The Yankees went into the final series of this truncated regular season knowing they will be in the playoffs starting Tuesday.
Everything else — including where, against which team and how well they will perform when the playoffs begin — was up in the air.
The Yankees had lost four of five entering Friday night’s game against the Miami Marlins at Yankee Stadium. Miami (29-28), one of baseball’s surprise teams, entered the weekend in second place in the NL East, one game ahead of the Phillies.
The Yankees (32-25) were always expected to be in the postseason, perhaps even the No. 1 seed in the American League.
But a midseason swoon in which they lost 15 of 20 games and a recent return-to-bad form had the Yankees looking at simply trying to hold on to second place in the AL East and hoping to host their wild-card series in the Bronx, where they were 21-7 going into Friday versus 11-18 on the road.
They are more likely to open away from the Bronx, and a bad weekend could have the Yankees as low as the eighth and final seed. That would match them against the top-seeded Rays, against whom they went 2-8.
The third-place Blue Jays, who brought a 30-27 record into the weekend, will host the Orioles in a three-game series. Even one Toronto loss would clinch second for the Yankees, but if the Blue Jays sweep the series, the Yankees will have to beat the Marlins twice to beat them out.
Put another way, if the two teams finish tied at 33-27, the Blue Jays will finish second. If they finish tied at 32-28, the Yankees will finish second.
Just before 8 p.m. Friday, in an ominous beginning to the weekend, the Yankees trailed the Marlins 3-0 . . . and the Blue Jays led the Orioles 10-0. Toronto wound up beating Baltimore, 10-5, and the Yankees tied their game at 3-3 in the eighth on Aaron Judge's RBI single.
"[I] have a decent idea of the scenarios," manager Aaron Boone said. "It’ll be fun to watch it play out and see who ends up being our opponent."
For a long time, it appeared as if it would be Minnesota, the Yankees’ perennial postseason patsies. But the Twins are locked in a fierce battle with the White Sox and Cleveland for the AL Central crown.
The Yankees came back from their series in Buffalo against the Blue Jays not to their New York-area homes, but to a hotel as part of MLB’s postseason bubble plan. So the players have been dealing with a lot of logistical issues and have not spent a lot of time worrying about whom they will face on Tuesday.
"I don’t think we necessarily have a preference," reliever Chad Green said. "To kind of speculate, with all the possibilities, it’s kind of too tough right now. So honestly just taking it a day at a time and seeing what happens. There’s so much that can happen in these last three days, so to try to guess who’s going to face who is almost a waste of time. Obviously, we know who the possibilities are, but until it actually happens, we’re not looking too much into it."
Boone said the Yankees have not had serious meetings yet about the postseason roster. Decisions such as who will start behind the plate after Kyle Higashioka catches Gerrit Cole in Game 1 and which pitcher will start a potential Game 3 will wait until the Yankees find out their opponent.
"This is the time of year where it’s always about us," Boone said. "But when you get to the postseason, it’s really all about us. I don’t think there’s anybody in that room that’s going to have a problem with that. We’re trying to win a championship right now. That’s the No. 1 goal. There’s going to be decisions and things that come up in the course of a game that players are going to disagree with, that are going to be decisions that are a little bit gray, that aren’t necessarily always the right decisions, but that’s part of my job, that’s part of the game and I think from a culture standpoint, I feel like overwhelmingly for our club, it’s about us winning. I trust in that trumping everything."
To show that Boone isn’t too worried, he delivered a line that some considered a side-splitter when he was asked about the Yankees not homering in their previous four game.
"We were too reliant on stringing hits together," Boone said, a take on those who claim the Yankees are too reliant on home runs.