With 59 games into the season, the Yankees hold a sizeable lead in the AL East, courtesy of the best winning percentage (.724) and run differential (+95) in all of baseball. The current result best even the highest expectation anyone could’ve had coming into the year.
However, there are still two-thirds of the season to go, and a lot of work remains to be done, in order to secure first a playoff spot, then the AL East title, and lastly, a number one seed.
The month of June has presented an interesting look at the Yankees and their push for the playoffs. Nearing the middle point of it, it’s as good of a time to look ahead and also rewind at what has been done so far. This month may prove to have been crucial, thanks to who the Yankees have played, and who they are set to play.
In the first half of the month, the Yankees have the Los Angeles Angels at the height of their losing streak, the Detroit Tigers at home, the Twins in Minnesota, and are currently in the middle of a three-game series against the Cubs. Though one could argue that the Yankees faced a couple of playoff contenders in those four series, the Angels were at a low point in their season, in the middle of what ended up being a 14-game losing streak, and the Yanks took full advantage of it, allowing no more than a single run in each of the three games.
Outside of the road series against the Twins, the Yankees had a run against poor opponents for the most part. They had a chance to maintain their league-best record, and they took full advantage. The Yankees were already on a big run before June, and won 10 out of 11 to open up the month, winning in all kinds of different ways.
What’s crucial about this most recent surge, however, is the way the Yankees have positioned themselves ahead of a brutal gauntlet. It’s one that could very well determine whether this ball club runs away with the division and positions itself well for a first seed and a bye, or comes back to Earth a bit and sees one divisional opponent close the gap on the AL East.
After this series against the Cubs, the Yankees have a brutal stretch of opponents. They have two three-game sets against the Rays over the next two weeks, sandwiched around a there-game series with the Astros. They’ll also play a fourth game against the Astros at the end of the month
That’s 13 games against the cream of the crop in the American League. The Yankees already have four games on the books against the Rays, and nine versus the Blue Jays. That means that if the Rays and Blue Jays want to close the gap, and firmly establish themselves as a threat for the AL East crown, this is their best chance. On the other end, it also represents a huge chance for the Yankees to essentially fire a kill shot midseason. There are just not going to be many head-to-head battles between these ball clubs left after June, especially the Jays and Yankees, and if the Yankees continue to roll, they could leave their competition in the dust.
There’s still plenty of baseball left to be played, but the Yankees took care of business against weaker competition in the first half of June, and are positioned extremely well for a very challenging run of games. It’s crucial that they’ve done so, as they’ve at least ensured that all the pressure is on the Jays and Rays to close the gap. Either way, this run through the end of June is going to say something about the AL East race heading into the All-Star break.