As the games melt away from the 2010 baseball season, the Yanks’ grip on a playoff spot grows stronger. The Bombers are 6.5 games ahead of the Boston Red Sox with 32 left to play and share an AL East lead with the Tampa Bay Rays. Unfortunately, one of the two beasts of the east can win the division, and the crown this year carries a steep price. The winner will secure home field advantage in the ALDS and ALCS while the loser will likely end up with the second-best record in the American League and no home field advantage at all.
For the Yankees, the schedule, as I’ve written a few times this month, isn’t on their side. I’ve updated the spreadsheet of remaining games to include the results from the past week, and if anything, the Rays’ schedule has gotten easier after they took two of three from Boston. For the Yankees, they play 32 games against teams with a combined winning percentage of .522. On the season, the Yanks are 36-22 against these teams, and if they duplicate those results in September, they’ll end up with 99 wins and 63 losses. That should be good enough to win the AL East.
Tampa Bay, however, has other plans in mind. The Rays have 32 games left against teams with a combined .480 winning percentage, and the AL upstarts are 42-24 against these competitors this year. If Tampa Bay duplicates those results, they’ll end up with a record of 100 wins and 62 losses. Baseball Prospectus’s Playoff Odds report doesn’t see either team reaching that 100-win plateau, but gives Tampa that one-game edge in the standings. Considering how many woulda, coulda, shoulda games the Yanks have played this year, that final regular season result would be a tough one to take.
Of course, much could change over the next five weeks, and the Yankees and Rays both seemingly control their own AL fates. The two teams meet seven times over the season’s home stretch, and if the Yanks can strike a decisive blow against Tampa, something they’ve struggled in doing this year, the AL East crown could be theirs for the taking. With Boston now on the ropes, I’m not going to root for the Rays any longer this year.
It’s all well and good to look at how the Yanks can get to October, but the division title concerns the elusive home field advantage. Does it matter if the Yanks don’t have the home-field edge this year? Make no mistake about it: The Yankees are better at home than they are on the road. At Yankee Stadium, where CC Sabathia doesn’t lose, the Yanks are 42-22; on the road, the club is a still-impressive 38-28. At Yankee Stadium, the club puts up a .367 wOBA while on the road, that mark falls to .332. The home-road split could be more significant if the Yanks must play four out of seven games in Tampa Bay where they are hitting just .229/.297/.398 this year.
Whereas the Yanks score 6 runs per game at home and just under 5 per game on the road, their pitching exhibits less drastic splits. Yankee hurlers have a higher ERA at home than they do on the road — 4.08 vs. 3.75. Because Bombers pitchers have given up a whopping 39 more home runs at home in 0.1 more innings than they have thrown on the road, we can say that Yankee Stadium giveth and Yankee Stadium taketh away.
Still, we can’t underestimate the CC effect. Despite the weaker pitching at home, CC Sabathia, the Yanks’ presumptive Game One starter, is 10-0 at home with a 2.46 ERA/3.21 FIP and 8-5 with a 3.75 ERA/3.85 FIP on the road. Never mind the pride of a division crown; I want home field advantage for the joy of watching CC Sabathia dominate in the Bronx.
With 32 games left and seven against Tampa Bay, the Yankees just need to win. They’re not yet guaranteed a playoff spot, but their October Magic Number is a cool 26. Even without bragging rights on the line, they need to gain that home field advantage for another run at a World Series trophy. The longer the standings remain knotted at the top, the more of an edge Tampa Bay gains, and so it is time to just keep on winning.