NEW YORK -- It is still mathematically possible for the Yankees to win the AL East. Despite their 5-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox on Friday night -- and the Toronto Blue Jays' 5-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays -- Toronto's magic number to clinch the division is six. So it is possible, although highly unlikely, that the Yankees could go, say, 7-2 while the Blue Jays go 2-7, reversing positions on the last day of the regular season.
And it is quite likely that at the very least, the Yankees will hold on to the No. 1 wild-card spot and host a one-game playoff against either the Houston Astros, the Minnesota Twins or the Los Angeles Angels on Oct. 6. But it is truly hard to imagine the team that lost Friday to the lowly ChiSox mounting any kind of serious charge in the postseason. Sure, it would be nice to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012, but does anyone really believe the 2015 Yankees have it in them to do anything more than make a quick and unceremonious exit?
Friday night's game showcased everything that is wrong with this team as the season grinds on to its laborious ending. The Yankees were given eight -- eight! -- free baserunners by White Sox pitchers and couldn't score a single one of them.
They had runners in scoring position on seven different occasions in the game and could come up with a timely, run-scoring hit only once -- Didi Gregorius' fourth-inning single that tied the game at 2. Four times they hit into double plays, erasing whatever other scoring chances they were handed on a night bases were being given out like flyers in Times Square.
CC Sabathia, who had looked like his old self in his three most recent starts, looked like his older self in this one. Chasen Shreve, once so reliable out of the bullpen, has become a liability. Alex Rodriguez is starting to look and hit like a 40-year-old who has played in 142 games.
And the entire mood, in the stands and in the clubhouse, seems to be one of resignation, if not disinterest. With their team fighting for its playoff life, Yankees fans left about 10,000 seats empty Friday night, which meant about 2,000 more showed up than on Thursday, the night the Yankees honored the memory of the late Yogi Berra. And there were a lot fewer than that left in the ballpark by the time David Robertson -- who was known to blow a three-run lead from time to time during his tenure as Yankees closer -- came on to nail it down for the White Sox.
We're inside the final 10 days of a pennant race in September and there just doesn't seem to be much urgency anywhere in the building. That could be because of the fact that the mountain seems unconquerable since the Blue Jays never seem to lose. Or it could be that even without a playoff appearance for the last two-plus seasons, the consolation prize of a wild-card spot, and the randomness of a one-game play-in, appears profoundly unsatisfying, and the chances of winning it decidedly unpromising.
Or, it could be that even if the Yankees are able to win that one game, the possibilities of real advancement beyond that seem remote indeed. This no longer looks like the team that had opened a seven-game lead in the AL East on July 28 and looked so watertight that no drastic trade deadline moves seemed necessary, with the exception of calling up one of the Yankees' "can't-miss" prospects, Luis Severino, who, unlike most of the rest of his teammates since that day, has pretty much lived up to his advance billing.
The rest of them, with the exception of Carlos Beltran and Gregorius, both of whom have improved markedly after miserable Aprils, have gone steadily downhill. Nathan Eovaldi, their winningest starting pitcher, is out for the year. Mark Teixeira, the most potent bat in their lineup, is out for the year. Jacoby Ellsbury, their $153 million table-setter, has looked mostly lost since returning from the DL in July. Brett Gardner, who was supposed to be 1a to Ellsbury's 1, has hit .196 since the end of July. A-Rod has two hits in his past 23 at-bats and his average has fallen below .250. Chase Headley still is making throwing errors.
And earlier in the afternoon, Masahiro Tanaka, their best hope to pitch them through the nightmare of the one-game playoff, reported still feeling pain in his strained right hamstring, putting his return to the mound early next week very much in doubt.
Right now, the pitcher who is best lined up to start that crucial Oct. 6 game is Sabathia, who pitched OK Friday night but once again was victimized by the bugaboo that had repeatedly done him in earlier in the season: the home run ball. In the seventh inning, Sabathia surrendered long solo home runs to Mike Olt and Gordon Beckham, the Nos. 7 and 9 hitters, respectively, in a relatively anemic White Sox lineup, and that was all it took to make the Yankees losers again, for third time in their past five games and in the second game of a homestand they have acknowledged is vitally important to their postseason chances.
And it's not like they lost to the Blue Jays, a wrecking machine on a rampage. They lost to the White Sox, a fairly anonymous, fourth-place team playing out the string. The Yankees have two more left with them, four more with the Boston Red Sox next week and a three-game, weekend season finale against the Orioles in Baltimore. This was supposed to be a stretch of easy pickings in which, unlikely as it might seem, a late run at the Blue Jays at least was still possible.
But the Yankees were lucky to win on Thursday -- they got one timely hit, Carlos Beltran's three-run homer, and had to fight like hell to hold on to the lead -- and seemed almost destined to lose on Friday once the White Sox got off to a two-run lead after three innings.
"I said it was going to be really difficult, and my mind hasn't changed," Joe Girardi said. "[Toronto has] played extremely well since Aug. 1. But we're going to try to win every game and see what happens."
"I played in Milwaukee in 2008 and it came down to the last game," Sabathia said. "Anything can happen."
"It's a tall task, but we're going to play as hard as we possibly can, worry about what we can control," Headley said. "The goal is to make the playoffs. Once we get into the tournament, anything can happen."
The likelihood is that, listless as they are, the Yankees will get into the playoffs. But once they get there, where are they truly going?