3 to Watch: The 'This time it (really) counts' edition
The new playoff format has given us a pennant race that matters in the American League East, where the Yankees lead the Orioles by a single game, with 10 games to play. Both teams are headed to the postseason, and under the old format, it wouldn't much matter whether it was as division champ or wild card. Under the new format, as 3 to Watch points out, this time it counts.
"This Time It Counts" was a silly idea for the All-Star Game.
This Time It Counts is great for the American League East.
Here we are, with 10 games remaining, and the Yankees lead the Orioles by a single game. Both teams are going to the playoffs. Both teams may clinch playoff spots sometime this week (the Yankees' magic number is six, the Orioles' is seven).
But unlike two years ago, when in similar circumstances the Yankees made little attempt to win the division, this time they're really trying.
This time, they have no choice. This time it counts.
Probably the biggest benefit of baseball's new playoff system is that winning the division counts for something. The loser of the Yankees-Orioles race will still make the playoffs, but will face a one-game play-in.
The Yankees consider a season a catastrophe when they lose in the Division Series. How do you think it would go over if they're out after a single playoff game?
You think they want to take that chance?
It's too bad that the schedule doesn't give us another Yankees-Orioles series (but who could have seen that as being the division decider?). Instead, the Yankees close with a trip to Minnesota and Toronto, followed by three home games against the Red Sox. The Orioles close with a seven-game homestand against the Blue Jays and Red Sox, followed by three games at Tampa Bay.
The schedule doesn't provide a big advantage, either way. The standings give the Yankees an edge, one that's about 80-20, according to the computers at coolstandings.com.
The Yankees, with nine wins in their last 11 games, are playing well. The Orioles, with nine wins in their last 11 games, are playing just as well.
Both teams lost Friday and Saturday. Both teams lost Sunday.
In fact, since the Orioles and Yankees last played each other, they've played on the same day 10 times. On eight of those 10 days, they either both won or both lost.
The race is close. And thanks to the new rules, the race matters.
This time it counts.
On to 3 to Watch:
1. Shocking news: The Orioles have named a starter for each one of their four games this week with the Blue Jays. For now, TBA has been sent to the sidelines. The Orioles have used so many different starters this year that Wei-Yin Chen is the only guy who will get to 30 starts, and probably the only guy who will get to double-digits in wins. Chen starts the nightcap in Blue Jays at Orioles, a Monday twi-night doubleheader (4:05 ET) at Camden Yards. Good news for the Orioles: The Blue Jays are fading fast, having lost six straight and 10 of 12. Bad news for the Orioles: After they get done with the Blue Jays, the Yankees get to play them.
2. The one head-to-head matchup this week is A's-Rangers, but the A's go in with a four-game deficit in the division and a much better chance of making the playoffs as a wild card. They do have some chance at catching Texas, because seven of their 10 remaining games are against the Rangers. The toughest one may be A's at Rangers, Tuesday night (8:05 ET) at Rangers Ballpark, because Yu Darvish starts for Texas. Darvish seems to have developed into the ace the Rangers hoped they were getting. Since the middle of August, he's 5-1 with a 2.13 ERA and a .445 OPS against, with just 14 walks in 50 2/3 innings.
3. The Yankees need CC Sabathia to pitch like an ace, and they had to be thrilled that he looked the part last Friday against the A's. There are still enough questions that all eyes will be on Sabathia when he starts again, in Yankees at Twins, Wednesday afternoon (1:10 ET) at Target Field. The Yankees are 5-2 at Target Field since the new ballpark opened.