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The Yankees’ long-shot Wild Card bid could get a big, big boost over the next few days

New York remains seven back in the loss column of a playoff spot with just 12 games to play. But with three games against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium to start the week, they could still make things very interesting in the AL Wild Card race.

Anthony Volpe of the New York Yankees celebrates with Oswaldo Cabrera after hitting a solo home run in the seventh inning during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on September 17, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

After going a combined 20-33 in July and August and failing to do much of anything to supplement a wobbly roster at the trade deadline, most people wrote off the possibility of the New York Yankees finding their way to a playoff spot this season. That seemingly includes the team themselves: If an inactive trade deadline wasn’t proof enough that Brian Cashman and Co. were more or less waving the white flag on the 2023 season, calling up a bevy of young players from the Minors — while jettisoning Josh Donaldson and Harrison Bader — certainly was.

Except, well ... they’re not dead yet. New York is 11-5 so far in September, taking three of four from the Red Sox and two of three from the Pirates last week. Those kids — Oswald Peraza, Oswaldo Cabrera and Anthony Volpe specifically — are hitting pretty well, even with Jasson Dominguez going down with a torn UCL. Carlos Rodon is starting to look like the guy the Yankees thought they were getting when they spent big on him over the winter. Gerrit Cole remains Gerrit Cole. And all of a sudden, this team has something to play for with just two weeks remaining in the season — with the most important series of the year kicking off Tuesday in the Bronx.

To be clear: A playoff spot is still a real long-shot. New York is seven games back in the loss column of both the Blue Jays and Rangers entering play on Monday, with Fangraphs giving them a basically-zero percent shot at finding their way to October. But basically zero is not actually zero — and conveniently enough, the Yankees get Toronto, at home, for three games. Lose even one of them, and you can more or less put this season to bed and start dreaming of 2024. Sweep, though, and the dream stays alive, if only for one more week.

Of course, taking three in a row from this Jays team will not be a picnic, and many of the very real flaws that landed the Yankees in this position remain — particularly a hole in the middle of their lineup where guys like Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu and the injured Anthony Rizzo used to be. (New York has the fourth-worst team OPS in baseball since the start of September.) But it’s not unthinkable that the Yanks could pitch their way to competitiveness in all three of these games: Clarke Schmidt has quietly been very, very solid at the back of the rotation all year, while reliever-turned-starter Michael King has been a revelation over the last few weeks. And then it’s Cole’s turn on Thursday, with a chance to deliver a closing argument in what he hopes will be his first career Cy Young Award.

Toronto’s offense hasn’t been a ton better of late, hitting just .242/.334/.406 in September. If it weren’t for a couple of miracle rallies past Boston over the weekend, they could be in far worse shape than they currently are — they just got swept in a four-game series at home against the Rangers last week, after all. These should be close, low-scoring games, with Yusei Kikuchi, Kevin Gausman and Jose Berrios lining up for the Jays — their three best pitchers all year. Kikuchi is more than capable of releasing what little air remains in New York’s balloon on Tuesday night; the Yankees have essentially zero margin for error here. But if the Yankees do pull of a sweep, they’ll suddenly be just four back, with another matchup with the Jays in Toronto and then a friendly matchup with the Royals to close out their season next week. What was that Yogi said about fat ladies singing?