Entering play yesterday, the Yankees held a 57-29 record to lead the American League. By all accounts it has been a strong year for New York, and many have confidence that they are the current favorite to reach the World Series or at least declare them co-favorites with the Houston Astros to play a highly contentious ALCS. They boasted an 8.5-game lead in the division and an 11-game lead over the rival Red Sox.
Now flash back one year, to the same point in the season. The Yankees held an identical 57-29 record, but the atmosphere around that team couldn’t be more different. They were deadlocked with the Red Sox, and would wind up chasing them the rest of the year. The Astros remained as ever present contenders and defending champs, and the top-heavy AL seemed a total toss up.
Clearly there’s a lot of baseball left to be played. The nearly decided races can tighten up in a week’s time, and the hottest teams can hit a slump any day, but it’s clear that the Yankees are better situated to compete for a championship now than they were previously. Some of the same issues still preside over the team, namely getting length out of their starters and an untrustworthy bottom of the bullpen, but a lot has changed to maneuver the Bombers into the favorites category.
The primary outside factor to the team’s rise to the top has been the inconsistent play of last year’s main competition: the Boston Red Sox. The Sox fired on all cylinders en route to the title last fall, inserting an MVP candidate into their lineup in J.D. Martinez and getting an MVP performance out of the eventual winner in Mookie Betts. That dangerous pair of hitters have noticeably regressed and are on pace to collect roughly half of the bWAR they put up in 2018, making the Red Sox lineup far easier to navigate around. The Sox are hovering around Wild Card contention, but haven’t helped themselves get back into the division race with their play against the Yankees.
Speaking of the divisional play, that is the area where the Yankees have improved themselves. The lone season series that they decidedly won was against the Blue Jays, while they played .500 ball against the Sox and Rays and dropped key games to a terrible Orioles squad. This season the Yankees have put a stranglehold on the division by going 29-8 against its occupants.
Alongside a host of quantified data, luck can’t be denied as a factor in the Yankees’ favor. Despite a slew of injuries across the diamond, the Yankees have plugged their holes with production nearly every time. The amount of bad breaks the Bombers have gotten should bury teams under any ordinary circumstances, but the Yankees have proven that they are far from ordinary as they approach the All-Star break.