Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tight race still exciting despite wild card

The most annoying thing about AJ Burnett's latest implosion is that the New York Yankees never had a chance to maintain their one-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays. That's how I know the American League East division race still matters, despite the wild card.

John Harper tried to argue that since both teams are likely to qualify for the baseball playoffs because of the wild card, the fight for first place doesn't matter as much. I don't buy it at all.

The race for the AL East crown matters, namely for home-field advantage. The Yankees won seven out of eight games at the new stadium during the 2009 playoffs. Having the better record in the division, and likely home-field advantage, will be critical again this year. The AL wild card team won't have home-field advantage against anyone this year, including the eventual National League representative in the World Series since the AL lost the All-Star game this year. Do you really think the Yankees want to give up home-field advantage to the Rays?

Right now, the closest team to either the Rays or the Yanks in the wild card race is the Boston Red Sox at 6.5 games back. While the Saux continue to be plagued by injuries, they are going to have plenty of games left against their rivals, including four at Yankee Stadium starting this Friday.

Minnesota is right behind the Saux and we all know that the Twins are always capable of making a late run. Any team that manages to stay close could benefit from the fact that the Yankees and Rays will beat each other up in seven games over the next couple of months and will have to deal with Boston too. So the wild card isn't a sure bet for either the Bombers or Rays, even if it looks that way on August 3.

Being a big-picture guy, Joe Girardi might be willing to sacrifice the division title if he felt it was more important to rest his guys before the playoffs. But I don't think anyone else on the Yankees has their eyes set on the wild card. They are always aiming for higher and this year is no exception.

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