A lot of Yankee fans are looking at 2008 and taking solace in its similarities to 2007. After all, last year at the All Star break, the Yanks were 43-43, 9.5 games in back of Boston and eight out of the Wild Card. This year, they’re six out and 5.5 behind the Wild Card leaders.
If only baseball were that simple. First, we have the problem of the run differential. Last year at this time, the Yankees had been one of the unluckiest teams in baseball. Having scored 464 while allowing only 393 in 86 games last year, the Yankees should have been 49-37, a six-game swing above their actual record.
This year, the Yanks have scored 436 runs and have allowed 412 in 95 games. So while they’re pitching has been better this year than last, the Yanks are playing right where their run differential would have them — at 50-45 and in third place in the AL East.
This run differential is but a minor problem compared to the overarching issue. Last year, in the second half, the Yanks ran over a weak slate of teams en route to their 13th straight postseason appearance. This year, they aren’t so lucky. Pete Caldera gives us the bad news:
In these final 67 games, beginning Friday night against Oakland at the Stadium, the Yankees will face teams that currently own a combined .536 winning percentage. Only the Blue Jays have a tougher second-half schedule.
That is not good news. Between now and the trade deadline, the Yankees face the A’s, Twins, Red Sox (in Boston) and the Orioles. They play in New York against the Angels to open August and then hit the road for 10 games in Texas, Anaheim and Minnesota before things get any easier.
So right now, starting this evening, it’s make-or-break time for the Yankees. They need a strong start to the second half to push forward toward the playoffs, and if they sag against the A’s and Twins this week as they did against the Pirates and Blue Jays last week, it’s going to be a tough climb against tough competition.
Robinson Cano, Bobby Abreu and Melky Cabrera are going to have to hit; Jeter will have to pick it up; and Mike Mussina will have to hope that this Fountain of Youth he’s discovered doesn’t run dry as the season drags on. While Baseball Prospectus’ Playoff Odds reports puts the Yankees’ playoff chances at eight percent and Cool Standings puts it at 15 percent, this won’t be easy. Here we go.