Through the first half of the season, the Yankees played 47 of their 88 games on the road, including a stretch of 32 road games in a 48-game stretch from mid-April through early-June. They had a ten-game road trip and a nine-game road trip within a month and simply didn’t spend much time at home in Yankee Stadium. The Yankees had to endure a lot of travel early on. It’s rough.
“When I looked at the schedule before the season started I saw that, but I didn’t realize how tough it would be until you actually go through it,” said Brett Gardner to Dan Barbarisi recently. “We’ve played a lot of games on the road, I think at one point we played 27 out of 35 games on the road.”
The Yankees made it through that road heavy first half in first place with a four-game lead, and they’ve managed to stretch that lead to 4.5 games early in the second half. FanGraphs gives them an 85.5% of making the postseason, third highest in the AL, and believe it or not they have the best World Series odds in the AL at 13.1%. That’s all based on projection systems and whatnot, so who the hell knows, but damn, that’s cool. Contending is cool.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. It is still only July and a 4.5-game lead isn’t much. One bad week and that lead could evaporate. For the now, the Yankees are focused on extending that lead and running away with a very winnable division. After that grueling first half on the road, the second half schedule is much more favorable, including 40 of 74 games at home. (They’ve already played four of those 40 home games and are 3-1.)
Furthermore, the Yankees don’t play a ton of great teams in the second half. They’re done with the Royals and Angels — they got lucky facing the Angels in the first half, the Halos are currently on a crazy don’t wanna play ’em 16-3 run — and their only remaining interleague series are three-gamers on the road against the Braves (late-August) and Mets (mid-September). The Braves stink but the Mets are kinda good, though knows where they’ll be in two months.
Buster Olney (subs. req’d) did the math recently and found the Yankees have only 18 games against above-.500 teams in the second half, though that is misleading. The Orioles were at .500 and the Blue Jays were a game under at the All-Star break. Games against those teams are never easily regardless of their record, and the Yankees have eight games left against the O’s and 13 left against the Jays. They close the season with three games in Camden Yards.
More important than the opponents in the second half is the sheer number of home games. The Yankees play 16 of 28 games at home in August and 17 of 28 games at home in September. Three of the September road games are at Citi Field, so no travel required. During one stretch from mid-August through late-September the Yankees will play 28 of 43 games at home. After September 1st, the Yankees will not spend more than three straight nights away from New York.
Remember, the Yankees do have an older team, especially on the position player side. Alex Rodriguez turns 40 next week and needs regular days off even as a full-time DH. Carlos Beltran, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia are all on the wrong side of 35. Brian McCann is a 31-year-old catcher with over 10,000 regular season innings on his knees. Even Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury could use time off given how much they use their legs.
On paper, the schedule favors the Yankees in the second half because they play the majority of their games at home and don’t face many good teams outside their division. That’s a good combination. Taking advantage of it is another thing. Remember the series with the Phillies a few weeks ago? No wins are guaranteed. The Yankees have some easy travel down the stretch and it should benefit their older players, not the mention the fact they play much better at home (+40 run differential) than on the road (-12).
“In September, I don’t think we’re gone for more than three or four nights in a row,” added Gardner. “In the position we’re now, if we can keep guys healthy and continue to play well, August and September will hopefully be an advantage for us.”