Aucoin: Time for Yankees to shift attention to wild card race

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The New York Yankees had one goal in mind when it came to this past weekend's series against the rival Boston Red Sox.

The intention was clear: narrow the Red Sox lead, so the Yankees could remain in a battle for division supremacy.

With those four games in the rear view mirror now, the battle might be over.

The Red Sox essentially put the Yankees in a hole that is almost certainly too big to climb out of. A four-game sweep, ending on the most excruciating of walk-offs, has put Boston in a clear driver's seat.

With this in mind, it's time for New York to change focus.

The Yankees should shift their focus from the division to setting themselves up for a wild card berth.

This isn't to say New York should throw in the towel on its division hopes. It should continue competing at a high level just as they've done all season. Granted, we've seen collapses before, so nothing is off the table, but the Red Sox seem to consistent to hit such a wall.

The Yankees need to take a peek at who's behind them and notice just how close they are.

A pair of AL West teams are nipping at their heels and with another slip up, like this past weekend, New York could find themselves in a dog fight for ground in the race.

The wild card is essentially a three-team race at this point, with only two spots in the one-game playoff available.

The Yankees currently hold the top wild card spot with a three-game lead heading into Tuesday's action.

The A's sit three games back in the second and final wild card spot and continue to play some of their best baseball of the year. Heading into Tuesday, the upstart Oakland squad had won seven of 10 games and was on a six-game winning streak. With veterans like Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis and Jonathan Lucroy mixed with up and comers like Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, the A's have found a surprising groove. On the mound, the breakout season for Sean Manaea continues to pace Oakland.

Sitting just outside the two spots are the Seattle Mariners. The Mariners are five games back of the Yankees and two behind the A's.

Most people agree that the Yankees are almost certainly a shoe-in for one of the two spots, but with a race like this, that isn't a foregone conclusion.

There are still a few things the Yankees need to shore up.

First and foremost, New York needs to shore up its starting rotation. Minus Masahiro Tanaka, there rotation hasn't been very consistent.

Lance Lynn had a great Yankee debut Monday, but it is yet to be seen if he can continue that trend.

The normally steady CC Sabathia was shelled against the Red Sox this past weekend and staff ace Luis Severino is trending in the wrong direction as well.

New York needs Severino to find his ace stuff again or his team will not fare well come October. Whether it's a DL stint or just a freshening in philosophy on the mound, he needs to figure out his struggles quick for the Yankees to compete.

Health remains another big factor. The Yankees need to get star outfielder Aaron Judge back in a big way.

The lineup remains one of the most fearsome in the league even without Judge, but his addition will only help them get back on a consistent upward trend. You could see it at times against the Red Sox. In two of the four games, they mustered just one run apiece. Outputs like that won't cut it when it comes to competing with the offensive powers of the AL. Judge coming back will fix a lot of those issues with his ability to change the game with one pitch.

If the Yankees want to set themselvse up for a clash with the Red Sox in the ALDS this fall, they need to get through the wild card game first.

Extending their wild card lead, should become the focus now, and hey, if the Red Sox start to slip, maybe there will be another change of plans.

Adam Aucoin can be reached at aaucoin@benningtonbanner.com and followed at @AAucoin_Banner on Twitter.


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