MLB Playoff Race: How Yankees' Embarrassing Collapse Affects Playoff Picture

John Dorn@johnsdornCorrespondent IIISeptember 5, 2012

CLEVELAND, OH - AUGUST 24: Starting pitcher CC Sabathia #52 of the New York Yankees reacts after giving up a hit during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on August 24, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images

On August 17, the New York Yankees were sitting comfortably ahead in the American League East, six games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, their closest competitor. Just over two weeks later, the Bombers find themselves in a much more uncomfortable spot: Fighting for their playoff lives.

They currently share the pole position with the sizzling Baltimore Orioles who have won eight of their last 10. New York, on the other hand, have won just three in their last 10, and are losers of their last three games versus Baltimore and Tampa Bay.

With Joe Maddon's Rays a measly 1.5 games behind the two division leaders, baseball suddenly isn't as fun in the Bronx as it was just a few weeks ago.

The Rays are set to host New York for one more contest at The Trop on Wednesday night. Then, the Yankees take their star-studded lineup to Baltimore for four games—a series that could determine either team's playoff fortune.

After three games in Fenway Park, the Yankees return home on September 14 to play host to Tampa Bay. If the Yankees—who have been outscored by 16 runs in their last 10 games combined—don't turn around their ship, Wei-Yin Chen may be facing off with David Price in the middle of October in pursuit of a ring.

That may not be the only way the Yankees get sent packing.

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The Oakland A's—at 76-59—are currently tied with Baltimore and New York for the top Wild Card spot, with Tampa within a game-and-a-half. 

The Athletics' remaining schedule features games against New York and Baltimore. They have the good fortune of taking on the lowly Mariners two more sets this season. However, they also have to face off with the 80-win Texas Rangers seven more times in 2012, which could cripple Oakland's magical run just as fast as they've bursted onto the playoff scene in the second half.

As for the A.L. East contenders with payrolls under $195 million, they still have six games to play against each other. Baltimore and Tampa will battle at Camden Yards September 11-13, and once again in St. Petersburg to close out the regular season on October 1-3.

It's entirely within the realm of possibility for the A.L. East to witness a second historic collapse in as many years.

Come the end of September, the Orioles and Rays may be at the center of the baseball world—right next to the Oakland at Texas series in Arlington—as the Yankees play three potentially meaningless games at Fenway Park to bring their season to a close. How's that for an unexpected finish?