We're now 25% of the way through the 2013 season,* with Wednesday night's rather ugly loss to the Mariners. (Phil Hughes, why do you vex me so? This is the year I predicted that you would kick ass and take names, and you were doing so well...) The Yankees sit in first place, to the shock of every prognosticator in the world, especially given that this is a team whose lineup looks like the Island of Misfit Toys (or a 2006 All-Star team), two games up on Baltimore and Boston. At 25-15, they have the second-best record in the AL.
* Technically, it's not the 25% point until we reach the middle of the fifth inning of Thursday night's game, as the quarter-way point of a 162-game season is 40.5 games, but let's not get into fractions...
So what does a quarter of the season mean, exactly? I thought it might be fun to see where the last several Yankee teams were at this point in the season relative to where they wound up.
After 40 games: 21-19, .525, 4th place, 5.5 games out of 1st
End result: 95-67, .586, 1st place, 2 games up
The eventual AL East champs were two games over .500 at this point, were closer to last place (two games) than first, and had a run differential of 187-177, giving them a Pythagorean winning percentage that was exactly the same as their actual WP of .525. Yes, this was a legitimately barely-above-.500 team.
At that same point, the eventual AL champion Detroit Tigers were 19-21, four games out, and in third place behind (snicker) the Cleveland Indians. The eventual AL West champion A's were also below .500.
After 40 games: 21-19, .525, 2nd place, 2 games out of 1st
End result: 97-65, .599, 1st place, 6 games up
Okay, that's entertaining—at the 40-game mark, the '11 team was exactly the same as the '12 team. But, thanks to not having to deal with an Orioles team playing over their heads, and thanks to the rest of the division being about the same, they were closer to first. Also unlike 2012, their Pythagorean WP was .566. They were one of only four teams to have scored 200 runs. (This year's squad has only scored 170, by contrast.)
This was the year the Red Sox started 2-10, and they were just starting to crawl out of that hole—at this stage, they were just half a game behind the Yanks at 21-20. Everyone talks about their September collapse, but if they don't go 2-10 out of the gate, that collapse is irrelevant. It's also worth mentioning that in the end they won 90 games, which is pretty good considering that start and that collapse—there's a reason why they were picked by most folks to win everything.
After 40 games: 25-15, .625, 2nd place, 4 games out of 1st
End result: 95-67, .586, 2nd place, 1 game out of 1st
The eventual AL Wild Card winners had a very strong start coming off their World Championship, though it was overshadowed by the 29-11 Rays, who eventually won the division.
The eventual NL Wild Card was Atlanta, who were 20-20 at this point.
After 40 games: 23-17, .575, 3rd place, 2.5 games out of 1st
End result: 103-59, .636, 1st place, 8 games up
In the end, the Yanks ran away with 2009 entirely. They were the only team in the majors to break 100 wins, they ended with a comfortable eight-game lead over a 95-win team, and, oh yeah, they won the World Series. Not too shabby for a team that at the quarter-mark was looking up at two really good teams: the previous year's AL champ and the always-tough Red Sox, the aforementioned 95-win team.
My favorite comparison here is the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets, both of whom were in second place at 21-19 at this point in 2009. The former team was only two games behind the first-place Tigers, the latter only one game behind the Phillies. The Royals ended up in a tie for last place with the Indians (who at the quarter-mark were an appalling 15-26), both teams losing 97 games on the season. The Mets also lost more than 90 games, their 70-92 record only not the worst in the division by virtue of the pre-Strasburg-and-Harper Nationals, who ended the year at 59-103.
After 40 games: 19-21, .475, 4th place, 4.5 games out of 1st
End result: 89-73, .549, 3rd place, 8 games out of 1st
Ah, the vicissitudes of early-season standings—the Yankees were actually closer to first place at 40 games than they were at 162. But yeah, this team put themselves in a deep hole to start, and even though 89 games is nothing to sneeze at, that was the year the Rays put it together, and with two of the best teams in baseball in the same division, 89 wins wasn't gonna cut it.
Amusingly, the Mets finished with the exact same record that year, though at this stage in the game, they were in third place, but only two games behind the eventual World Champion Phillies. The A's at this stage were only half a game behind the Angels, with a 23-17 record—they ended up 75-86, kept out of the cellar by the 101-loss Mariners.
After 40 games: 18-22, .450, 3rd place, 10 games out of 1st
End result: 94-68, .580, 2nd place, 2 games out of 1st
I was originally just gonna stick with the Joe Girardi era, but I just love the snapshot of the AL East on the 18th of May 2007. Technically, the Yankees were in third place, but really all four non-Boston teams were knotted. The O's were 19-23, the Yanks were 18-22, and the Rays and Jays were 18-23, all of them either 10 or 10.5 games behind the Red Sox, who were 28-12, a horse-choking .700 winning percentage at the 25% mark.
Obviously, that wasn't sustainable, but it's pretty cool to have four teams all that close to each other (I'm wondering if that might happen later this season in the AL East). Eventually, it settled into the usual 1998-2007 pattern: the Yanks and Sox on top, the Jays in the middle, the O's and Rays on the bottom.
Also that year, the Dodgers were at 25-17, with a two-game lead in the NL West, a division in which they would eventually fall to fourth place, two games under .500. Also the Mets were on top of the division, with the Phillies mired at .500.
Ultimately, the conclusion we can draw from this is that there is no conclusion to draw from only 40 games. We're at a stage where, between Twitter, a 24-hour news cycle, and more sportswriters than ever before (hell, even lame-ass science fiction writers like me are getting into the act), reporting is going on constantly, so there's a need to write about something. And it's human nature to construct a narrative, but it's really hard to figure out what the narrative is after only 40 games. Yes, the Yankees are in first place, and that's awesome, but there's still three-quarters of a season to go, and a lot can happen in that time.
And, ultimately, that's the joy of baseball. Nobody expected the Yanks to be this good to start out, and the team gets to keep those 25 wins no matter what.
Can't wait to see what happens next...
(Thanks to Baseball Reference, without which this column would not have been remotely possible.)