Yankee fans were unhappy—to say the least—on Monday night, when the Yankees surrendered first place to the Rays for the first time since August 3. Tuesday night, the Yankees got first place back, and breathed a sigh of relief.
Amidst all that anger came an interesting thought: what if, by some chance, the Yankees didn’t win the division?
That question is easy enough to answer. They would most likely win the Wild-Card, and would be playing the Twins in the first round instead of the Rangers. They would not have home field advantage either.
Interestingly enough, that road really wouldn’t be so bad for the Yankees. In fact, it may even be the preferred road to take.
The Twins do have the better record, but the Yankees are much better equipped to take on the Twins as opposed to the Rangers.
First off, the Yankees have a .667 winning percentage against the Twins, and a .500 percentage against the Rangers. Although that is a small sample, it is telling. (Not to mention the trouble the Yankees had with the Rangers just this past weekend.)
Another thing to consider is that the Twins have just one left-handed starter, while the Rangers have two, one of which is Cliff Lee who the Yankees can’t seem to beat. That’s significant considering seven Yankee hitters have batting averages below .275 against lefties this year, including key hitters Alex Rodriguez (.244 vs. lefties), Mark Teixeira (.260), and Nick Swisher (.266). As a team, they hit just .259 against lefties, the sixth lowest in the American League.
Furthermore, the one lefty Twins starter, Fransisco Liriano, has not overpowered the Yankees throughout his career. Despite his 3.12 career ERA against New York, he is 0-2 in the games he has started against them.
In terms of hitting, the Rangers and Twins are nearly tied for the league lead in batting average, with the Rangers leading by an insignificant .001. However, the Yankees would have less trouble facing the Twins, who no longer have Justin Morneau. As we saw over the weekend, the Yankees have trouble holding down the Rangers.
What about home field advantage? It is true that losing the division would mean losing home field advantage. But the Yankees are still a very good team on the road. Before the Yankees recent crash, they had a .575 winning percentage on the road. Although their home percentage is much better, the Yankees would benefit from playing a worse team on the road.
It is a crazy notion, but the Yankees would likely be much better off losing their next couple of battles to win the war. No team ever wants to lose, but for the Yankees, winning today may mean losing tomorrow.