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What the 2017 Astros and Dodgers can tell us about the 2018 Yankees

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Looking at last year’s best teams reveals something pretty encouraging about New York’s season

MLB: Texas Rangers at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been an annoying week for the Yankees and their fans. Five straight losses, including four humiliating ones at Fenway Park, nearly pushed New York out of the AL East race and forced a whole bunch of people to concede the season is over. Add that to the team’s best player and league’s best catcher missing significant time with injuries, and we’ve all had a bleak run of late.

The bleakness started about a month ago, and the team’s been 16-15 since July 1st. That’s an extremely mediocre run for a team that has it’s goal clearly set on the World Series, and leads a lot of people question the true talent level of the 2018 Yankees. I’m here to assuage those doubts.

Teams have “meh” runs all the time, even the extremely good ones. Cleveland finished with the best record in the American League last year and were pretty mediocre for most of it, before exploding for 23 straight wins last August and putting away the AL Central. And of course, there’s the performance of the two consensus best teams of 2017, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros. Both teams ran the gamut the entirety of last season, were well deserving pennant winners and played much better than this year’s motley Yankee crew...or did they?

Consider the cumulative wins plot of the 2017 Dodgers, 2017 Astros and 2018 New York Yankees:

This year’s Yankee squad, for all the malaise and hand-wringing, are playing exactly as well as the 2017 Astros, And they’re two games off the pace of last year’s Dodgers! Not only that, but the Yankees are projected for 102 wins, one better than Houston accomplished in 2017.

Not to be lost in this plot is the big plateau for the Dodgers as well. At this point last year, a number of people — myself included — grouped Los Angeles in the class of greatest teams ever with the 1998 Yankees and 2001 Mariners. They were seemingly destined to come close, if not eclipse, the single-season win record. Then August happened, and while the team still won 104 games and went to the World Series, they finished far from a historically notable team. There’s an object lesson in there for anyone who’s ready to bestow a record season on the Red Sox.

This isn’t meant to glaze over the real problems the Yankees face. The bullpen is overworked, the best player is on the DL, and Aaron Boone is showing that he maybe doesn’t have the tactical acumen we would have liked. But by stepping back and looking at the macro-level, this team is still really good, and undeserving of the hysteria that can sometimes surround it.