About two weeks ago I wrote a post about the upcoming schedule and how the Yankees needed to take advantage of some weak competition and pad their lead on the playoff spot. Fourteen straight games against sub-.500 teams – including ten at home – was a recipe for success, and the Yankees have answered the call. They’ve won ten games in that stretch so far, with a chance to make it 11 tonight. Even if they lose tonight, I consider a 10-4 stretch to be a big-time success.
That 14-game stretch, which began at the outset of the ten-game homestand, has increased the Yankees chances of making the playoffs from 89.3% to 98.6% according to Cool Standings, and their lead on a playoff spot has grown from 5.5 games to 8.0 games. The Angels have won seven of their last 13 but have lost 2.5 games in the standings. That must be comforting for them. The Yankees have won with pitching and offense during these 14 games, posting a 3.63 ERA while hitting .329/.395/.521 as a team. They’ve outscored their opponents 101-50. They’ve also gotten healthy during that stretch, with both Eric Chavez and Rafael Soriano returning from long-term-ish injuries. Alex Rodriguez will begin baseball activities in Tampa today, so he’s inching closer to a return as well.
Following tonight’s series finale against the White Sox, the Yankees will play six games against the two teams they have to be most concerned about right now: the Red Sox and Angels. Making the playoffs is always priority number one, but winning the division is always a goal and beating Boston is pretty much a necessity to achieve that goal. Plus they really need to beat the Red Sox just for the sake of beating the Red Sox. That 1-8 record against them this year is a big eyesore. Next week’s series against the Halos is much more important in the grand scheme of things, a sweep either way will drastically impact the wildcard race, anything else will just maintain the status quo.
Once those six games are over with, it’s another prolonged stretch against mediocre to bad clubs. The Rays are fading fast (they’re only 1.5 games up on the Blue Jays these days), then it’s 15 straight against the Royals, Twins, Athletics, and Orioles. For all the talk about how many road games the Yankees have left (31 vs. 22 at home), a whole lot of those games away from the Bronx are against those bad teams. Plus the Yanks have one of the best road winning percentages in baseball, so it’s not like games away from Yankee Stadium are a chore. The Yankees have beefed up their win total over the last two weeks, and they’ll have a great chance to do it again later this month.
Yesterday, Joe wrote about using the big wildcard lead to play around with the roster somewhat. They can find some extra rest for CC Sabathia and Bartolo Colon, perhaps see what J.C. Romero has to offer, maybe even give Jesus Montero and Manny Banuelos a chance to strut their stuff. These are the dog days of summer, when all the games kinda blend in with each other and it feels like we’re just going through the motions, but for the Yankees it’s a chance to improve on what they already have.