The New York Yankees dug themselves into a deep hole. The AL East race looks like a done deal, but the Boston Red Sox aren’t completely safe.
In reality, the New York Yankees will need a miracle end to the season—and a disastrous end by the Red Sox—to finish atop the American League East. Boston’s magic number is down to nine, putting them in complete control of their destiny.
New York has serious near-fatal flaws in its pitching staff and is still without a major piece of their lineup in Aaron Judge. Even when Judge comes back, he’s a possible liability as he tries to get back up to game speed before the postseason.
Despite all that, they aren’t technically eliminated yet, and it’s great fun to dream about a Yankees surge coinciding with an epic Red Sox collapse.
Here’s how it could happen.
The Yankees sweep the Red Sox
Yes, the Yankees are nine games back on Sept. 12. Also, it’s hard to imagine Boston, the team with the best record in the MLB, finishing out the rest of their games at an under .500 clip, which is what they’d have to do to let the Yankees catch them.
However, if New York can win out against Boston, this scenario doesn’t look so bad, and claiming the division is actually pretty doable.
The Yankees really could sweep the two three-game series with the Red Sox. They have their rotation set up so that Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and J.A. Happ can start all six games.
It won’t be easy, but Aaron Boone has his team in the best position to do so.
The Red Sox and Yankees each have 17 games left. Assuming a Yankees’ six-game sweep, the Red Sox can play to a decent 7-4 record against all teams, not from the Bronx, and the Yankees will only have to go 9-2 to pick up three more games in the standings and force a one-game playoff for the division.
Breaking the schedule down this way makes the dream of first place seem slightly more attainable.
The Red Sox run into some great pitchers
The main question then is what the two teams’ schedules look like.
Other than the two Yankees series, the only good team Boston plays is Cleveland. The Yankees’ toughest test comes in the form of four games against the red-hot Tampa Rays.
So, the Red Sox have eight games left against sub-.500 teams and the Yankees only have seven. That seems like a negative, but it’s not that simple.
When you look at Boston’s series with the New York Mets, it appears that both Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom will be pitching. Also, in their Cleveland series, the Red Sox are tentatively scheduled to face Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevinger, per ESPN.
It’s not hard to envision the Red Sox dropping three or four games against those guys. Then, all it takes is a couple more losses against the lesser competition they face.
The only intimidating name the Yankees might face outside of their games against Boston is Tampa’s ace Blake Snell.
Chris Sale is typical Chris Sale
Another factor that could work in the Yankees’ favor is Chris Sale’s reputation for pitching his worst late in the season.
Sale is 11-16 with a 3.78 ERA in September and October for his career. He’s given up 68 home runs from August to the end of the regular season, compared to just 79 in all other months combined.
Add to those pedestrian numbers the fact that he’s coming off an injury, and Sale doesn’t seem like much of a factor down the stretch. The Red Sox only let him throw one inning in his first start back (Sept. 11), so it looks like they plan to bring him back very slowly.
History repeats itself
Admittedly, the road to winning the East is one the Yankees could veer off of at any time now. The positive spin of the Red Sox situation means absolutely nothing if the Yankees can’t take care of business and pull off a magical run to end the season.
Also, the pitching matchups are not set in stone. At this point in the season, playoff teams will prioritize rest for starters, and bad teams are evaluating their prospects at the big league level.
However, crazier things have happened.
Yankees fans will never quite shake the memory of the Red Sox winning four straight elimination games against New York in the 2004 ALCS. The 1978 Yankees were 14.5 games back in late July and ended up winning the division and the World Series.
ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight has the Yankees’ chances of winning the AL East at less than one percent. A New York appearance in the AL Wild Card Game is all but set in stone.
But until the Red Sox clinch, there’s nothing wrong with dreaming.