The New York Yankees are heading into the season’s last month in dire straits. After losing two series against the Athletics and Angels, they need big wins against some division rivals to win the AL East and get a first-round bye. However, many are not convinced that they can do that. Considering the rhetoric from a particular manager about a certain Yankees shortstop and high-ranking prospect, I don’t blame anyone!
Aaron Judge is lighting up the statistical leaderboards, and the pitching has been good, especially the bullpen. However, it’s nail-biting time with a division lead dwindling and the regular season closing due to bad errors and poor performances at the plate from players who should be producing. The strength of schedule (SOS) for inter-divisional opponents is of the utmost importance in this race. So, where do the Yankees sit compared to their AL East counterparts?
With 30 games left in the season after another brutal blow on Friday, the Yankees sit 14th among all teams in SOS at .505 per the Tankathon website. Their most challenging opponents are the Rays (five games), Blue Jays (three games), Brewers (three games), and Orioles (three games). Other series against the Rangers, Pirates, and Red Sox are sprinkled throughout the rest of the season, and given their recent stretch of play; there is certainly cause for concern with those as well. Boston’s rough year in particular has not spilled over into its rivalry matchups with New York, as they’re essentially at a dead heat through 13 games (7-6, Yankees).
If there’s one thing for the Yankees to take out of this, it’s that they have the weakest schedule* of all five AL East teams. The closest team to them in this stat is the Orioles at .510, and they are more fighting for a Wild Card spot. Barring anything unbelievable, they are not a threat to take the division. The three other three teams in the division all sit in the league’s SOS top 10, with the Rays at No. 3 (.550), Blue Jays at No. 8 (.526), and Red Sox at No. 10 (.525).
*Disclaimer: These numbers are going by strict strength of schedule based on actual record, but if you’re curious about a more projections-based strength of schedule, check FanGraphs. There, the Yankees have an almost perfectly-average SOS at .501, which sits between the Rays (.537), O’s (.519), Blue Jays (.488), and Red Sox (.481).
There’s no excuse for the Yankees to miss out on some series wins, especially against the easier opponents. However, they will lose the division if they lose crucial games against the more challenging teams, like the Rays and the Blue Jays. So, yes, they may have a more manageable overall schedule, but none of it matters if they can’t win against those other teams.
The Rays and Blue Jays play each other nine times over the next four weeks. Both teams could catch up to the Yankees quickly too, depending on the result of those matchups. The Rays also play the Red Sox six times, who they’re 9-4 against up to this point in the season. Again, this doesn’t bode well for the Yankees in their current “losing games against teams they should beat” predicament.
The road ahead is tough, and the Yankees can make it easier on themselves if they beat the teams they’re supposed to. However, baseball is a crazy game, and it’s easier said than done. Players are going to need to step up and break out of whatever funks they’re in, or else this could be a long last four weeks. There’s no question to the amount of talent that the roster has. It’s just a matter of getting hot at the right time, or at the very least, protecting a lead.