After this weekend, they will not play again until the end of August, at which point this Yankees team might look a whole lot different.
If you believe the likes of Joel Sherman, they should be right back in the race by that point, citing 1995 instead of 1978 as the latest reminder that despondency is begging history to repeat itself.
But if the reality of the situation eventually sets in, if Roger Clemens isnít the savior, if this yearís Yankees squad was the product of ill-timed injuries, aging, overpriced superstars, and poor decision-making in assembling a beleaguered pitching staff, changes will eventually be made, which may or may not include the manager, general manager, and third baseman.
Things are a mess in the Bronx for certain, but contrary to perception, itís not time for desperation just yet. The beauty of the three-division league and wild card system is that those who have lost all hope can soon find redemption if theyíre vigilant enough. Going into tonightís game, the Yankees sit seven games in back of the Tigers for the AL wild card, certainly not an insurmountable deficit by any means, even for these malfunctioning misfits. Thatís the good news. The bad is that there are six other teams theyíll have to leapfrog to get back into position.
So while it may be over in the AL East (you can say it, the Yankees already have accepted it by not pitching Clemens here this weekend), things have certainly not gone by the wayside for the Yankees in terms of postseason hopes. But the deeper we get into summer, the more that possibility wanes.
We wonít discover much over the next three days, thatís for sure. Despite every Manhattan columnist that is sure to call for Joe Torre and Brian Cashmanís heads if the Yankees are swept out of Boston for a second consecutive trip, the fact is that cooler heads will prevail for at least the next 30 days to see just what the Yankees can do with the shot in the arm that is Clemens. How he reacts Monday against Chicago (a team that scored an AL-worst 105 runs for the month of May, by the way) wonít exactly serve as the turning point -- one way or another -- for this team, but it will at the very least show a glimpse of what Clemens still has in the tank against the American League.
Thatís why heís not pitching in Boston. Itís not about any sort of feared circus on the part of Joe Torre, who would probably welcome the Clemens story line in Boston right about now after experiencing Alex Rodriguezís Traveling Big Top this past week. Itís more likely the fear of tossing him into the fire against a superior lineup with the risk that he might not have the upper hand. Bostonís OPS of .806 is only second to Detroitís .812 in the American League. Chicagoís .681 is dead-last, well behind even the Kansas City Royals (.700).
This is a team that is going to get right back into the race? If there is any recent move in baseball that signifies the exact opposite it is pushing Clemens back a day so that he might have a better chance at winning, or at the very least, not embarrassing himself. Some savior.
Give Clemens credit. He did want to pitch this weekend. Or so he said publicly, at least. He wanted to give the Yankees that shot in the arm they so desperately need in Boston. Instead, his manager took the easy way out and will have his expensive weapon go against the White Soxí weak lineup. If thatís the kind of ferocity we can expect from the Yankees to get back into the postseason hunt, you might want to start planning an early October vacation for one of a few possible Midwest locales.
One month from now, weíll be days away from the All-Star break, and we should have a more definitive assessment of the Yankee possibilities. If Clemens is what they hope he can be, then itís all systems go in a charge for the wild card. But letís say Clemens is the dominant force heís been with the Astros the last few years and the Yankees are within striking distance of the wild card lead come mid-July. It could be the worst situation possible for Cashman and company.
Oh, sure, weíll spend time having to listen to pundits strike into those who declared the Yankees dead, but those same people will be calling for Cashman to make a deadline deal to fix the teamís holes for down the stretch. The GM might be forced to make a move and acquire a first baseman if Jason Giambi is indeed out for the year as some fear, and many GMs will certainly start with an asking price of Phillip Hughes, who, of course will not be moved. If Bobby Abreu (who one scout said looks like a "piece of garbage") doesn't eventually snap out of his .228 funk, does Cashman need to make a move for another outfielder? It will put the GM back in a familiar situation: Does he give up the talent he desperately needs to cultivate in order to go for it later this summer? Or does he chalk this season up to what it is, or might be, with the crew on hand, not willing to risk being back in this situation once again in 2008?
The Yankees have four weeks to prove their identity, five starts from their new ace to provide hope for a fan base that has become overly disgruntled over the current state of affairs. And when the Red Sox see them again in almost some three months time, the Yankees will indeed be either a team that has managed to finally find itself, or one boasting a few new faces as it plays out the string and hoping for a new beginning come April.