On Twitter, I keep receiving comments saying the Yankees would be better off playing the Central Division winner -- which would mean occupying the second seed rather than the top spot in the playoffs.
So let's take a look at the scenarios and decide where the Yankees would be better off with a mere six games remaining. Right now, the Yankees are the second seed. They have a game lead over the Orioles in the AL East and trail the Rangers by two, but own the tie-breaker, in the race for the best record. (And, yes, we realize they could still be the wild card or out of the playoffs entirely.)
The Case for the No. 1 Seed
If the Yankees were to tie the Texas Rangers and end up with the same record at the end of the regular season, they will own the No. 1 seed by virtue of winning the season series four games to three. In this scenario, the Yankees would most likely face the Baltimore Orioles or the Oakland A's.
Let's first deal with the most likely scenario in this supposition first -- the Yankees facing either the O's or the A's. In the season series, the Yankees and Orioles have each won nine games against the other, and there is something indefinably scary about the Orioles.
Besides their bullpen, the Yankees would seem to outclass them in every way. How many O’s would start for the Yankees? Matt Wietersrs and then who else? The Orioles don’t have a Justin Verlander that you would want to avoid. The scramble at the end of the regular season and the wild card play-in game won’t allow Buck Showalter to set his rotation. But it doesn’t seem to matter with this team.
The Yankees played 10 games vs. the A’s and split them as well. The A’s are like the O’s. It is hard to figure out why they may be in playoffs. In their starting lineup, heading into Thursday, they didn’t have even one .290 hitter. Overall, their team batting average is .237. The Yankees, for all of their offensive inconsistency, are at .261, by comparison.
Oakland has that, “You can’t put your finger on it” quality, like the O’s. They have some nice starting pitching, but no one who really scares you.
The Angels and Rays, in theory, are better than both these teams, except their records probably won’t be. If the they can somehow sneak into the play-in game and win it, they will show up with their pitching likely messed up, but with a lot of momentum. Of course, they have a lot of pitching.
Remember, the format is strange this year. The first two games of the ALDS are hosted by the lower-seeded teams. So if the Yankees are the No. 1 seed, they won’t know who their opponent will be until Friday and then they will open the playoffs on Sunday, Oct. 7. If Oakland were their opponent, they won’t know until late Friday and will open up 3,000 miles away about 36 hours later.
The Case for the No. 2 Seed
If the Yankees win the division, but have a worse record than Texas, then they will face either the Detroit Tigers or the Chicago White Sox. If you look at all the possible opponents, the White Sox seem the most inviting, while the Tigers seem more likely. The Yankees were only 2-5 against the White Sox this year and 6-4 vs. Detroit.
We all know what happened last year, so the Tigers would not be an easy out. Verlander starts Saturday and could be lined up to either come back on short rest before the end of the regular season, which seems unlikely given Jim Leyland’s resistance to do that in the past. Verlander could pitch on regular rest in a tie-breaker game on Thursday, if the Tigers and the White Sox finish tied in the regular season. If not, he could be perfectly rested for Game 1 in Detroit.
If the Tigers have to use Verlander and he can’t begin the ALDS, it will be presented as a tremendous break for the Yankees, but there should be a caveat. If the Yankees were to lose the first two in Detroit, they would do so knowing Verlander would be able to go into New York on regular rest with a chance to clinch the best-of-five.
It may sound obvious, and apparently some of you disagree, but the best spot is being the No. 1 seed. Not only do you have an advantage against Texas in a possible ALCS, the A’s and O’s are not as good as the Tigers. Now, if it is the White Sox, I think the Yankees would be better off playing them.
The Yankees still have to win the AL East, which still isn’t a given. If they somehow don’t finish the job there and they are the wild card, their stay in the playoffs could be very short. But it is baseball so it is fun to talk about. Nobody really knows what is going to happen.
UP NOW: Wallace Matthews' column on Ivan (The Terrible in Toronto) Nova.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: No. 1 or 2 seed, which would you prefer?