The Yankees went down meekly to James Shields and the Rays on Sunday afternoon and the 3-0 loss left them just a game ahead of the Rays as the move to August kicks off the stretch run.
The nature of the Wild Card means that the first-place jockeying between the Yankees and Rays is more about fun than life or death. Barring disaster, both teams will make the playoffs and both teams are good enough to move to the ALCS without home field advantage. That's part of the reason why Joe Girardi used Sunday's game as a chance to rest Alex Rodriguez and Brett Gardner while giving Mark Teixeira a reduced workload as the designated hitter.
The moves also allowed Girardi to get Lance Berkman and Austin Kearns into the lineup. Kerry Wood also made his first Yankees appearance when he entered the game in the seventh inning. None of the three knocked your socks off with their performances and none of the three figure to make or break the Yankees season, but you didn't need to look beyond this weekend's games to understand why they are in the Bronx.
There isn't much to separate the Yankees and Rays, something that played out across three taut games that didn't even feature Tampa's best starting pitcher. The Rangers are a bit behind those two teams but their improvements via trade means that the gap will probably get smaller as the playoffs get closer. When teams are that closely matched, any flaw is going to get magnified over the course of a postseason series. That and that alone explains why the Yankees added Berkman, Kearns and Wood.
All three of them fill holes on the Yankees roster. The holes they fill -- sometime DH, right-handed hitting backup outfielder and extra bullpen arm -- aren't gaping ones but you don't need a Grand Canyon to trip you up in a five-game series. The cost of filling those holes would be prohibitive to many teams but it barely registers to the Yankees and that's an advantage they are wise to leverage in a situation like this.
It isn't insecurity about the team, as Mike Lupica argued in the Daily News. Insecurity about the team would be replacing a vital part of the team for a player who might not be an improvement. Adding Berkman, Kearns and Wood meant losing Colin Curtis, Juan Miranda and Chan Ho Park. You can't argue that this isn't a better team today for those trades and you can't argue that these weren't actual flaws on a team that's wealthy enough to try and smooth out the smallest imperfection.
The point isn't that the Yankees needed Berkman, Kearns and Wood to win the World Series. It's that the alternative might have kept them from winning it and there's no reason to take that risk.