The New York Yankees sit in third place with a month to go in the regular season. It’s an unfamiliar spot for a club that hasn’t finished below second since 1992, when Roberto Kelly was their lone All-Star.
American League East teams are more competitive than ever this year, mostly thanks to the Tampa Bay Rays, who Friday ensured themselves of their first winning season in franchise history.
Yankees closer Mariano Rivera has never played anywhere outside of the A.L. East. He’s known since he began putting on pinstripes how competitive it is.
“I’ve known about that since the day I got here,” Rivera said. “Definitely, the whole division is the toughest division in the major leagues.”
At the start of the weekend, New York is 10.5 games behind the Rays and six games behind the Boston Red Sox for the Wild Card. With just 27 games left, they hope to build some momentum heading into September and it may have begun with Thursday’s come-from-behind victory over the Red Sox.
“We have to do things right and yesterday that’s what we did,” outfielder Bobby Abreu said. “We followed up with a nice win today and we’re just going to continue to do it.”
Abreu, a two-time All-Star, is the Yankees hottest hitter over the last month. He, Derek Jeter, Xavier Nady and Johnny Damon are all batting above .300 since the end of July. But, the league’s highest paid player – Alex Rodriguez and his .240 average during that same time — hasn’t been much help at all.
On the mound, New York’s best starting pitchers in August have been Mike Mussina (3-0, 2.93) and Carl Pavano (2-0, 3.27). Manager Joe Girardi needs solid outings from Andy Pettite (1-3, 6.75) and Sidney Ponson (1-3, 5.29) too if they’re going to move up in the standings.
The pennant race is coming down the backstretch and the Bombers know what’s at stake. If they miss the playoffs you can bet a shakeup will take place this off-season, one that puts all but a few players on notice.
“Right now we are just playing every single game like a playoff game. Every game counts,” Abreu said.
With how everything looks, these might be the only “playoff” games the Yankees play this season.