by: Mr. November
As I watch the Yankees take on the Devil Rays (5-0 Yanks after 3 innings), I wonder if all this fuss about catching the Red Sox for first place even matters. On one hand, it matters to me, since if the Yanks do finish first, my friend Rob (grew up in Long Island, but a huge Sawx fan - go figure) will owe me $100.
But does it really matter to the Yankees themselves? Torre has come out and said that, though they will still play to win games, once the Yanks clinch a playoff birth, he will be more concerned with getting the rotation in order and the veterans healthy than he will with winning the AL East. And I can't really blame him. As it stands right now, if the Yankees take the wild card, they'll face the Indians in the ALDS - and the Indians couldn't beat the Yankees all season.
But I'd argue that winning the division does matter. Not as much as it did in 1978, when overtaking the Red Sox for the division title meant not only making the playoffs, but also keeping he Sawx out of them. Today, with the advent of the wild card, winning the division means a bit less (even if you get to choose the amount of days off for the first round). But it does mean something when it comes to the mental aspect of the game.
If the Yankees can catch the Red Sox for 1st place after being back as many as 14 1/2 games this season, it would give them a psychological edge over their rivals going into the postseason. No one wants to "back into" the playoffs, even they have one of the top 2 or 3 records in the majors. If the Red Sox do manage to only claim the wild card this season, it will feel like a huge loss to them before the second season even starts. And any huge loss for Boston is a huge win for New York.