By Brad Carroll
The New York Yankees came into their three-game series with the Detroit Tigers on a roll and needing a series win to take a big step toward moving into the lead for the second wild card. But the Yankees watched as their momentum came to an end with Ichiro Suzuki crashing into the outfield wall in Detroit, forgetting he was supposed to catch the fly ball coming his way that would have sent Thursday's series finale into extra innings. The crash meant the Yankees dropped two of three to Detroit and dented their playoff hopes.
But while those postseason hopes were dented, they are in no way smashed. The Yankees trail both the Mariners and Tigers by three games for the second wild card with 30 to play, a deficit that can be made up in a week if things work out right. The Yankees will have to pass both of those teams, and hold off the Indians and Blue Jays, to get there, however.
The next three games on the schedule, a road series with Toronto, will be a huge barometer for exactly where the Yankees are heading into the stretch run. If the Yankees suffer a hangover from their depressing series loss to Detroit, they could find themselves chasing four teams for the final playoff spot. If they bounce back and regain the momentum they had coming into the Detroit series, there might be no stopping the Yankees from taking over the second wild card spot.
The important series in Toronto starts Friday night. Here's our closer look at the three-game set.
Toronto Blue Jays (67-66, 5.5 GB of second WC)
at New York Yankees (69-63, 3 GB of second WC)
Friday, 7:07 p.m.
Chris Capuano (1-3, 4.37) vs. Mark Buehrle (11-8, 3.41)
Saturday, 1:07 p.m.
Michael Pineda (3-2, 1.95) vs. Drew Hutchison (11-8, 4.68)
Sunday, 1:07 p.m.
Brandon McCarthy (5-3, 2.47) vs. J.A. Happ (8-8, 4.40)
Playoff Picture: The two losses to Detroit may have ended the Yankees chances at winning the AL East, as the Orioles now lead that race by seven games with just 30 to play. The Yankees only played themselves into that position earlier this week by winning four straight, so there is no real change in the team's path to the playoffs. The Yankees have to grab the final wild card spot. In that race, they trail both the Mariners and Tigers by three games. Seattle and Detroit are tied for the final spot. The Yankees lead the Indians by one game and the Blue Jays by 2.5 games in the wild card standings. The Mariners lost two of three to the Rangers and now play three games at home against the Nationals. Detroit starts a four-game series at the White Sox tonight, with a doubleheader Saturday. The Indians travel to Kansas City for three games and the Blue Jays host the Yankees.
Momentum: The Yankees had it, winning five straight games, but two losses in Detroit ruined it all and the Yankees are suddenly reeling again. The Blue Jays were on the cusp of challenging for wild card positioning, but they lost two of three to the Rays last weekend and then followed that by dropping two of three to the Red Sox leading into this series. They are 4-6 over their last 10 games.
Who's Hot: Jacoby Ellsbury continues his torrid hitting, going 6-for-12 against Detroit with two homers and four RBI. He's recorded at least one RBI in four straight games. Brian McCann has seven hits and six RBI over his past seven games. Pineda has been outstanding since returning from the disabled list. He beat the Royals in a big game last Monday, allowing one run on five hits in 6.1 innings. He's allowed four total runs in three starts since returning. For Toronto, Danny Valencia went 3-for-7 against Boston with a double, home run and four RBI. Hutchison, who pitches Saturday, allowed one run on six hits in six innings of work against the Rays in his last start. He got a no-decision.
Who's Not: Ichiro Suzuki may be hitting well, but his defensive misplay in the outfield Thursday against Detroit allowed the Tigers to walk-off with a series win. Suzuki could have caught the ball but appeared more concerned about crashing into the wall, as the ball barely missed his mitt even though he wasn't looking. Mark Teixeira is 2-for-30 over his past six games. McCarthy, who starts Sunday, has been great for the Yankees overall, but was roughed up in his last start, allowing five runs on nine hits in 6.1 innings in a loss to the Tigers. For Toronto, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista both went 3-for-22 (.136) over the past six games. They did combine for five RBI though. Melky Cabrera went 5-for-26 (.192) over the past week. The Blue Jays bullpen was tagged with four losses over the past seven days.
Looking Ahead: After an off day Monday, the Yankees start a nine-game homestand with three against the rival Red Sox.