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Bracing for a fall

An October without the Yankees? It could happen, thanks to key injuries and the emergence of Tampa Bay.

August 08, 2008|Bill Shaikin and Dylan Hernandez | Times Staff Writers

In New York, this would be heresy: The playoffs without the Yankees.

"I think the logo doesn't allow that," Larry Bowa said.

Bowa coached for the Yankees last season, then followed Manager Joe Torre to the Dodgers. Torre led the Yankees into October every year he managed there -- 12 in all -- and he has a pretty good idea of how New York would react if the Yankees missed the playoffs.

"It's going to be horrible if the Red Sox make it," Torre said.

It is bad enough that the Yankees have not won the World Series in eight years. It would be worse if they miss the playoffs, blowing the chance to tie the Atlanta Braves for the major league record of qualifying for the postseason 14 consecutive times.

It would be infinitely worse if, for the first time in 18 years, the hated Boston Red Sox make the playoffs and the Yankees do not.

But, as the Yankees arrive in Anaheim tonight, they stand third in the American League East, third in the AL wild-card race.

Blame the Tampa Bay Rays, if you will. The Yankees were 64-51 and five games out of first place this time last year, trailing only the Red Sox in the AL East. Today they're 63-52 and 5 1/2 games out of first place, behind the Sox and the upstart Rays, so even second place is not guaranteed.

Kevin Millar, who has played in the AL East since 2003 for the Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles, ventured a guess as to how the Yankees would react to missing the playoffs.

"You'd probably see every free-agent pitcher signed by the Yankees," Millar said.

He might not be joking. The Yankees passed on a trade for Johan Santana last winter, preferring to retain youngsters Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy and include them in the starting rotation. Neither Hughes nor Kennedy won a game in a combined 14 starts; Kennedy returns from the minor leagues tonight to start against the Angels.

Mike Mussina and Andy Pettitte have pitched effectively and remained healthy, but ace Chien-Ming Wang is expected to sit out the rest of the season because of a torn tendon in his foot and phenom Joba Chamberlain is out indefinitely because of tendinitis in the rotator cuff.

The Yankees' starters this week include Sidney Ponson, with his fifth team in four years, and Dan Giese, who got his first major league victory this year, at 31.

Yet the Yankees have used fewer starters this season than last season. They led the league in runs and home runs last season; they rank sixth in runs and eighth in home runs this season.

Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano all have not hit as productively as they did last season. Hideki Matsui is out indefinitely because of a knee injury, Jorge Posada is out for the season after shoulder surgery, and Rodriguez was on the disabled list for three weeks.

"Those are monster bats taken away from your lineup, not just good bats," Pettitte said. "Then we lost Wang, our ace, our horse . . . but everyone has injuries. We've got to find a way to get it done.

"I'd rather we were doing better, but I'm pretty happy that we've put ourselves in a position to make a run at this thing."

Said Millar: "They've been so great for so long. You can't count them out, even now. They have Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Bobby Abreu and Johnny Damon -- you can't ever count that lineup out -- with Mariano Rivera."

If they fail to make the playoffs, Bowa wonders whether an organizational finger might be pointed at Joe Girardi, the manager who turned down the chance to replace Grady Little with the Dodgers so he could replace Torre in New York.

"I think, like any other manager who doesn't make it, he'll be scrutinized," Bowa said. "Joe [Torre] had tons of injuries last year too, and he was under the gun every day.

"The Yankees' organization doesn't make excuses. . . . Every year when I was there, their reply was, 'It doesn't matter who's hurt.' You have to find a way to do it. If you don't meet those standards, they don't like what's going on."

For the record, Bowa said, he expects the Yankees to make the playoffs.

"I still think they're going to find a way," he said. "They've got a lot of veterans over there who know how to win."

Torii Hunter, one of the Angels' veterans, said he had no interest in predicting what might happen in New York should the Yankees miss the playoffs.

"The Yankees? Who cares?" Hunter said. "That ain't my side of town.

"I'm from the West Coast. West Side!"

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Times staff writer Mike DiGiovanna contributed to this report.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Teams of October

If the New York Yankees rally to qualify for the playoffs this season, they'll tie the Atlanta Braves' record of 14 consecutive postseason appearances.

The most consecutive postseason appearances in major league history:

14: Braves (1991-2005).

13: Yankees (1995-2007).

5: Yankees (1949-1953),

Yankees (1960-1964), A's (1971-1975), Indians (1995-1999).

Note: Two teams qualified for postseason through 1968 and four from 1969-93, with an eight-team playoff field starting in 1995. The 1903 and 1994 seasons did not include a postseason.

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Source: STATS LLC.

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