BUFFALO — OK, so maybe you didn’t expect the Yankees’ first-ever excursion here to carry the kind of weight it’s going to. It’s all but certain you didn’t expect them to come here looking up at the Blue Jays, who are using Buffalo as a homestead in this summer of the virus.
And … well, there’s really no way you would’ve expected the Yankees to arrive here after losing three out of four to the Orioles, of all teams, at Camden Yards, of all places.
But that’s where the Yankees were Monday night, readying to play their first game at Sahlen Field and their first game this year as a third-place team. Somehow, shockingly, they entered Monday as the No. 8 seed in the American League. For a second straight year they have an Injured List All-Star team. For the second straight year they have relied on a cast of irregulars, who haven’t seized the day as they did last year.
“The league knows these guys now,” Aaron Hicks said, a few hours before the Yanks-Jays series began. “It knows who these guys are coming in. But that doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, you have to win with the guys you have.”
OK. Now take a deep breath.
If this were a normal year? Sure. Being eighth in the playoff hunt would be a problem. But, as we’ve mentioned a few times this year: this isn’t a normal year. This isn’t anywhere close to a normal year. The Yankees — even the diminished Yankees — ought to be able to hold off the only two AL teams that are even in the hunt behind them — Detroit and Baltimore, improved teams this year but both teams that lost well over 100 games last year.
This year, as much as any year, channel the old lottery commercial when you’re thinking about the Yankees.
In it to win it.
“We have to start playing better, every game is important,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Nothing changes the urgency and importance in each game. I like our intensity and energy the last couple of days. We need to strike a balance between having energy and not being obsessed with results. If we can do that up and down the lineup the results will follow.”
And, in truth, right now, a No. 8 seed doesn’t seem nearly as intimidating as it might. Across town, the Mets would right now sign up to the No. 8 seed in the NL — but that would mean a best-two-of-three date with the Dodgers, who have clearly been the best team in baseball across the season’s first 5 ½ weeks.
Even if they’re a No. 8 seed, they draw the Rays. And, yes: the Rays have owned the Yankees this year. The Yankees have scuffled against Tampa. And there are, of course, lots of hard feelings on both teams. That would be one emotional two-out-of-three.
But the Yankees also ought to be at full strength by then. And the Yankees at full strength, for the stolen segments of the season when they’ve been at full strength, have been just about what we expected them to be — which approximates what the Dodgers have been.
Plus, as we said: it’s two-out-of-three in the first round.
With Gerrit Cole as the Yankees No. 1 starter.
Suddenly, things don’t seem so bleak, do they?
“We need to relax, be ourselves and we need to produce, we definitely have a team that can do that,” Hicks said. “But we only have three weeks to do it. We believe we are still a team that can do it.”
Now, one of the important things to consider here is: they do have to start winning a few of these games. And it would go a long way for the Yankees’ confidence if they could make a statement here in Buffalo against the young, swing-from-the-heels Jays, who entered the season with zero expectations and have mostly played like a team having the time of its life.
They have been fun to watch.
For the Yankees, there is still fun to be had in this season. There is still possibility. Right the ship. Get healthy. And just get in, baby. In it to win it. Start the mantra now.