My non-Yankees friends (and there aren’t many. Who wants non-Yankee loving friends) have pounded me with insults about the Yankees having an “off-year.” Every team in every sport has “off-years” because that’s just the ebb and flow of sports in general, and makes it fun to watch each season. The Yankees, however, are in a unique position this season, one of which they haven’t seen since 2008 and not all that much over the past two decades. Make no mistake, the odds are against the Pinstripers of making the playoffs this season.
Now, we fans can blame the fluke injuries, the front office for not fielding a very competitive team, or that it’s just the Yankees turn to sit out this year. As of this writing, at 61-57, the Yanks are 9.5 games behind arch-rival Boston Red Sox for first place in the AL East and first place shouldn’t be the realistic goal now. Instead, it’s the Wild Card race they should push for, where they are only 5.5 games out.
The club has won five straight (as of this writing, the Yanks are up 9-3 against the Angels) while three of the five teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race are in extended losing streaks. Fellow AL East’ers the Tampa Bay Rays have lost six straight, while the Baltimore Orioles have lost three straight. Meanwhile, the Royals have lost two straight and the Cleveland Indians hold a 3-7 record over their last ten games.
With many of the injured starters coming back from the disabled list, the Yankees lineup is looking more like a major league lineup, rather than a Triple-A club. The middle of the lineup (Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, and Alfonso Soriano) is heating up. Together those four are hitting a combined .299/.358/.551 over the past week. Meanwhile, the table setter, Brett Gardner, has hit .350/.409/.500 over the same time span, giving the middle of the lineup plenty of RBI opportunities.
The pitching staff was forced to not give up more than two runs per game over the past two months, because the offense simply couldn’t recover. Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova have been the only constants in the rotation for any extended period, while the team’s ace has struggled and Phil Hughes has failed miserably this year. Meanwhile, the taxed bullpen has had to pick up the slack from bad pitching performances from three out every five starts. It hasn’t exactly been pretty at times, but the bullpen is a rock for this club, especially with Mariano Rivera, David Robertson, and Shawn Kelley anchoring down the last three innings.
The Yanks schedule is chock full of division games for the next month and a half (almost 40 games worth), beginning with a road trip to Boston on Friday. They only have three series left with non-division clubs (three-game series’ with Chicago White Sox, San Francisco Giants, and Houston Astros). They have plenty of opportunities to quickly make up some ground against three of the teams in front of them.
Saying all that, the Yankees have a serious shot at still making the playoffs. They have a month and a half to make up 5.5 games in the standings, and their lineup is becoming more formidable with each passing day. The addition of Derek Jeter in a few more days will likely fortify this lineup even more. If CC Sabathia can find his stride, and if Phil Hughes can find any way to positively contribute to the ball club, the Yankees have a chance of making the playoffs this season after playing horrible baseball for more than two months.
**(You’re welcome for lighting a fire under Soriano’s tush with this article)**