One month ago, the Yankees sat just one game above .500, at 58-57. They were 11 games behind the division leading Red Sox, and 7 games out a Wild Card spot. The team looked finished, digging too deep of a hole despite the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson returning. From that point up until last weekend, the Yankees made a 17-7 charge, leaving them just 2.5 games back of a playoff spot behind the Rays. At that stage, the postseason wasn’t guarantee, but it wasn’t the impossibility that it seemed about a month ago.
Losing three of four to Boston, and the first game to Baltimore last night, just about sealed the Yankees fate. With 18 games to play, trailing the Rays by four on the loss side (in addition to two behind Baltimore and Cleveland), the Yankees’ postseason probability is down to a measly 5%. That’s 3% better than it was back when they were 58-57, but well down from the 11% last week before the consummation of the series against Boston.
Could the Yankees still make the playoffs? Sure, but with so many teams in the mix, don’t count on it. ZiPS creator Dan Szymborski ran some simulations, pegging the second wild card spot most likely finishing with 88-90 wins, with 89 the most frequent:
With that in mind, the Yankees will have to win 12 to 14 of their final 18 to sneak in. The Rays need to win just 10 of 20 to get to 88, while Baltimore and Cleveland require 11 of 19. In other words, the Yankees need to go on a tear immediately, while the other teams play mediocre at best. The one thing going for the Yankees is that they can get back on track the next two games against the Orioles, with an additional opportunity against the Rays later this month. Games against the Blue Jays, Giants, and Astros could prove to be a big advantage too. However, Cleveland has a cupcake schedule of its own: six against the White Sox, four against the Astros and Twins, with their toughest games against Kansas City sprinkled in.
Crazier comebacks have happened before, but there is quite a bit riding against the Yankees. Besides the fact that there are three other teams to leap, there are internal issues abound. The bullpen is banged up: David Robertson, Shawn Kelley, and Boone Logan have been forced to miss time, which cost them games against Boston last weekend. Moreover, Mariano Rivera just hasn’t been himself. Outside of Ivan Nova (who is still not easy to trust), the rotation has been shaky. Ultimately, just when the offense has (finally) hit its stride, the team’s strength in pitching has imploded.
Given the Yankees’ health, performance over the last few games, and external factors pitted against them, it’s hard to have much confidence in another comeback over the next three weeks. I don’t want to declare them dead since they’re still not officially eliminated, but they look just about as toast as they did one month ago. It’s certainly been a valiant effort to get to where they are today, but playing with such a small margin for error has left any October aspirations hanging by a thread.