Thanks to last night’s improbable extra innings win over the red hot Royals, the Yankees remain 3.5 games back of the second wildcard spot with 31 games to play. Their postseason odds are long — FanGraphs has them at 4.2%, Baseball Prospectus at 6.5% — but you know what? They’re in the damn race. The Yankees are playing meaningful baseball.
Tonight’s series finale against the Royals closes out the AL Central portion of the Yankees’ schedule this year. They’re already done with the AL West too. From here on out, the Yankees play nothing but AL East teams and one interleague series, at home against the Dodgers. Here’s a quick breakdown of the remaining schedule:
- vs. Royals: one game (on the road)
- vs. Dodgers: three games (at home)
- vs. Orioles: six games (three at home, three on the road)
- vs. Rays: seven games (four at home, three on the road)
- vs. Red Sox: seven games (three at home, four on the road)
- vs. Blue Jays: seven games (three at home, four on the road)
The seven games against the last place Rays are the only remaining games that can be considered “easy,” and playing the Rays is never easy. There’s no such thing as an “easy” game within the AL East, which is, yet again, the toughest division in baseball. It’s the only division with four teams over .500 and the only division with four 68+ win teams.
The September schedule is always heavy on AL East games. MLB likes to schedule intradivision games in the final month to spice up the postseason races, and also to make travel a little easier at the end of the season. At this point the division title isn’t happening for the Yankees. It’s not realistic at all. The AL East heavy September schedule will at least allow them to keep pace with the Orioles for the second wildcard spot. And the Red Sox too. Boston is only one game up on the O’s.
At the same time, the Yankees haven’t played all that well against the AL East this season. They’re 21-28 against division rivals this season, including 3-9 against the Blue Jays. Toronto has been pushing the Yankees around since late last season. The Yankees have no answer for them. I suppose the good news is New York is 11-11 against the AL East in the second half, which is way better than their 10-18 mark in the first half.
Right now, I think the Yankees are a better team than they were for the first four months of the season. Gary Sanchez has helped the offense, and others like Mark Teixeira and Starlin Castro are contributing more as well. The bullpen is weaker, no doubt about it, but Luis Severino may solve that problem. If nothing else, the Yankees are more fun to watch now. I’ll take it. That’s cool.
The path to the postseason is going to be difficult because the Yankees only have 31 more games to make up 3.5 games and pass four other teams in the standings (O’s, Tigers, Astros, Royals). The fact 27 of their 31 games are against AL East rivals only makes things more difficult. The Yankees have a very tough remaining schedule, so if they’re going to stay in the race until the final week, they’ll have to overcome a brutal month of games.