Are the Yankees on their way to a September collapse? Depending on who delivers your information, that might be the case. The Yankees are 4-6 in their last 10, and the Red Sox are 8-2. That’s allowed the latter to gain a few games, four since the end of play on September 9. The Yanks had a nine game lead at that point, and it division seemed wrapped up. Now with a five game lead, it might not seem as much of a lock.
This reeks of specious logic. From September 10 through September 21, the Red Sox gained four games. That’s 12 days. For the Red Sox to take the division, they’d have to play just as well and the Yankees would have to play just as poorly as they both are right now. While that’s a possibility, it’s far from probable. The Yankees have the best record in baseball. They even have a winning record in September — a convincingly winning one at that. Are we really to expect a full collapse?
The reason many people thought the Yankees had the division wrapped up on September 9 was because of the massive lead. Even if things didn’t go quite a well from there on out, they still had a huge margin of error. Some of that margin has slipped over the past few weeks, but there’s been another change: there are fewer games left in the season. So while the Red Sox have crept closer, the Yankees are actually closer to a division win: their magic number has gone from 14 on the ninth to eight today.
As the Yanks work through a small slump, the pundits are active. I’ve seen more than one comparison to the 2000 team lately, one which played particularly poorly in September. They entered the month with a 74-56 record, first in the AL East by five games, and went a paltry 13-18 over the season’s final 31 games. The Red Sox tried to play catch-up, but finished 85-77, 2.5 games back, after a 16-16 month. The difference, of course, is that Boston is playing quite a bit better this season than they were in 2000. So should the Yanks be scared?
Hardly. Even with the Yankees losing six of their last 10, they’re still 12-8 this month, and still have a five game edge on the Red Sox. The latter has gained some ground, and while four games is a significant margin in such a small time, it’s difficult to expect them to continue this pace. The Yankees have proven that they’re a good team, and we can expect them to shake this slump soon enough. With 11 games left and 13 for the Sox, the Yankees just need a combination of eight wins or Sox losses to wrap this up. It seems almost a certainty.
In fact, the Yankees might be slumping at just the right time. The last time they lost six of their last 10 was from June 12 through the 23 (or 13 through 24, but whatever), when they lost a few games to the Mets, Nationals, Marlins, and Braves. What did they do after that 4-6 stretch? They ripped off seven straight wins and 13 of their next 15.
These Yankees don’t slump for long. They’ve shown that they can win games, and it would seem a bit rash to think that a small slump, coming off a stretch where they were playing better than .750 ball in the second half, will alter that. Nothing is guaranteed in baseball — as our magic number says, it ain’t over ’til it’s over. But the Yankees have things pretty well in hand right now. It would take an uncharacteristic collapse for them to lose the division. I’m not sure why anyone would expect that.