Despite how appealing the standings may look for the New York Yankees, you shouldn’t let the charming numbers be deceiving.
Who would have thought the New York Yankees would be associated with playoff conversation?
Especially after they sent away their two best relievers in Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller who were essential components in what used to be their strength and their best hitter in Carlos Beltran on August 1.
On that date, just when the Bronx Bombers seemed as though they were destined for a sub-.500 season for the first time since 1992, something inexplicably sparked them into relevancy.
Since general manager Brian Cashman sold his greatest assets, the Yankees have the best record in the American League East while being tied with the Cleveland Indians for the third-best record in the AL.
Thanks to the rise of Gary Sanchez (.355 BA, 11 HR, 28 G), the stellar second half from Starlin Castro (.282 BA, 9 HR, 33 RBI) and the endless dominance by Masahiro Tanaka (12-4, 3.11 ERA) New York is suddenly 3.5 games out of a Wild Card spot.
Furthermore, after defeating the AL East-leading Toronto Blue Jays 5-3 on Labor Day, the Yankees have tied a season-high six games over .500 and are now just five games out of first place in the loss column.
There is plenty to be excited about. After all, there is almost a full month of baseball left with only 3.5 games to makeup and just a handful of games back in a division with a remaining schedule that supplies the opportunity to surpass your division opponents.
Oh, and this was assumed to be a “rebuilding” Yankees’ team destined for the cellar of the standings. Who would have thought?
Despite this improvement and optimism sparked by the Baby Bombers, making the postseason for just the second time in four years may not be as smooth as their Wild Card deficit indicates.
For starters, there are three teams that sit in front of them and that playoff berth including the Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles with the defending World Champion Kansas City Royals looming right behind them.
Among those teams, the Tigers have the second-easiest schedule in the AL (.481 OPP win%) with the Royals having the fifth-easiest (.483).
Both of them will have the opportunity to beat up on the Minnesota Twins, Oakland Athletics, and even the Atlanta Braves while New York needs to handle the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Jays six more times, the Red Sox seven times, and the Orioles three more.
Sure, the Yankees kicked off their 10-game homestand on the right foot by taking down the divisional frontrunner but their remaining schedule includes seven of the surviving nine series played against teams in the playoff picture.
Additionally, their remaining opponents’ win percentage is .523 which is the fifth-hardest in the AL sitting only behind the Red Sox (.524) among teams competing for Wild Card spots.
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There is another distinct way to look at their slim odds.
FanGraphs continues to project the winner of that second Wild Card to finish with 88 wins, which means the Yankees will have to go 17-9 in order to reach that mark.
During no stretch this season has New York gone 17-9 and when the Tigers need to go 13-12 with such a desirable schedule and the Red Sox need to go 12-13 fronting against the same level of complexity as the Yankees, things look grim.
This is primarily why FanGraphs also gives them a 0.5% chance at winning the division along with a 3.4% chance of earning their way to the postseason as a Wild Card team.
On one hand, things don’t look good for the Bombers. On the other, you can never say never in baseball. We have seen some historic collapses including 2011 when Boston went 6-18 after September 3 and fell out of postseason contention — to only name one of many occurrences.
And as difficult as the remaining schedule seems, they possess a lot of games left against AL East opponents. If improvement continues and they win games while the rest of the division stumbles down the stretch, there is no question the division could be taken in the latest shock to the baseball world.
Are the playoffs an appropriate achievement for the 2016 New York Yankees, though?
Certainly the fact that this team is in this boat is unexpected to almost every baseball mind in the league. However, if these games are solely concerning an astonishing push for a playoff spot, the Yankees are letting themselves — and their own development — down.
Somehow, Cashman pulled off incredible moves to bring New York’s farm system to the top in the sport and now that some of those promising prospects are already making impacts in the Bronx, that’s all that should matter.
This is not to be a Debbie-Downer or crush any optimism you may have but some things are more important that winning here in 2016.
Even if the Yankees quiet down and sink into five or six games out of the Wild Card, their remaining schedule almost guarantees that many of their games will have significant meaning with a playoff feel.
Of course, Mark Teixeira or CC Sabathia may not find that to be valuable, but for the maturation of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Cessa, and Tyler Austin, pennant chase baseball is priceless.
Judge is learning how difficult the major leagues and their pitcher’s curveballs can be, as his strikeout percentage increased to 48% on Monday.
Austin was overmatched at the plate ever since he dramatically went yard in his first at-bat but got his swagger back after a 2-for-3 afternoon with two RBI.
Sanchez is making this whole baseball thing look effortless, but he’s learning too while Cessa is facing, and impressing, against some of the better offenses in baseball.
You also have guys like Ben Heller and Jonathan Holder being called upon in big spots which may be a headache for fans (for now) but it’s beyond important they’re playing in these games for their development in the majors.
2016 is not about “The Chase For 28” anymore. It’s not about making one of the most improbable runs the sport has ever seen.
This is about working out the kid’s growing pains during meaningful contests. Just ask the Core Four to revisit 1995 and they’ll tell you one thing: growing pains during the pressure of significant baseball matters.
Now that you know what’s important, it would be ignorant not to say that there is still plenty of baseball left to play this season and a few good series against the division wouldn’t rule out an AL East crown.
As long as Judge continues to work out his struggles and young guys get opportunities to grow in big spots, there is no reason why the Yankees shouldn’t try to push for an entrance to the postseason.
The odds are slim. However, these Baby Bombers may not even know any better:
"Experts" say we @Yankees have no chance to make the playoffs…well we may just be young and naive enough to disagree. #NotGivingUp
— Gary Sanchez (@ElGarySanchez) August 20, 2016