With only 32 games remaining following the conclusion of this weekend’s series in Baltimore, the Yankees are one of six teams vying for five playoff berths in the American League. The AL Central is the only race that has been decided, as the Indians are the lone team in the division with a record over .500, and their closest pursuer has already traded away its best players.
The AL West is up for grabs, with Houston, Seattle, and Oakland separated by only 5.5 games. That group is also competing with New York for the two Wild Card spots. The Red Sox held a double-digit lead in the East a week ago, but it has since shrunk to just seven games in the loss column. New York and Boston have six head-to-head contests on the slate in September, so the Yankees could still make it a race — if they play well.
The Bombers’ remaining schedule should work in their favor. Thirteen of their final 32 games are against the woeful Tigers, White Sox, Blue Jays, and Orioles — which are a combined 117 games under .500. The Yankees also play seven games against the Rays and Twins, a pair of teams which have hovered around mediocrity for most of the year.
Unfortunately, the Yankees have really struggled against both Tampa and Baltimore, although there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for it. The Rays parted ways with five of their six best players before the season even started, and subsequently dealt away more talent prior to the trade deadline. The Orioles hold the worst record in baseball, and became the first team officially eliminated from playoff contention earlier this week. Having already discarded most of their top talent, the O’s could even challenge the Mets’ single-season record of 120 losses.
A legitimate championship contender should dominate teams like that. The onus is on the Yankees to step up and get it done over the next month. They can exorcise those demons while solidifying their postseason berth.
Last year, the Yankees jumped out to the best mark in baseball at 21-9. They then went 50-53 through the end of August, before turning on the jets to win 20 of their final 29 games.
New York has actually followed a similar pattern so far this season, except the hot start lasted longer, while the slump was shorter. The Yankees held the best record in baseball at 50-22 on June 21st. They then got swept in a three-game series by the Rays in St. Petersburg, which began an 18-20 stretch that culminated in a four-game sweep in Fenway at the beginning of August.
That Boston series may have been the Yankees hitting bottom, but they rebounded admirably. Although they went only 2-4 against the Mets, Marlins, and Rays, they won nine of ten contests with Chicago, Toronto, and Texas. It’s not reasonable to expect any team to win every game, but perhaps we’re witnessing the beginning of the kind of surge that the club produced last September, which ultimately took them to within one win of the World Series.
The AL West teams will beat up on each other down the stretch, so the Yankees sit in the driver’s seat as far as the top Wild Card berth goes. They even have three games apiece remaining against Oakland and Seattle to lock it up. The Bombers (for once) have really dominated AL West opponents this year, going 19-7 to date.
The Yankees boast a revamped starting rotation, arguably the deepest and best bullpen they’ve ever had, and will hopefully be getting their key injured players back soon. Those factors, combined with their soft remaining schedule, should allow the Yankees to clinch their second straight postseason berth fairly easily. Still, it behooves them to step on the gas for all the games they have left to get some momentum going heading into October.