TORONTO -- There is still a question mark on the calendar for Oct. 6, and the Yankees are desperately trying to keep it that way. If the season ended as the standings currently are, they would have to host the Astros in the American League Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser at Yankee Stadium, reducing their entire season to nine innings.
That is a coin flip that the Yankees would be thrilled to avoid, but their odds of doing so looked more difficult after Monday's 4-2 loss to the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Toronto (86-64) now holds a 3 1/2-game advantage over the Yankees (82-67) in the AL East, effectively making the next two games must-wins.
"You've got to keep it close," manager Joe Girardi said. "Obviously I think we're three back in the loss column now. You're hoping that you can win tonight and get it down to one. We didn't. These are really important games."
Participating in any form of postseason play would be a welcome event for the Yankees, who have endured a pair of dark Octobers since their last appearance in 2012, but they have made it clear that the division title is their goal.
The Yankees have not held sole possession of first place since Aug. 22, and they will be relying on right-handers Luis Severino and Ivan Nova to trim the gap between them and the Blue Jays.
"I think they're as important as any games we've played all year, when you're talking about trying to win the division," Girardi said.
General manager Brian Cashman has said that as long as the Yankees are the last team standing, he does not care if they gain playoff entry via the division crown or the Wild Card, but there are obvious advantages to taking care of business in the AL East.
"Every game's crucial, literally," Cashman said. "I don't look past tonight's game. We don't have to look at the scoreboard. We don't have to look where Toronto's playing, because they're playing us. Hopefully we can close the distance here and take a run at the title."
Pinning the season on, say, a showdown against Astros All-Star Dallas Keuchel doesn't seem worth the risk. Whether they have to or not will likely depend on how they respond against Marco Estrada and Marcus Stroman the rest of this week.
"It just goes back to winning ballgames," catcher Brian McCann said. "That's the only thing on our minds, coming back out here and getting a win. We're right in the middle of this thing, so come back out here tomorrow and try to get a win."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.