Baseball is in a golden age of parity, which means there’s a lot of mediocre teams and very few elite or awful ones. The Yankees happen to be among the elite no matter what criteria you want to use. They have the fifth most wins in the game (56), the third best winning percentage (.596), the best run differential (+114), the second most fWAR (35.1), and the second most bWAR (32.2). The facts are the facts, the Yankees have been no worse than one of the three best teams in baseball in 2011.
Although they’re currently one and a half games back of the Red Sox for the AL East lead, the Yankees are five and a half games up on the Rays for the AL Wildcard. That’s a pretty significant gap considering that we’re still in July. Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds say the Yankees have a 95.6% chance to make the postseason as of today while Cool Standings has them at 89.5%. That’s a pretty nice cushion to have at this time of the year, but the Yankees have a chance to really pad that lead in the coming weeks.
Following these last two games in Tampa, the Yankees will head back to the Bronx for a ten-game homestand against the Athletics, Mariners, and Orioles. They’ll play two against the O’s next Saturday, finally making up one of those April rain outs. After the ten-game homestand they’ll hit the road and fly to Chicago’s south side for a four-game series against the White Sox. That’s 14 straight games against sub-.500 teams, and the three teams they’ll play on the homestand are well below .500. We’re talking a combined 39 games under .500. Yeah.
Once they get through that stretch, the Yankees will play nine games against the Red Sox, Angels, and Rays, all tough assignments for sure. It’s another cakewalk after that though, the Yankees will play 15 straight games against the Royals, Twins, Athletics, and Orioles. Although just three of those games will be played in the Bronx (the Oakland series), that sure does look like a comfy two-plus weeks there. All those teams are well under .500, and the latter three have been doormats for New York in recent years. They walk all over them.
Now, of course things can change. The Orioles are playing pretty atrocious baseball right now but the Yankees could run into them during a hot streak, who knows. That’s the unpredictability of a 162-game schedule. Regardless, that 14-game stretch against bad teams followed by the nine-game stretch against good teams followed by the 15-game stretch against bad teams will take the Yankees right through the end of August. Their September schedule is pretty brutal, including two scheduled off days lost to makeup games and a west coast trip. Plus they also have to go back to Toronto, which is like baseball hell with funny accents and mayonnaise on everything.
Playing 29 of their next 38 games (after this Rays series ends, I mean) against awful teams will give the Yankees a chance to really fatten up and pad that win total, pushing them even further out in the front of the pack with regards to a playoff spot. I’d like them to win the AL East, sure, but securing a postseason berth is priority numero uno. They can get greedy after that. The Yankees will finish the season with three games against the Rays, three games against the Red Sox, and then three games in Tampa, but that light schedule during the next three weeks could have them cruising on autopilot by then.