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The Yankees’ real problem is the Red Sox

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The Yankees have had their issues the past few weeks, but they all pale in comparison to their main problem, the historic Red Sox.

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees went through a rough patch recently. Murphy’s Law came to life in the Bronx, with seemingly everything that could go wrong going wrong. There were enough disasters just last week that we took the time the rank the worst ones.

The problems they faced are and were legitimate. Sonny Gray pitched well Tuesday night, but his season has been a disaster and has exacerbated the Yankees’ lack of depth in the rotation. The team’s offense has been left weakened without Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. Some of Brian Cashman’s deadline moves, such as dealing away Adam Warren and Tyler Austin, have left the Yankees thin at what are now areas of need. They have not performed well, and they should be held accountable for it.

That being said, even with the team working through several notable issues right now, their real problem is clear: the Boston Red Sox. The historic season put forth by the Yankees’ nemesis has cast a pall on what has generally been an excellent campaign by the Bombers. Without Boston sprinting away with the division, the Yankees’ struggles would appear more like a bump in the road. In the context of the actual 2018 season, the Yankees’ issues look like crises.

This Red Sox season has genuinely been an all-timer thus far. They are, at time of writing, 80-34, nine games ahead of New York. They own a .702 winning percentage, which puts them on pace for a 114-win season. That would tie Boston with the 1998 Yankees for second-most wins in a 162-game season. That Boston’s incredible year could take some shine away from one of the Yankees’ greatest seasons ever is just added insult to injury.

That nine-game gap the Red Sox have opened changes the entire complexion of the Yankees’ situation. Typically, a team as good as the Yankees, at 70-42 and on pace to win over 100 games, would be easily leading their division right now. Last year, the average second-place team finished with a .527 winning percentage, good for 85 wins.

A .527 winning percentage now would equate to a record of 59-53. Such a team would be 11 games back of the Yankees. Now, the AL East is generally a difficult division, but even last year, the Yankees finished second with a .562 winning percentage. That hypothetical team at this point of the year would be 63-49, or seven games back of these Yankees.

If this wasn’t such an atypical year, and the Yankees were leading the AL East by seven, 11, or however many games, their problems would look far more trivial. Sure, they would still be concerned with who would start playoff games behind Luis Severino (and with Severino’s recent performance). They would still be worried about getting Judge and Sanchez healthy and in form for the postseason.

Yet if the Yankees were cruising to a dominant division win, as they would be in most years in MLB history, the fretting over those problems would pale in comparison to the DEFCON 1 levels of the past week. The real issue at hand is and always has been the red-hot Red Sox.

The struggles the Yankees have suffered through recently are just not unique when compared to the midseason malaise that virtually every good team has to deal with at some point. The Yankees have gone 9-11 over their last 20, but is that so different than last year’s Astros going 11-17 in August? Or the 2016 Cubs going 12-14 in July? Hell, last year’s Dodgers lost 16 of 17 games at one point and nearly won the whole thing!

No team, no matter how great, is immune to the vagaries and casualties of the long MLB season. The Yankees just went through their toughest stretch of the year, and juxtaposed with Boston’s incredible run, it looked like the sky was falling. The Yankees are still a good team, though, and their issues wouldn’t spark panic if it wasn’t for the dominant Red Sox. The Yankees have things to straighten out, but their true problem, even more than a shaky back of the rotation or an injured star, is the amazing play of their biggest rival.