The Yankees won their 56th game in 90 tries last night, extending their lead in the division yet another game. They’re a full ten games (!) ahead of both the Rays and Orioles in the loss column, eleven games ahead of the Red Sox, and twelve ahead of the Blue Jays. Only one other division leader (the Rangers) have even a five-game lead in the loss column. The Yankees aren’t just ahead of the pack, they’ve started to lap the field.
It’s been more than two full seasons since New York had a double-digit lead in the AL East, since the garbage time games in late-September of 2009. They never led by more than eight games last season or more than six games the season before. This is still mid-July and we’re talking about a ten-game lead here. If the Yankees play just .500 ball the rest of the way their closest competitor will have to play .638 ball just to tie. That’s a 103-win pace over a full season. Even our best case preseason expectations didn’t call for a cushion this size, at least not this early in the season.
With that big lead comes some pretty sweet fringe benefits. Joe Girardi can lift CC Sabathia with 87 pitches in his first start off the DL even though it’s only a three-run game without thinking twice. He can rest his regulars a little more liberally — both full days off and half-days as the DH — without worrying about the hit on the offense and defense. Guys with nagging injuries can be given that extra day, key relievers don’t necessarily have to work three days in a row, all of the stuff that a tight race sometimes forces you to do can be avoided. It’s an advantage no other team has at the moment, the ability to just breath easy and not treat every game situation as life and death.
Now of course the division and a playoff spot are hardly in the bag. The Yankees still have 72 games left to play and a whole lot of those games — 42 of 72 to be exact — will be played against the division rivals. The Red Sox may be eleven games out, but the two teams still have a dozen head-to-head matchups left. Winning the AL East became extremely important thanks to the new playoff system and the race isn’t over yet. Far from it. That said, we should be very happy the Yankees are the ones being chased and not the ones who have to do the chasing over the next 10-12 weeks.