For Yankees, the tragic number is 8

August, 30, 2014
8/30/14
6:47
PM ET

TORONTO -- For the 64th time this season, the Yankees ask you to suspend your disbelief, throw your logic out with the garbage and believe in something when common sense tells you you're out of your mind.

OK, so go with it for awhile. After all, isn't that a lot of what being a fan is all about?

Imagine for the moment that this time the Yankees mean it, that Saturday's 2-0 loss to the hopeless Toronto Blue Jays -- a game in which they were separated from the ignominy of being no-hit by Drew Hutchison only by a fourth-inning Mark Teixeira double -- is not the end of their playoff chase but only the beginning, and that they are still capable over these final 28 games of salvaging something from this disappointing season.

And realize, because you have no choice, that the two teams they are chasing -- the Seattle Mariners and the Detroit Tigers for the second AL wild card, because really, the AL East is probably beyond reach -- are on pace to win between 88-89 games this season.

That means that to be reasonably assured of playing at least one ballgame in October, the Yankees' goal should be winning 90 games.

[+] EnlargeIchiro Suzuki
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesThe Yankees mustered just one hit in Saturday's 2-0 loss to the Blue Jays.
Now here's where it gets sticky: That means they can only afford to lose eight more between now and the end of the season.

Think about that. Only eight more times do they have the luxury of tipping their cap to the other pitcher or promising that, any day now, this lineup will start to hit the way it was expected to, or just shrugging their shoulders, as all of them from the manager on down have too many times this season, and saying: "That's baseball."

That estimate could vary by a game or so on either side of the ledger. The Yankees could sneak in with 89 wins, or they might have to scuffle for 91 or even 92. But the safe estimate is 90 wins will get them to where they want to be.

That means that this team that has been hovering in the .526-.540 win percentage range needs to play .714 ball the rest of the way. Also, they likely have to do it without Jacoby Ellsbury for at least a couple of those games -- and quite likely more -- and the hope that Masahiro Tanaka will ride to the rescue with a couple of late-season wins is now probably reduced to a pipe dream.

By the numbers alone it is highly unlikely. And after watching certain performances, such as Saturday's anemic effort against Hutchison -- a pitcher the Yankees had already faced four times this season and beaten badly in three of them -- or Thursday night in Detroit against a raw kid such as Kyle Lobstein, it seems downright impossible.

But mathematically, it is doable. And given that you are going to be watching anyway, you might as well hope for the best.

Surprisingly, the most realistic voice in the Yankees clubhouse following Saturday's game -- which was over as soon as Jose Bautista rocketed Michael Pineda's 0-2 changeup off the left-field facade in the first inning -- belonged to that normally most optimistic of men, Joe Girardi.

Asked if he felt as if the Yankees' one-hit, two-walk, 12-whiff performance represented a new low for his sputtering offense, Girardi replied: “Yeah, it does. Especially the way we responded [Friday night] when we weren’t doing anything for the first six innings. It’s tough to figure out. You’ve got to go win a game tomorrow and win the series.”

Contrast that with the optimism of Teixeira, who disagreed with his manager on the same question. “I don’t," he said. "Every loss is a loss. You turn the page. We have to turn the page really quick in baseball. It’s another loss, [and] we didn’t swing the bats well today, but we have a chance to win a game tomorrow.”

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One thing both men agreed upon, however, is the need to win every series the Yankees have left.

"It’s crazy to think we’re going to win every single game and run the table," Teixeira said. "But we need to win every series."

That means winning Sunday's finale behind Brandon McCarthy.

McCarthy is one of a handful of Yankees who might still actually be hungry because they still have a lot to prove. That handful includes Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, Chris Capuano, Zelous Wheeler, Martin Prado, Shane Greene, and whoever else gets the call from Triple-A Scranton when rosters expand Monday.

Those guys might be the key to a final-month push, if only because every one of them is either playing for a contract, a job in the regular lineup or just a spot on a major league roster next year.

You hate to say it, but guys such as Teixeira and Ellsbury and Brett Gardner and Carlos Beltran and yes, even Derek Jeter, have been there and done that. They have been around long enough to know that sometimes, a guy such as Hutchison can have a great day, and sometimes "That's baseball" is the only answer.

The rest of them don't know that yet and probably aren't jaded enough to believe there are some things in this game that are simply out of their control. And though Drew, a member of the 2013 Red Sox world championship, might also fit the been-there-and-done-that category, he has no job for next season, and he certainly doesn't want to face the same situation this winter that he did in the past: sitting at home on the advice of Scott Boras and waiting for the phone to ring with an offer that might never come.

Even so, it's unlikely those guys have the ability to pick this moribund team up and carry it into October. It is just as unlikely that the Yankees will be able to win 20 of these final 28 games and slip into the final seat on the playoff express.

But in order to believe this Yankee team still has any chance, you have to believe in the unlikely, the illogical and the downright foolish.

The Yankees have been promising you all season they will make those things happen. Now they have 28 chances to make good on that promise -- and only eight more chances to make excuses.
Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
13 2.77 141 136
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .271
HRB. McCann 23
RBIB. McCann 75
RB. Gardner 87
OPSB. Gardner .749
ERAH. Kuroda 3.71
SOH. Kuroda 146