As expected, the race for the AL East looks to be going right down to the wire, with the second-place finisher virtually assured a wild card berth. Yesterday, I discussed how it didn’t make sense for the Yankees to go all-out to win the division given the brutal schedule that faces them over the next few weeks. There is definitely some controversy as to how much emphasis should be placed on winning the division versus backing into the wild card (discussed yesterday by friend of the blog and general rapscallion Stephen R.), and the relative importance of rest versus momentum is also somewhat opaque.
While the Yankees are holding on to a small lead in the division after some tough losses, their main competitor is also encountering its share of difficulties. Boston has recently lost several key players to injury (though for how long is unclear), including ace Josh Beckett with an ankle and 3rd baseman Kevin Youkilis with a hip injury. The Sox are holding on for dear life against the surging Rays, who are making the division and wild card race increasingly exciting.
There is no question that Boston is still a tremendously dangerous team even with the losses of Beckett and Youkilis, and cannot be counted out as a threat to overtake the Yankees for the division lead. This is especially true with several head-to-head matchups remaining, and a Boston sweep would put them back in position to take the division. Nonetheless, the injuries to Boston may give the Yankees an extra edge that will give them the ability to win the division without going all-out with their regulars, and get a chance to give them some extra rest. It is unclear how these injuries will affect Boston’s strategy. They may still need to play their regulars as often as possible to hold off the Rays, but it is also possible that once they clinch a playoff berth they may look to rest regulars, helping the Yankees’ division chances.
At this juncture I’m definitely advocating resting regulars over going all-out to win the division, but the injuries to Boston may allow the Yankees to accomplish the latter without sacrificing the former. At least that’s the plan, although you know what they say about the best laid plans.
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