The Yankees Won the Subway Series, But Their Next Series Is Even More Important

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Baseball. MLB. New York Mets Vs New York Yankees. Citi Field, New York. USA.
The Yankees' bench last night.Photo: Tim Clayton/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

This past weekend’s Subway Series between the Mets and Yankees was the most meaningful meeting between the two teams since they faced off in the World Series 15 years ago. The teams had never played a regular-season series this late in the calendar, and Friday night’s game was the first time the teams had played when both were at least 15 games over .500. Barring a collapse from either team, they’ll both qualify for the postseason in the same season for the first time since 2006. After seizing the rubber game last night following Matt Harvey’s departure, the Yankees won the weekend series, taking two out of three games. But as much fun as these all–New York matchups are, the Yankees begin an even more important series in Toronto tonight.

The Mets have all but locked up their division, even if no Mets fan old enough to remember 2007 will breathe easy until their magic number to clinch reaches zero. The Yankees, however, are desperate to avoid a one-game wild-card playoff, but to do so, they’ll need to catch the red-hot Blue Jays, who this weekend dropped just their third series since July 30. After the Yanks lost the opener of the Subway Series on Friday night, they trailed Toronto by four and a half games. But their two wins combined with a pair of Toronto losses to Boston (go Red Sox!) have cut the Jays’ lead to two and a half games. And tonight the Yankees and Blue Jays begin a critical series in Toronto — one that could either bury the Yankees or, if things go just right, allow them to leapfrog the Jays into first place.

The Yankees got some bad news this weekend: Masahiro Tanaka, the team’s ace, won’t start against Toronto as scheduled because of a hamstring injury. (They’re hoping it’s the only start he’ll miss.) But they have other reasons to feel good entering their biggest series of the season. Last night’s 11–2 blowout win allowed Joe Girardi to rest his most important relief pitchers. And after being relegated to pinch-hitting duties for the series at Citi Field because of the lack of a designated hitter, Alex Rodriguez was able to get some much-needed rest for his 40-year-old body. That could prove to be crucial in the mad dash toward October: A-Rod has generally responded well to consecutive days of rest this season.

For what it’s worth, Baseball Prospectus, which simulates the rest of the season thousands of times to produce its Playoff Odds Report each morning, gives the Yankees a 19.4 percent chance of winning the American League East. Those odds aren’t impossible — but they can’t afford to lose much more ground. Even winning two out of three in Toronto would shave another game off the Jays’ lead and put them in good shape for the final dozen or so games of the season. But considering their record against Toronto this year — the Yanks are 5–11 — that’s a lot easier said than done.