For a 78-46 ball club, the recent media coverage of the New York Yankees has been resoundingly negative. The Yankees have the second best record in all of baseball, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. It seems like every other week the sky is falling in Yankee-Land and a combination of an incredibly irrational fan base, injuries to marquee players, and a nine game divisional deficit are all likely to blame. I’m here to tell you that things aren’t so bad.
Two weeks ago the Yankees fell flat on their faces in Boston. They entered the key four game series only 4.5 games back of the Red Sox and left down 8.5 games. That deficit would extend to 10.5 games in the next week. They were without Aaron Judge & Gary Sanchez. Their ace Luis Severino looked anything but. Sonny Gray was throwing batting practice. Aaron Boone looked lost and frankly their chances of winning the AL East were dashed in embarrassing fashion to their most bitter rival. It was easy to pile on the Yanks and declare them dead in the water. Since then, however, the Yankees have answered the bell and have breathed some life back into their year.
Since Aroldis Chapman’s blown save on Sunday Night Baseball in Fenway, the Yankees are 10-4. They are coming off a three game sweep of Toronto in which they scored double digit runs in each game. They’ve trimmed Boston’s lead back to single digits and are gearing up for twelve straight games against teams with sub .500 records. New York still holds a 3.5 game advantage over the second place Wild Card combo of Houston & Oakland and a 7 game lead over elimination in the form of Seattle. The Yankees have a favorable schedule down the stretch and a Wild Card berth seems all but inevitable. FiveThirtyEight gives them a 99+% chance of making the playoffs and just a 4% chance to win the AL East here. With one of the easiest schedules down the stretch and six games remaining against Boston, the Yankees still have slim hopes of making the divisional race interesting at best and/or hosting the Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium at worst.
New York is on pace to win 101 games this season, which would’ve been one game behind Cleveland’s league best mark last year. That clip would put them 10 games ahead of last year’s Yankees, which happened to force a game seven with Houston in the ALCS. It goes without saying that a lot of the negative feelings surrounding this year’s team have to do with the comparisons to the Red Sox. This is already one of the best teams in Boston’s franchise history with a month still to go and they are on pace to win 110+ games. In a normal year the Yankees would be in a tight race or have a commanding lead in the East, but this Sox team is anything but normal. The Yankees are a very good team. The Red Sox, so far, have been a generational team. Sometimes you have to tip your cap to your rivals, but that doesn’t mean the season is a failure.
The Yankees have the tools to make a postseason run much like they did last year, but they are going to need to play their best baseball down the stretch. This week they added Didi Gregorious to the DL, but the good news is that he, alongside Judge and Sanchez, is expected to rejoin the lineup in September. Greg Bird has had a good week after under producing all season and he could be a big shot in the arm if he can find his form. Giancarlo Stanton has gone nuclear, hitting eight home runs in August already. He certainly adds an extra element of firepower that can flip games in September and October. The Yankees’ bullpen continues to shine and is one of the best in baseball. The rotation has been a roller coaster, but has been on the upswing as of late. Luis Severino looked sharp in his last outing, after several duds, and newcomers J.A. Happ & Lance Lynn had been phenomenal since being acquired in trades. The duo have combined for 35.2 IP and a 1.26 ERA in Yankee uniforms. Their arrival has also pushed liability Sonny Gray to the bullpen, where he is actually fairing decently. We saw last year that Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia are capable of putting together quality starts in the postseason. Happ and Lynn should certainly add depth to the playoff rotation and bullpen.
It is not going to be easy, but the Yankees have the blueprint. They will certainly need some good luck to have any shot to chase down the Red Sox and they will face a tall task against either the Astros or A’s in the one game Wild Card. They are plenty capable though and it’s time to prove it. Good teams tend to play their best when the stakes are highest. The Yankees are entering the most important stretch of their season. They will need to show just how good they really are.