a World Series, not 10 years from now being known as division champions."
Why does this sound like a spoiled rich kid who lost his lollipop, but acts like he didn't want it in the first place? Your focus is not on the division? If you can't beat a team for the division, how can you beat a team, or any team, for that matter in the post-season?
This is the Yankees we are talking about, right? Where winning is everything? The team who is built on a nearly 200 million dollar payroll with the purpose of being better than every other team? And you can't win the division?
There is no way anyone would have muttered these words if George Steinbrenner was still around, and in charge. I'm pretty sure George would have fired him on the spot for saying that.
Because they are the Yankees and winning is everything, and second place is always unacceptable. Even the division.
If anything, maybe this is an indictment on baseball's playoff format. If winning the division can be scoffed at, then maybe the team that wins the division isn't getting the advantage it should be getting. Maybe they should be getting more home games. Maybe you increase the Wild Cards to two, and the top division champ gets a bye like in football.
But Cashman says his reasons for not focusing on the division is because he is looking at the bigger picture.
"If you're not World Series champions, nothing else matters. Nobody really remembers."
The bottom line is all that matters. It's hard to argue with that. But how do you get to be the best? By beating the best. At the end of the day, the Yankees have faced off with the Rays 14 times. The Rays, and not the Yankees have gotten the better of the head-to-head-matchup, 8-6. Even at Yankee Stadium, the Rays own a slight edge, 3-2. In the second half, against the Cliff Lee upgraded Rangers, the Yankees are 1-4.
And even though a team in your own division has been better than you, you still say your focus is on the World Series and not the division? How can you say you have a clear sight on the "bigger picture" when you are ignoring the biggest thing that is standing in your way?
"That doesn't mean we're conceding anything. We could have swept the whole series but we didn't. Tampa won those games and you have to give them credit. We'll live to fight another day."
Could have? Is this the same "could have" but instead got swept by the Rangers? Which is it—these games matter or they don't? How do you say you could have won the series? The man who touts the "bottom line" mantra is trying to now sugar coat the bottom line?
One thing is for sure, these aren't your father's Yankees.
The rotation is spotty behind Sabathia. The team still has its classic Bronx Bomber power, but it is lacking career-average production from its big names. The bullpen outside of Rivera has questions.
This team isn't as iron-clad as it was last year. But don't worry. Only 1-4 in their last 5 games against Texas? No problem. Winning the division? You know what, second place isn't so bad.
You have a general manager who believes you'll fight another day, without beating the best.
Maybe the "another day" he's referring to is Spring Training.