It’s hard to call 12 games in the middle of May do-or-die time for a season, but that’s what the Yankees are facing over the next two weeks. Sitting eight games out of first and with Baseball Prospectus’ Playoff Odds report show the Yankees making the playoffs just 22 percent of the time and winning the division just 4 percent of the time, it’s time to start winning.
The Yankees started May with something of a softball schedule. They had 13 contests against the Mariners and Rangers, two middling teams who have inhabited the bottom of the AL West for the better part of the last few seasons. The Yanks went a respectable 8-5 but lost a few games they should have won. A 10-3 record was not out of the question, and now the Yanks find themselves 8 games behind the Red Sox.
The Yanks, as Steve Lombardi notes, have not been 8 games out of first this early in the season since 1984. I was one year old at the time. Ah, yes, I remember it well.
So now, the schedule shifts. Instead of the bottom-dwellers, the Yankees play three teams in playoff spots and the White Sox, no slouch of ballclub. Before a three-game set at the end of May against the Walking Wounded, the Yanks are set to face the White Sox, the Mets, the Red Sox and the dreaded Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, a team the Yankees never seem to beat. Those teams are currently a combined 30 games over .500.
So this is the first real test, and if the Yanks can’t go at least 7-5 during this stretch of baseball, including two out of three from Boston. Things will look decidedly Not Good by the end of May.
For everyone awaiting Roger Clemens’ arrival atop his white horse coming to save the Yankees, be prepared for disappointment. Roger Clemens isn’t the answer to this team’s woes. He can’t bat second; he can’t play right field. He can’t compel A-Rod and Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu and Robinson Cano to snap out of slumps that have lasted for weeks.
I like to maintain a healthy level of optimism and faith in the Yankees with just over three-quarters of the season left, but these next 12 games are important. We can’t just overlook that.