The 2013 season has been a relatively painful one for the Yankees. I'm not sure if there's a pun in there or not, given the rash amount of injuries suffered this season. Anyway, the team finds itself in a pretty large hole with just 42 games remaining. They head into Friday's play six games behind Oakland for the second wild card with four teams ahead of them. In the American League East, they check in at fourth place and 8.5 games behind the division-leading Red Sox. It will not be easy, but if all the cards fall into the right place, the Yankees could find themselves playing October baseball once again.
Offense has been a major problem for this team virtually all season long. We all knew it would be a downgrade from last season, but injuries have made matters much worse. Thanks to returns from Curtis Granderson and Alex Rodriguez to go along with the Alfonso Soriano trade, the offense is starting to round into shape. In their recent five-wins-in-seven-games stretch, the team scored 43 runs and pounded out 77 hits. It's only seven games and they didn't exactly kill the ball in every one of those games, but it's a start. The lineup has gotten healthy, and the additions of Mark Reynolds (free agent signing) and Derek Jeter (eventually returning from injury) will only help the cause. This offense needs to continue to produce and they may just have the pieces to do it.
Pitching, both in the rotation and in the bullpen, was a strength early on. Unfortunately, only the latter remains the same. The starting pitching has crumbled a bit in recent months, with CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes anchoring the blame. Injuries (and even re-injuries) to Michael Pineda, David Phelps, and Vidal Nuno haven't made life any easier. Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova have been great, yes, but they're going to need more than that. Perhaps CC has turned it around in his last couple of starts against the White Sox and Angels, but even in those games he still didn't look like his old self. Pettitte has been okay at best and awful at worst for three and a half months now, while Hughes has been downright horrible in that same span. The team really has no pitching depth right now with the alternatives being Adam Warren, David Huff, and Brett Marshall. Yuck. The Yankees will really have to pray that at least two of their back three starters flip the switch and start pitching well down the stretch.
The bullpen, on the other hand, has been very proficient, and they'll need to keep it that way. Although they have been shaky of late, Mariano Rivera and David Robertson remain as one of the best late-inning duos in the game. Shawn Kelley has been awesome for most of the year, while Boone Logan and Preston Claiborne have been at least serviceable in their roles. Joba Chamberlain is the obvious weak link, but hopefully we only see him in blowouts. The bullpen, like it has been all year, is the backbone of this team.
Given the hole the Yankees have dug themselves in, it is pretty obvious the team needs to click on all cylinders the rest of the way to reach the postseason. This also includes health. They cannot afford another injury to any of their main guys, whether it be on the offense or the pitching staff, the rest of the way. Coolstandings.com has the Yankees at a 6.4% chance of reaching the playoffs, and that sounds about right. Oakland is on pace for 92 wins this season, which means the Yankees would have to go 30-12 (.714) to match that mark. That .714 winning-percentage is identical to their 5-2 home stand they just came off of, which is a nice start, but they still have a long, long ways to go if they want to see October.