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Yankees' playoff percentage takes a hit as winning streak ends

NEW YORK -- It's great to have belief, and nobody is suggesting the New York Yankees should believe their surprise run for a playoff spot is over just because they couldn't beat Matt Andriese.

But Sunday's 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays right-hander with a 9.95 ERA over the past four weeks makes the Yankees' task for the next three weeks considerably tougher.

Baseball isn't a game in which one loss is supposed to matter this much, especially when it follows seven straight wins. The Yankees were going to lose sometime. They weren't going to finish the season with a 28-game winning streak.

And yet, when the computers at FanGraphs.com calculated the Yankees' playoff chances Sunday morning, they put them at 18.2 percent. When they did the same thing after the Yankees lost to the Rays and the Baltimore Orioles beat the Detroit Tigers, the computers dropped them to 13.2 percent.

The task just got considerably more difficult.

The regular standings still make a playoff push look realistic for a Yankees team that has been full of life since shortly after their late-July selloff. With 20 games remaining, they're two games behind the Orioles, who hold the final wild-card spot in the American League. They're four games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East and two games behind the second-place Toronto Blue Jays.

The Yankees' remaining schedule also makes this look feasible -- or it makes it nearly impossible, depending on your perspective.

Besides the three games beginning Monday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Yankees' schedule keeps them playing teams within their own division, with seven games against the Red Sox, four against the Blue Jays and three against the Orioles. There are plenty of chances to make up ground.

But besides the three games next week at Tampa Bay, every game left on the schedule features an opponent at least 10 games over .500. Plenty of chances to slip up.

"Obviously it's not going to be easy," third baseman Chase Headley said. "But I'd rather be playing the teams we need to pass than hoping someone else beats them."

And he'd rather face that challenge with a team that still owns the best record in the American League since Aug. 22 (13-5).

"I love the way we're playing," Headley said.

In the past 17 days, the Yankees have won series against the Orioles and Blue Jays. They won three of four this weekend from the Rays, a last-place team but one that won two of three from the Blue Jays a week earlier.

"There's a belief in there," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Sunday morning, referring to the players in his own clubhouse. "That youthful energy and that belief can carry you a long way, and that's what's happening."

It didn't happen Sunday, when the youthful Yankees scored only on a fifth-inning home run by the 32-year-old Headley and a seventh-inning single by 33-year-old Brett Gardner. The Rays countered with three home runs off Luis Cessa, who is young (24) and has given up 13 homers in 47⅔ major league innings.

"When you play at this level, you can't miss your spots," Cessa said through an interpreter.

When you're in a long-shot pennant chase, you can't miss your chances, and Sunday stands as a missed opportunity for the Yankees.

It doesn't mean they have no shot. Those playoff odds change with every result, and when the Red Sox held on to beat the Blue Jays on Sunday, the computers at FanGraphs increased the Yankees' chances to 14.3 percent.

No matter what, it's not going to be easy, because most of the pitchers the Yankees face during the next three weeks will be better than Andriese, the Rays pitcher they couldn't beat Sunday. Just this week, they're set to see former Cy Young Award winners Clayton Kershaw on Wednesday and David Price on Saturday.

They don't need to win all the games to make the playoffs, but they do need to win most of them. If they fall short, they'll look back at Sunday against the Rays and Andriese as an opportunity missed.