A week or so ago it was, "Crap, the team is stuck in the mud and here come the Rays."
As of tonight: "Crap, seven wins in a row and they can't shake the Rays."
Seven in a row, in the August/September bridge; one up in the all-important loss column; can't lose those bums.
In the 35 years I've watched baseball, a team from the AL East has won the World Series 13 times (including the '84 Tigers, who moved to the new Central Division ten years later). Of those 13, at least six times a reasonable argument could be made that the two best teams in baseball were from that one division: 1977, 1978, 1983, 1984, 1999, 2004. Each year featured, for the eventual World Series champion, its hardest test against an AL East division rival in a pennant race, playoff, or both; or else, in 1984, a runaway year for the Tigers, second place for Toronto by default.
In one year, 1977, the division probably featured the three best teams in baseball: the Yankees (eventual champions), Red Sox and Orioles combined for 294 wins, a number which would have been 295 except for the last day of the season, when a suddenly (as of the previous afternoon) meaningless Boston-Baltimore game was rained out. The Royals did come within three outs of beating the Yankees in the ALCS, but that was primarily because the Yankees' pitching staff, depleted by so many September cliffhangers, was essentially reduced to three effective pitchers (not three effective starters, three effective pitchers, total): Guidry, Torrez, and Lyle. It was not for nothing that Billy Martin called on his putative closer, Lyle, to nail down the final 15 outs of Game 4 in KC, then pull him back in to be the winning pitcher in the clincher (best-of-five) the following night.
Further, two other years, 1987 (Tigers-Blue Jays, regular season division) and 2003 (Yankees-Red Sox, ALCS), came down to a single run in a winner-advances-loser-goes-home game (both games decided by a solo home run, incidentally: first Larry Herndon and then Aaron Boone); after which the winners, their teams exhausted and pitching staffs depleted, went on to lose to a markedly inferior opponent.
So: nearly one-third of the time, an AL East contender's greatest real challenge has come within its own division. Which seems to be the case here.
One bright note: the Red Sox seem gone. Which, realistically means that without a '64 Phillie-type collapse, we can say the playoffs seem certain.
So: Tex and Granderson are rounding into form, Cano seems over his post-All Star mini-hiccup, the subs (Nunez and Kearns) are performing well enough to spell A-Rod and Swisher.
Which leaves? Jeter's bat, Pettitte's groin. Pettitte's groin equals the make-up of the entire rotation, save CC.
One Post writer earlier this week summed up the situation: Burnett's problems are holding runners, pitching with men on, and responding to crises--three things Pettitte conspicuously excels at.