Zero is a huge number, in meaning at least. And with a loss last weekend to the Diamondbacks, the Yankees reached that number officially in regard to their playoff odds. In a practical sense, their fate was sealed a good bit ago, but we could never quite look at FanGraphs’ postseason odds and see “0.0%”, until about a week ago, and of course, when they were officially eliminated from contention on Sunday.
Now, with nowhere to go except finishing out their disappointing 162 games, it’s worth taking a look back at some bumps, highs, and lows in their rather pothole-filled road to elimination.
Per FanGraphs, the Yanks opened the season as the third-favorite team to win the World Series at 10.5 percent. This put them behind just the Braves (good call) and the Padres (yikes!), and also the top pick to come out of the American League. They were also third in odds to make the postseason (81.2 percent) and were the favorite to win the very competitive AL East (42.7 percent).
Of course, all of these numbers have now reached a big ol’ zero. There has been no shortage of turning points, peaks, and valleys we can point to in this surprising lost season.
April 7: Rays pass the Yankees
Just a week into the season, with the Rays’ historic undefeated start to the ‘23 campaign well underway, and the Yankees owning a meh 4-3 record, Tampa Bay surpassed New York in playoff and division odds. The Rays went on to tie a modern MLB record with 13 consecutive victories to start things off, and 27-of-33 overall, ensuring that their two paths on the playoff odds chart would not meet again. Two-and-a-half weeks later, the Yankees would be passed by the Blue Jays as well.
June 3: Down goes Judge
With a rare three-game set in Dodger Stadium, the Yankees’ playoff odds were back around 80 percent, near where they started. Although it wouldn’t be reflected immediately in the odds or standings, this was a fateful series for one singular reason. In the eighth inning of the second game, after homering earlier, Aaron Judge made a spectacular catch crashing through the fence in right field:
It was a great snag, and the Yanks would eventually win the game, but at a significant cost. As a result of the catch and subsequent injury to his toe, their captain and star right fielder would miss almost two months, not returning until July 28th. From the end of this game, to his return, New York’s playoff odds would drop from 80.1 percent to 27.7. As it turns out, losing one of the very best players in baseball in an otherwise mediocre lineup makes some kind of difference.
July 4: The final high point
After going sub-.500 in June, the Yanks had a nice run going into Independence Day. They had won 7-of-10, and had just taken the first two games of a series against the Orioles. Following the 4th, their playoff odds stood at 75 percent, the highest they had been in nearly a month, and unfortunately, the highest it would be for the remainder of the season. They would lose 8-of-10 following this, including a particularly stinging one on the 16th.
Against the last-place Rockies in Coors field, the Yankees fell apart in extra innings and lost in the 11th. I was in attendance for this game, and given the brutal stretch, it felt like a real nail-in-the-coffin moment for this team. This particular game saw them go under a 50-percent chance to make the playoffs, and it was mostly downhill from there.
August 9: Last place, and single digits
On the heels of a brutal July, the Yankees hit a new low in the early days of August. They had just split a four-game series with the Astros, but followed it by losing two out of three to the utterly flailing White Sox, killing any momentum they might have had. The loss put the Yankees below 10-percent playoff odds, and allowed the Red Sox to surpass them in that department, making the preseason favorite now the least likely to come out of the AL East.
From there, things were just about wrapped up. The Yanks dropped nine games in a row for the first time since 1982, and it included a trip to Atlanta that went exactly as expected. When New York finally won again, their odds had plummeted to a sad 0.1 percent. They would eventually emerge from the AL East cellar, but only to fourth place — a small solace indeed.
September 24: So, you’re saying there’s not a chance?
This all brings us back to now, and to a Yankees team that will miss the postseason for the the first time since Judge debuted in 2016. In this last Sunday’s 7-1 loss to Arizona, there became no mathematical way for them to find their way into the playoffs. It was a formality for quite some time, but it was the final piece of the disappointing puzzle.
Among all other teams, only the similarly-underperforming Padres had a greater fall from grace than the Yankees, as the majority of the top preseason contenders performed as such throughout the ‘23 season (sorry, Mets and Cardinals). These are just a few cherry-picked dates and points in a 162-game season, all of which matter the same, but this season was one filled with landmarks of disappointment. With it looking as though three AL East teams will play meaningful October baseball, the Yankees will be on the sidelines for the first time in a bit, as they reach the end of this long and occasionally steep road to nowhere.