09/30/09 12:51 AM ET
Yankees to face AL Central champ
As Red Sox clinch Wild Card, playoff picture gets clearer
By Anthony DiComo / MLB.com
The Red Sox, by virtue of a Rangers loss on Tuesday evening, clinched the American League Wild Card and will play the Angels in the first round of the playoffs. That means that the Yankees, as they have assumed for much of this month, are locked into playing either the Tigers or the Twins.
That situation became no clearer Tuesday, after the two AL Central foes split a day-night doubleheader in Detroit. The Tigers and Twins will play twice more this week before parting ways for the final weekend of the regular season, at which point the Yankees should know their opponent.
The uncertainty has affected them in several ways. By virtue of clinching the best record in the American League, the Yankees can choose whether they want to play in the AL Division Series that includes an additional off day, or the one that starts a day later. And though New York has all but announced that they will choose the longer series -- thereby negating the need to use Joba Chamberlain as a starter in the first round of the playoffs -- it will not officially do so until an AL Central champion is crowned.
Once either the Tigers or Twins win their division, the Yankees have one hour to inform the league of their decision.
Meanwhile, the Yankees can do nothing but sit back, watch the Tigers and Twins play and hope the uncertainty lasts until the final day of the season.
"That wouldn't be the worst thing to happen," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's very interesting to watch, and there's the interesting Wild Card race in the National League to watch, which you pay attention to. There's some good things going on in baseball right now."
Girardi admitted that he has been watching the Tigers-Twins series "pretty closely," certainly with an eye toward scouting. Though he is certain to make decisions more with his team than his opponent in mind, Girardi did admit Tuesday that matchups may dictate some of his personnel decisions.
Because the Tigers are a predominantly right-handed-hitting team, for example, Girardi could choose not to carry a second left-hander -- Damaso Marte -- in the bullpen. Or he could choose to pitch the right-handed A.J. Burnett, rather than the left-handed Andy Pettitte, in Game 2 -- and thereby in a potential Game 5 -- of the ALDS.
For now, that is merely speculation. All the Yankees know is that they will face either the Tigers, whom they beat five times in six tries this season, or the Twins, whom they beat seven straight times.
Then, of course, there is Boston. Its postseason presence means that if the Yankees advance to the AL Championship Series, they will face either the Red Sox or the Angels -- both of whom have given them fits at various points this season, but both of whom have succumbed to New York in September.
They are matchups that may yet come to be. Only a to-be-determined AL Central opponent now stands in the Yankees' way.
Anthony DiComo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.