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Are the A's standing in the Yankees' way?

Oakland, New York grabbing attention as AL Wild Card race heats up
MLB.com @MikeLupica

There are still three teams in the race in the National League West and three teams chasing in the NL Central, and the A's are still only three games behind the Astros in the American League West, so you know Oakland is still conceding nothing to the champions of the world, because the Athletics have conceded nothing to anybody this season. But the most interesting race still going in baseball is the one in the AL between the Yankees and the A's, to see who would host the AL Wild Card Game between them, just because that was never supposed to be a race at all.

This September was supposed to be about the Yankees and Red Sox, the six games left between them, the last three at Fenway Park to end the regular season. Except that over the past two months, Boston ran away from New York and ran away from everybody, even getting to 100 wins on Tuesday night for the first time in 72 years.

There are still three teams in the race in the National League West and three teams chasing in the NL Central, and the A's are still only three games behind the Astros in the American League West, so you know Oakland is still conceding nothing to the champions of the world, because the Athletics have conceded nothing to anybody this season. But the most interesting race still going in baseball is the one in the AL between the Yankees and the A's, to see who would host the AL Wild Card Game between them, just because that was never supposed to be a race at all.

This September was supposed to be about the Yankees and Red Sox, the six games left between them, the last three at Fenway Park to end the regular season. Except that over the past two months, Boston ran away from New York and ran away from everybody, even getting to 100 wins on Tuesday night for the first time in 72 years.

On their way to their 10-game lead in the AL East, over the past 11 weeks, the Red Sox have gained 12 games on the Yankees in the loss column. Over that same time period, the A's have picked up the same 12 games in the loss column over the Yanks. And after Wednesday night's Yankees loss to the Twins and the A's big win over the Orioles, the Yanks' lead over the A's in the AL Wild Card race was down to one game. It is not just the Red Sox who have been a lot better than the Yankees for months. So has Oakland, which spends about half as much on baseball players as New York does. 

Once, at the start of the century, Billy Beane's A's played two famous AL Division Series against the Yankees, losing them both in five games. The Yanks came from 0-2 down in the second one, in 2001, and Game 3 included the most famous defensive play in the franchise's storied postseason history, Derek Jeter running all the way from shortstop to the first-base line and making The Flip to Jorge Posada, who tagged out Jeremy Giambi at home in what ended up a 1-0 victory for the Yankees.

So both of those series became one-game seasons, in Game 5. Now, if the A's don't make up those three games on the Astros, the two teams are once again set up to play what would have seemed to be a completely improbable AL Wild Card Game at the start of the season. Or even at the start of July. It was assumed, even as the Red Sox were pulling away, that the Yankees were a sure thing to host the AL Wild Card Game at Yankee Stadium, the way they did a year ago against the Twins.

Not so fast. Aaron Judge got hurt and Aroldis Chapman got hurt, and things began to change. And fast. The A's have had their injuries, too, especially with starting pitchers. They have kept coming and are just one game behind the Yankees entering Thursday.

Moneyball vs. the Yankees, a team once nicknamed "The Best Team Money Could Buy," one finally not facing a luxury tax this season for the first time in the history of the luxury tax.

Here is what Beane had to say late Wednesday night about even the prospect of the A's and Yankees doing it again in October: "It's destiny. My entire career has been A's vs. Yankees. Cash [Yankees general manager Brian Cashman] and I are the best of friends. So it's only fitting that I should continue to be a thorn in his side."

It was announced the other day that left-hander Sean Manaea, the A's best starter this season, one who earlier in the season managed to no-hit the Red Sox, will undergo surgery on his pitching shoulder, and will not only be lost for the rest of 2018 but some, and maybe all, of '19 as well. But this is a year when the A's have gone through more than a dozen starters already. They just keep going. Through Wednesday night, their winning streak was six. Yeah. There seems to be some destiny at work here.

The A's schedule the rest of the way goes like this: One more game with the Orioles, three on the road against the Rays, three at home against the Angels, three at home against the Twins. Oakland finishes with a six-game road trip to Seattle and Minnesota. The Yankees have three at home against the Blue Jays, three at home against the Red Sox, three at home against the Orioles. But then they finish with four on the road against the Rays, as hot a team as there is in the world, and finally with those three at Fenway.

The Yankees continue to have a belief that when they get all their players back, they can beat the Red Sox in a potential ALDS matchup. But they have to get there first. Unless the A's really can find a way to catch and pass the Astros, they are going to be standing in the Yanks' way. A Red Sox vs. Yankees September has become A's vs. Yanks. Moneyball vs. all the money in the world.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.

Oakland Athletics, New York Yankees