To say that the Yankees’ second half hasn’t gone as well as their first half would be a gross understatement. After a 62-33 record and a run differential of +131 prior to the All-Star break, the Yankees are 26-20 since, with a run differential of just +14.
I mentioned the Yankees’ run differential to illustrate that their lackluster second-half record hasn’t been just a stretch of bad luck; rather, it’s been the product of mediocre play. The Yankees’ lineup, touted to be one of baseball’s best, has only managed a 100 wRC+ since the break, good for 15th in MLB. Defensively, FanGraphs’ Def rating has them at -1.3, eighth-lowest in MLB.
On the other hand, the pitching on the whole has been solid, as the Yankees’ staff ranks fourth in the majors in both second-half fWAR and FIP-. However, even there some disturbing trends exist. Luis Severino, after pitching like the frontrunner for the Cy Young in the first half, has absolutely cratered in the second half, pitching to a horrific ERA of 6.95 in 45.1 innings. Lance Lynn’s welcome seems to be wearing off as well, as he’s allowed five runs or more in three of his last four starts. It’s a good thing the Yankees have the best bullpen in the majors, but even they can’t be expected to clean up two out of every five games.
It’s been incredibly frustrating to watch all of the above traits manifest in the Yankees’ play over the past month and a half. Adding to that frustration is the fact that Boston has kept winning, while the Athletics are now nipping at the Yankees’ heels for the top Wild Card slot. It’s driven many fans to give up hopes for a deep playoff run this year. So, the question has to be asked: What does the Yankees’ recent play tell us about their World Series chances?
The answer is nothing. Absolutely nothing.
How the Yankees have played in the second half tells us nothing about how they will play in the playoffs, because that’s not how the playoffs work. The playoffs aren’t governed by any laws. Postseason baseball is complete and utter chaos.
Think about it: baseball is in itself a chaotic game in which the smallest detail - a chopper bouncing on a pebble in the infield, a gust of wind blowing out towards the outfield, a fickle umpire giving a slugger another chance at life - often has unimaginably devastating consequences. The regular season is 162 games long because that is the volume of baseball needed for the season to have some modicum of fairness - that is, for the effects of chance to be diluted enough for talent and ability to shine through in the long run.
Even then, talent is more fickle than we imagine. Rare are the Mike Trouts of the world, who are consistently and unfailingly excellent day in and day out (which is why we should treasure him and never lose sight of his greatness). For even the most gifted players in the world, talent only shines through in fits and bursts. Nearly every player goes through ups and downs over the course of the year. The length of the regular season provides a sample size just large enough to discern slumps from declines and being hot from being better.
Playoff baseball does not have such length. It is a concentrated version of an already chaotic exercise, in which the sway of random occurrence on the outcome of an entire season is heightened to the extreme. Once it begins, anything can happen. The only thing teams can do to ensure they have a shot at a ring is to make it to the playoffs. From there, they can only hope that they get hot at the right time, and that random stuff doesn’t derail their season.
That’s why having the best record in the regular season doesn’t insure a team from an early exit from the playoffs. Just ask the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who the Yankees handily disposed of in the ALDS. That’s why finishing the regular season in terrible form doesn’t preclude a team from winning it all. Just ask the 2000 Yankees, who went 13-17 in September and October, losing their final seven games of the season in the process. Talent wise, the 2001 Mariners were leaps and bounds better in every facet of the game than the 2000 Yankees. Then the playoffs happened, and the rest is history.
I don’t mean to say that the Yankees will be fine in the playoffs despite their second half struggles. By all means, you should be worried. However, that goes for fans of every single playoff team. The possibility of an early offseason looms large for every October contender. So does the chances for a championship.