At the time it was going down it seemed pretty obvious that Joe Girardi and the Yankees, a playoff spot long-secured, were content to try to get healthy and optimized for the playoffs rather than to overtake the Rays for the AL East title. But you don’t expect to hear anyone on the team admit it like Brian Cashman did the other day:
“I’m not taking away from Tampa Bay, but we didn’t try to win the division,” Cashman said. “We tried to line ourselves up for the playoffs and that worked. “The division title was rendered meaningless the way the set-up was. It really meant nothing more than a T-shirt and a hat.”
Kind of shocking to hear it such stark terms, but on the merits he was right. An extra road game or two and a worse first-round matchup is more than worth it in order to have your starters rested and healthy.
That all changes when the second wild card comes in and the team in the Yankees’ position — a very good team that just happens to be a game worse than their competition — is forced into a one-game playoff. Which, in 2010, would have been the Red Sox.
I still don’t like the idea of an expanded playoff on general stubborn principle, but it’s obvious to see how having one can definitely change the incentives and put a premium on winning the division.