Three weeks ago the Yankees were a lock to make the postseason and run away with the American League East. A 6-12 record and more than five games lost in the standings later, and New York is back in a division fight, holding a five game lead in the loss column over the Baltimore Orioles.
There haven’t been many patterns to indicate how New York will finish the season. History dictates they will finish strong and earn a playoff spot because that has been the outcome 16 of the past 17 years,but as the 2004 and 2011 arch enemy Red Sox have shown, history can change at any moment.
This season has been a little different of a formula for the perennial World Series contenders. The Yankees steamrolled the National League, going 13-5 during interleague play. Of course, this also means New York is just 10 games over .500 against the AL, the only opponents they will face the rest of the year.
The Bronx Bombers went 20-7 in June but have been just four games above .500 every other month combined, including a 16-16 record since its first game in July. The Pinstripes have outscored opponents by 90 runs and have winning records at home and on the road, strong indications its current record is no fluke, but 13-17 in one run games and a 20-17 division record are not encouraging.
After 110 games in the books, it’s not particularly clear what to expect from the final 52 matchups, so review the future schedule and the potential game-changers on the roster.
9-Red Sox (six at home)
A few notes about these games:
– 35 of the remaining 52 games are against division opponents (18 home, 17 away.)
– 25 games are at home (27 away.)
– 23 games are against opponents above .500. Of course, of the 29 against teams under .500, 22 of them are divisional games and nine are with the Red Sox, including the season’s final series, a three game home set.
If you’re the betting type, you might believe the Rays will become significantly tougher (Longoria is healthy now), the A’s and Orioles might cool off, the Red Sox might get hot, and the Blue Jays might fold altogether come September (playing for nothing, Bautista may not return and dealing with catastrophic injuries all season.)
Even so, this doesn’t change the fact the Yankees have a pretty brutal home stretch with more away games, more games against division opponents and a pretty tough strength of schedule. Of course, with the division matchups and given the fact New York seemed to play its best against the previously most difficult part of the schedule, like everything to this point in 2012, it all may indicate nothing. With that said, let’s look at the potential upside factors.
Joba Chamberlain: He’s healthy now and should only improve as the rust wears off. Rafael Soriano and David Robertson are tested and dominant relievers and Joba Chamberlain has the chance to play a role to really shorten a game. If Chamberlain , Robertson and Soriano are all healthy and effective, the Yankees will be playing a lot of six inning games right through October, not to mention Boone Logan can then become a lefty specialist.
Andy Pettitte: The southpaw seemed to be the X-factor in the rotation when he was healthy before a line drive sidelined him. Pettitte is another veteran arm, in the rotation which is surprisingly young with Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes pitching 40% of the time. The Yankees can no doubt use Pettitte’s 3.22 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and strikeout per inning (Warning: Dangerously low sample size of nine starts) every fifth day in September when he is due to return.
They also would have the option in the playoffs of either stacking lefties (Sabathia/Pettitte/Kuroda/Hughes or Nova) in a series against tough lefties, or they can alternate experienced veterans having success with Sabathia/Kuroda/Pettitte/Hughes or Nova. Either way, Pettitte in the rotation gives the Yankees a chance to win now and in the postseason.
Alex Rodriguez: For all the criticism A-Rod generally receives, he is a vital part to the Yankees’ lineup. The future Hall of Famer may not have legendary power anymore, he’s probably not a .300 hitter and he’s no longer the most feared bat in the lineup (that would be Robinson Cano) but he is still the most dangerous righty New York has to offer and he was just getting hot (6 HR and 16 RBI in June and a .315 average in July) before Felix Hernandez hit him with a pitch causing him to miss at least six weeks with a broken hand.
Like most teams, getting healthy is going to be a key. Unlike most teams, the Yankees have extremely high upside with the players injured on its roster. Pettitte is a playoff dominant pitcher, Rodriguez is a Hall of Famer and Chamberlain has an electric arm.
All three players can improve three different parts of the ball club. These three players may end up playing the biggest role of all in determining whether the final schedule dictates a continued struggle or a recovery and deep playoff run.