The lead is three and a half games. We know that much. We know that Baltimore and Tampa Bay are very much in the race, that the Yankees play all but six of their remaining games against the American League East, and that the first-place team in the division hasn’t changed since June 12. We know that 130 games have passed, and no team should be a mystery that deep into a season.
But also know this: The Yankees are dealing with a lot of uncertainty as they head down the stretch.
“Obviously if we could script it any different, we wouldn’t have any of our guys banged up,” Nick Swisher said. “But that’s kind of the way the season goes. It’s a long season. There are a lot of injuries. I feel like we’ve dealt with that extremely well this year. No excuses, we’ve just got to go out there and get it done.”
Trying to hold off two teams and finish off a division title, the Yankees are using lineups they’ve never tried before, leaning on rotation that’s missing three pieces, and falling back on a bullpen that could do no wrong two months ago but now seems overworked and occasionally overexposed.
It’s hard to know what comes next.
“I know what I’ve got every day,” Joe Girardi said. “It’s not like I walk in there and there are three different people I’ve never seen before every day. I know what I have.”
That’s true, but Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez were never supposed to play in the field this much, and Steve Pearce was never supposed to be a middle-of-the-order hitter, and there are nights the lineup seems three deep, with nothing reliable beyond Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano. The rotation’s overwhelming spring training depth has been stretched to its limit, so much so that the last man to make the team out of camp is now a key starter who the Yankees can only wish they could slide back into the bullpen to alleviate some of that middle-inning uncertainty.
But as bad as things seem after losing two of three against the Blue Jays, the Yankees are still a first-place team with a chance to get big-time reinforcements in the next few weeks. Andy Pettitte and Alex Rodriguez are making legitimate progress from their broken bones, Mark Teixeira seems to think he’ll miss only a week or so with his strained calf, and Ivan Nova is supposed to throw a baseball again in the next day or two. That’s to say nothing of the bench and bullpen depth coming when rosters expand this weekend.
Yes, there’s reason for concern. And, yes, there’s reason for optimism.
But there’s no reason to think anyone knows exactly what to expect as the Yankees come down the stretch.
Associated Press photo