The Rangers would have to win their final five to hit that 92-victory mark that Nolan Ryan projected in March, but the more important wins and losses this week will be staged in Toronto and Boston, and Tampa and Kansas City.
The Yankees, trailing the Rays in the East by half a game, are in Toronto for one more tonight, will be off tomorrow, and finish with three in Fenway. The Rays wrap up a home series against Baltimore tonight and visit the Royals for four to close the regular season out.
Whoever comes out on top in the East will host Texas in Round One of the playoffs, and the Yankees (94-64) have to win once more than the Rays (94-63), as Tampa Bay holds the tiebreaker over New York should they finish with an equal number of wins - making this effectively a 1.5-game lead - by virtue of having won 10 of the two clubs' 18 matchups this season. The Yankees not only have one fewer game left to do it in, they have the tougher opposition as well.
But at least one national reporter doesn't think the Yankees should sweat it the rest of this week, and in fact recommends that they fall short of the Rays.
In a story published last night, Jon Paul Morosi of Fox Sports suggests that Minnesota, and not Texas, should be viewed as the Yankees' "optimal first-round opponent," even though to draw the Twins would mean New York travels to open Round One rather than stays at home to host the Rangers.
Morosi talks about how New York has handled Minnesota's top three starters (not just this season but over their careers), how the Twins have struggled since clinching six games ago, and how the Yankees fared well in their one trip to Target Field this season, all of which could mean that, though "Yankees players wouldn't admit as much . . . , they have the psychological edge on Minnesota."
"By comparison, New York would have a much tougher time with the Rangers in a five-game series. Cliff Lee will start Game 1 for Texas, and Yankees fans would prefer to avoid the guy who was responsible for their team's only two losses in the World Series last year. Lefthander C.J. Wilson, slated to start Game 2, possesses the power stuff to handcuff New York."
It's cool with me if that's how this all shakes out. I've gone back and forth the last few weeks - preferring Tampa Bay at first, figuring that the Rays would represent a smaller psychological hurdle to deal with out of the gate, then thinking maybe the Yankees would be the better draw since they're probably more vulnerable to Texas in a best-of-five than in a best-of-seven - but on Sunday night I made up my mind.
Watching the late innings of New York's 10-inning, 4-3 win over Boston, I remembered how frustrating it can be watching Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano get what seems like an extra strike to play with, while Yankees pitchers tend to get a wider zone. It's all perception and probably has little to no basis in fact, but it seems like New York gets the benefit of the margins on balls and strikes, and even if it's a mirage, it's one I don't feel like fighting through.
At least in the first round.
Ivan Nova is supposed to start for New York on Friday, followed by a pair of TBA's. Doesn't Sturdy Sergio Mitre deserve a fourth start this season? What did Dustin Moseley ever do to hurt you? Wouldn't Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira benefit from an extra day or two off? Give Kevin Russo and Juan Miranda that extra look they've clearly both earned.
There are a few Round One roster decisions left to be made for Texas, and a huge season-ending series with the Angels if for no other reason than Josh Hamilton should be back on the field to test his physical readiness for the playoffs, but we don't yet know where the Rangers will be one week from today.
Go Red Sox.
As for the Rangers' playoff roster decisions, and a shoebox full of notes I've wanted to get to for about two weeks now, I've got to beg off for another day. The next couple reports will come from sunny Surprise, where I'm headed for a quick visit to Fall Instructional League. For the next few days, the focus will be on Jurickson Profar and Christian Villanueva, Jake Skole and Jorge Alfaro, Luke Jackson and David Perez, before we turn back next week to Cliff Lee and Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz.
And preferably David Price and Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford.
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(c) Jamey Newberg