O's need to play position game with Yankees

INSIDE PITCH

August 08, 1994|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Sun Staff Writer

After spending the past week trading long-distance jabs, the Orioles and New York Yankees get up close and personal tonight and the next two nights. But these games will be significant for a reason other than originally thought.

There was a time when this series loomed as a potential showdown for the American League's Eastern Division lead. Now, with a strike looming Friday, it is a time for positioning.

The Yankees already are assured of a commanding lead if a strike is called. Any games lost to a strike will work to their advantage.

On the flip side, the Orioles will be assured of nothing. They have a chance to be in contention for a wild-card playoff spot -- and perhaps can get close enough to make a late run for a division title.

But there are no guarantees for either team. If there is a postseason, the Yankees still will have to protect their lead, even if only for a brief stretch run.

If play is halted after Thursday's games (and if it isn't, it would be the upset of the season), the Yankees most likely will be in the best position of any team in baseball. But the standings Friday are not going to determine the playoff qualifiers.

Baseball is not going to shut down Friday and then resume with playoffs in October. At the very least, the final few weeks of the season will have to be salvaged for there to be a postseason.

Not enough time is left to stage a split season, as was done in 1981, especially with the expanded playoff format. If there is a settlement, the standings likely would be picked up from the point of interruption, with no adjustments to the schedule.

That's why the next four days are significant for the Orioles. In addition to showing they can compete with the Yankees (they haven't thus far, losing five of seven), they have to keep themselves positioned close to the wild-card spot.

In the past two days the Orioles gained ground on the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals, the two teams ahead of them for the AL wild-card spot. They also recovered two games against the Yankees -- the first time they've gained on the division leaders in more than four weeks.

The Orioles and Yankees both went 5-2 against the Milwaukee Brewers and Minnesota Twins in the past week. Despite losing two straight for the first time in a month, the Yankees are 19-4 since the All-Star break. During that period the Yankees have padded their lead by 7 1/2 games. For now, that has relegated the Orioles to the wild-card scramble.

It is possible that the Yankees' lead could be insurmountable when or if play resumes. But the fourth playoff spot is likely to be up for grabs.

That's what these next few days are all about. Positioning.

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