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The two goals that should drive the Yankees in the second half

The Yankees find themselves with a comfortable AL East lead, but face both expected and unexpected competition across the league.

2017 American League Wildcard Game: Minnesota Twins v. New York Yankees

At the beginning of the 2019 season, we all knew the Yankees had a good team. They were projected to have a 96.8% chance of making the playoffs, the highest odds of any team in baseball. They were supposed to be about three games better than the Red Sox, and had a 65% chance of winning the division. Those are good odds, but far from certain.

Now, however, a postseason berth is all but assured. The Yankees have a 98.9% chance of reaching the playoffs and boast a 6.5 game lead in the AL East. That notches their division odds to 86.7%. For context’s sake, last year on July 8 the Red Sox had just a 47.8% chance of winning the AL East.

The Yankees are going to be a playoff team, and while fans and players can’t just look ahead to October, the stratification of the American League in 2019 kind of merits it. The three division leaders all have better than 85% chances of winning their division, and four teams all have better than 70% probability of reaching playoffs. That leaves the fifth slot open for the middling AL contenders like Cleveland and Boston.

New York certainly didn’t plan to be quite this ahead of the pack, but now that they are, the focus has to turn to a pair of related goals: securing the division and then home-field advantage. I have no desire to sit through a third straight winner-take-all Wild Card Game, and I’m sure the team doesn’t either. The Yankees also must desperately want home-field advantage for at least the ALDS, if not more, since they play so much better in their own yard than the rest of baseball:

Over the last three years, only the Dodgers have played better at home than the Yankees, and quite frankly, over the last three years the Dodgers have done just about everything better than the rest of the MLB. One of the things that made the 2017 playoff run so special was Yankee Stadium felt alive again, that playoff mojo came back. It of course goes without saying that the 2017 Yankees also won every game in the Bronx in October, with clean sweeps of the home games in the Wild Card, ALDS and ALCS.

The road to home-field advantage isn’t an easy one though, as the Yankees will contend with expected competition in the form of the Houston Astros and unexpected competition from the Minnesota Twins. All three teams are projected to finish the season between 96-100 wins, meaning there’s a good chance the hosting of the divisional round and beyond will come down to a margin of a game or two.

Not only are those two teams competing for home-field, but they’re going to be right alongside the Yankees come trade deadline time. The Twins and Astros could both benefit from shoring up their starting rotation, and could be players in the relief market, with the Twins looking dead red at a target the Yankees have done their homework on too:

Both the Twins and Astros had better ranked farm systems than the Yankees before the draft as well as preseason, and while Deivi Garcia and Jasson Dominguez have done a lot to boost the ceiling of the Yankees’ system in the past week, neither are going to be parted with lightly. The Yankees just don’t have the prospect redundancies that a team like the Astros enjoy with Kyle Tucker, to use one example.

This means that the Yankees could very well find themselves outbid in serious talks for starters. Depending on what teams like Cleveland or Texas do at the deadline, the Bombers could lose out on trades that better their rivals in a race for home-field advantage. A hypothetical deal between the Rangers and Astros doesn’t just make Houston better, it makes the division weaker, increasing Houston’s odds of nailing down home-field advantage.

The Yankees enjoy the All-Star break in a much better position than we could have expected, and will be playing games when they count the most in October. They’ll want to maximize postseason games in the Bronx, though, and that will certainly be easier said than done when looking over at the Twins and Astros.