VITAL SIGNS RETURN
As many of us prayed, the Yankees have recovered from their early summer malaise. A rejuvenated offense has routed a succession of woeful and mediocre pitching staffs, propelling the Yankees to a 18-9 July and boosting the Yankees record to a respectable 57-49.
Still, they remain 7 games behind the Red Sox in the East and 3 games behind the Indians for the wild-card slot. A steep and perilous climb remains. But the Yankees no longer stand on the precipice. No, for the first time this season, the summit looks attainable, and on the horizon shines the faintest glint of October light.
THE NEW ROUTE TO 95
At the very least, the recent surge should occasion a second-look at the route.
At this writing, the Yankees have reached the century mark. 62 more games hold the season's fate.
Of course, the media echo chamber, as usual, would baffle our hearing and obscure our vision. They tell us 20 days in August will the season make. "Let them fatten themselves on the inept," goes the detractors' refrain; "the reckoning of the Indians, Tigers, Angels, and Red Sox awaits."
Indeed, it's true that from August 10th to August 30th, the Yankees play the Indians 3 times, the Tigers 8, the Angels 3, and the Red Sox 3, in an almost unbroken succession. (With three games against the Orioles between the August 13th and 15th lodged in between.)
Nevertheless, how the Yankees fare, in the end, against the the two teams that comprise 36% of their remaining schedule will determine their season-- the Blue Jays and the Orioles.
Look at the numbers. A breakdown of The Yankees' remaining opponents follows:
Yankees Non-Divisional Opponents
- KC 5 games
- White Sox 3 games
- Detroit 8 games
- Angels 3 games
- Seattle 3 games
Yankees Divisional Opponents
- Boston 6 games
- Tampa 6 games
- Baltimore 9 games
- Toronto 10 games
Which means that if the Yankees play around .500 against the Red Sox, Indians, Tigers, and Angels, they still can reach 95 wins, if they continue to play as they have this month against their sub .500 divisional opponents.
Compare, by contrast, the Yankees remaining schedule with the wild-card leading Cleveland Indians' opponents over their next 60 games.
Indian's Divisional Opponents
- Minnesota 13 games
- Chicago 9 games
- Detroit 8 games
- KC 9 games
Indians's Non-Divisional Opponents
- Tampa 3 games
- Texas 3 games
- Yankees 3 games
- Seattle 5 games
- LAA 4 games
- Oakland 3 games
The 22 remaining games the Yankees have against the Blue Jays and the Orioles, then, perfectly mirrors the 22 remaning games the Indians play against the Twins and the Tigers, two much more difficult opponents.
What's more, the Indians middling performance against the Red Sox this week, losing 3 of 4, dramatizes why they're vulnerable. Apart from Sabbathia and Carmona-- who each have won 13 games and pitched to a 3.70 ERA and 3.31 ERA, respectively-- their third, fourth, and fifth starter are eminently beatable.
- Paul Byrd is 8-4 with a 4.43 ERA.
- Cliff Lee is 5-8 with a 6.38 ERA
- Jake Westbrook is 1-6 with a 6.20 ERA
Compare to the Yankees 3, 4, 5 starters:
- Rog-ah, 3-4 with a 3.72 ERA
- Mussina is 4-7 with 4.77 ERA
- Karstens/Hughes (The Great Igawa was 2-3 with 6.79 ERA)
Cleveland's real strength is their bullpen. Rafael Betancourt, their setup man, has 1.15 ERA over 47 innings and an astounding .68 WHIP. Their closer Joe Borowski has also pitched well as of late. Over the last month, Borowski has pitched 10 innings, during which he's posted a 2.53 ERA and a formidable .94 WHIP. Aaron Fultz, their lefty, has also impressed. Over 21 innings this year, Fultz has a 1.71 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. The Indians placed Fultz on the DL in June but his return is imminent.
The Indians bullpen only dramatizes the Yankees' real need at the trading deadline-- to bolster their bullpen. As currently constituted the Yankees bullpen is their Achilles Heel. Compare the Indians relievers' numbers to the Yankees'.
- Proctor, 53.7 innings, 3.69 ERA, 1.49 WHIP
- Farnsworth, 40.3 innings, 4.24 ERA, 1.61WHIP
- Bruney, 39.3 innings, 3.20 ERA, 1.55 WHIP
- Vizcaino, 53 innings, 4.08 ERA, 1.32 WHIP (Albeit over the last month, Vizcaino has pitched exceptionally: 15 innings, a 1.15 ERA, and a .77 WHIP)
The Yankees would benefit enormously then from the acquisition (and/or promotion) of one or more relievers who could match Betancourt and Fulz' contribution to the Indians in the Yankees' 7th and 8th innings. Dotel, Gagne, Joba Chamberlain all spring immediately to mind.
7 + 9 = 95: THE NEW MATH
How do the Yankees overtake the Indians to reach the 95 win benchmark? Quite simply, win 7 of their remaining 10 games with the Blue Jays and 9 of their remaining 12 with the Orioles to reach 95 wins. Here's how the rest of the numbers would sort out accordingly.
- Royals Estimate 5-2
- White Sox Estimate 2-1
- Indians Estimate 2-1
- Tigers Estimate 5-3
- Angels Estimate 1-2
- Mariners Estimate 2-1
- Red Sox Estimate 3-3
- Tampa Estimate 5-1
- TOTAL = 25- 14
Combine these numbers with a 7-3 record against the Blue Jays and 9-3 record against the Orioles, and the Yankees will have earned 41 wins over their remaining 62 games. And with 54 wins they've already amassed, their wins would total 95.
Indeed, 95 wins should clinch the wild-card-- see post below about how, historically, 95 games has been a magic number for playoff qualification. 95 wins should qualify the Yankees for the playoffs or perhaps even fewer will suffice if over the Indians' parallel 22 game stretch against their divisional opponents, the Twins and the Tigers, they go no better than 12-10.
Will 7 wins and 9 wins against the Blue Jays and Orioles respectively be easy?
No, certainly not. Not with Eric Bedard and Guthrie the one and two starters for the Orioles. (Bedard is 10-4 with a 3.05 ERA and 175 strikeouts; Guthrie, meanwhile, is 6-3 with a 2.88 ERA)
Nor with Halliday, 11-4, 4.15 ERA and Marcum, 6-4, 3.87 ERA, the one and two starters for the Blue Jays, and Burnett on the mend.
No, it won't be easy to run through Baltimore and Toronto as the Yankees have sailed though Tampa and KC, but as always, the path to the Promised Land begins and ends close to home.
(Look for my forthcoming post "Whither A-Rod; Wither the Yanks" in the next week.)