One of the aspects of baseball that fans enjoy is that the regular season is a six-month-long, 162-game war of attrition. Luck and randomness will usually balance themselves out, and similar to how water will find its own level, teams’ talent usually does the same over the long haul. That said — and with the very large caveat that there is no such thing as a must-win game or series in April — the Yankees are entering a relatively short stretch of the 2022 season that could turn out to be highly crucial.
There are exceptions to every rule of course, but generally speaking, teams that are successful over a full season do reasonably well against other good teams and pad their season win totals by consistently outclassing the also-rans and poor teams in the league. In this sense, the Yankees got off to a good start by winning four of their first seven games against Boston and Toronto. That may not seem like much, but a .571 winning percentage against good teams and division rivals is a pace we’ll sign on for any day. As far as dominating poor teams ... well, let’s come back to that in a minute.
Over the next two-plus weeks, the Yankees have the good fortune of watching their division rivals play a good chunk of games against each other and other competitive teams. This is wonderful timing and a huge opportunity for the Bombers, as their upcoming schedule is one that a contending team would take full advantage of by padding the win total.
Let’s start by looking at the Yankees’ biggest rivals. Starting today, the Sox from Beantown play 10 of their next 12 games against Toronto and Tampa Bay to close out the month of April. Splitting those 10 games with the Jays and Rays would be fine, but even if the Sox do very well or very poorly, by definition they’d either be pushing another rival toward the basement of the AL East, or they’d be inching closer there themselves.
Toronto might actually have it harder than Boston over the next two weeks. Starting tonight, the Blue Jays’ next 13 games are against the Red Sox and the Astros. I’m not a Jays fan, but if I were, I’d be ecstatic if my team went 7-6 over that stretch, and I’d shed no tears over a 6-7 mark.
As for the Yankees’ AL East rivals from the Sunshine State, the Rays' next 12 games are against the Cubs, Mariners, and Twins, with a weekend set against Boston mixed in next weekend. None of those teams will be confused with the ’98 Yankees, but you wouldn’t expect the Rays to just walk over any of them either (Chicago got off to a good start last night with a 4-2 win over Tampa). As far as their upcoming weekend set with the Red Sox, that’s just another no-lose situation for the Yankees to watch.
Herein lies the opportunity for the Yankees: They have (what should be) a significantly less stressful slate over the next few weeks. The Bombers' last 11 games in April are against Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Kansas City, and then four of the first seven games in May are against the Royals and Rangers. Of that group, Detroit and Cleveland have only about a one-in-four chance* of participating in the newly expanded postseason later this year, and those are far better odds than the others have. They’ve all played to form so far in 2022, as that quintet of teams has won only 16 of their first 45 combined games (a .356 pace).
(*According to Baseball Reference.)
For a team that is expected to only win 70-something games, this upcoming stretch may not mean a heck of a lot. Even a very good team that is expected to easily win a less competitive division might get away with a middling two or three weeks against inferior teams. Yet quite obviously, neither of those scenarios describes the 2022 Yankees. The Yankees are expected to be a good team in a division that has three other good teams. By September, it is far more likely than not that there are going to be multiple teams bunched together in the standings near the top of the AL East, as well as for Wild Card positions.
That’s why when a good opportunity to get out in front of the competition presents itself, it’s crucial that a team that considers itself a contender take advantage of it. A ballclub that ultimately wins its division certainly would, which is why I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we’re going to learn a lot about the 2022 Yankees as a team over the next few weeks.
To return to the subject of the Yankees' start so far, one could argue the chance for “dominating poor teams” aspect of this already began this past weekend, with a resounding thud. That said, the next two-plus weeks present a good opportunity for the Yanks to give themselves some breathing room and let the other guys stress out a little. I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I’d bet in September that we’ll look back on this upcoming stretch and say it had a big impact on where the Yankees stand in the AL East.