5 things that must happen for Yankees to remain in playoff position through end of season

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Giancarlo Stanton celebrates with teammates after hitting home run
Giancarlo Stanton celebrates with teammates after hitting home run

For the first time all season, the Yankees owned a postseason berth after sweeping the Boston Red Sox in a split doubleheader Tuesday night.

After all the tumult they've been through -- from injuries, to bad hitting, to spotty starts from the rotation -- they've been patient and are hot at just the right time.

Now the goal is to sustain it.

They did so on Wednesday night, as Andrew Heaney had his best start since coming to the Yanks and shut down the Sox in a 5-2 victory to secure the sweep. And with the Oakland A's taking another loss to the Chicago White Sox, New York owns the top Wild Card slot by 1.0 game with a 69-52 record.

Wow, have things changed in just a few weeks. That's baseball at its finest.

But the Sox and others are still gunning for one of those coveted Wild Card spots to get the chance to play in the division series. And that's not going to stop for another month and a half.

So with that in mind, here's what needs to happen for the Yankees to stay in it to ensure their spot in October baseball...

1) Health for Starting Nine

Obviously this is easier said than done. But you'll be seeing shortly just how lethal this starting nine can be, especially when things are going well like they are at the moment.

Luke Voit and Anthony Rizzo in the same lineup is something the Yanks should be able to figure out, and either way, the right-left-right-left power combo at the top has been a strategy opposing managers will have a tough time navigating.

The Yankees' depth has been doing well, but when September comes around and every game feels like Game 7 of the ALCS, that's when you want your best players on the field -- offensively and defensively.

2) Kluber Must Lock Down No. 2 Rotation Spot

Corey Kluber is very close to a return to New York, and when he's back, there will be pressure on him to pitch well.

Why? The Yankees desperately need him to be their No. 2 guy.

Jordan Montgomery has been consistent for New York this season, but when the postseason rolls around, he can't be the man behind Gerrit Cole in a series -- if it gets that far for New York.

Luis Gil's emergence has been solid and the Yanks can certainly keep bringing him back up to make starts through the rest of the regular season, especially considering he hasn't allowed a run yet in his young career. But having Kluber pitching well will give the bullpen some more breathing room, and in turn, give the Yanks more chances to get the edge early in games.

3) Beat Up on Bad Teams

The Minnesota Twins come to the Bronx now. They're a bad team, selling off at the deadline. The Los Angeles Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers, and Cleveland Indians are also on the schedule the rest of the way. They are not too good, either.

While the Yanks will have tough series against teams like the Red Sox, A's and Tampa Bay Rays, they need to be able to take two out of three at least against teams they are clearly better than.

Because during those series, other teams in contention for the Wild Card spot could be dealing with a tougher opponent. And as the old saying goes, every game matters.

Don't let up in these scenarios.

4) Sturdy Back End of Bullpen

It's good to have Aroldis Chapman back if you're the Yankees, especially with Zack Britton saying he doesn't feel comfortable closing games.

Chapman, though, wasn't at his sharpest in his return to the closer role on Wednesday night, which can be expected when you're coming off a short IL stint. Still, the back end of the bullpen has been catching breaks left and right, while aging Yankees fans -- and probably Aaron Boone -- with each pitch.

Jun 10, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman (54) delivers a pitch in the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.
Jun 10, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Aroldis Chapman (54) delivers a pitch in the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field.

The Yankees need that back end, especially, to lock things down when September rolls around. Chapman, Britton, Chad Green, and Jonathan Loaisiga are those relievers who need to get ahead, attack, and try to stay out of jams in close games in the ninth inning if possible.

5) Keep Good Vibes Rolling

This game is fun when you're winning, right? The Yanks need to rely on those good vibes at the moment because it could be worse.

You could be the Red Sox right now.

No, that's not a slight at the rival (well, maybe a little). But they're not hitting well and have some bad luck on their side, too. Never a good combo heading into the homestretch of the regular season in a playoff race.

New York, on the other hand, is flying high -- they're easily the hottest team in baseball at the moment. They may not have the best record in the bigs, as the San Francisco Giants continue to wow MLB.

But what they do have is a solid bunch of players with chemistry that has battled through adversity all season long, stayed in the race, and are now knocking at the door. And you can bet no team in the AL with a division lead wants to play them come playoff time.

It'll be hard but certainly doable. Having positivity rain through the clubhouse, dugout and everything in between is a major key for the mental side of this tough stretch.