The Yankees have been good this year. Really good. Here’s why they’re going to get even better.
With the season almost 4 months old, there’s no denying that the Yankees are playing exceptional baseball. Joe Girardi has led them to the best record (56-34), they’re on pace to shatter the franchise homerun record, their +/- run differential is 2nd best to Texas, and they hold a 9-game lead in their division. August and September is when teams are truly tested though. So will the Yankees rise to the occasion or fall back to the pack? Every sign points to New York getting even better. Here’s why:
Reason #1: August is the Yankees’ month
As good as the Yankees play all year, there is reason to believe that August is their best month of recent years. Between the years of 2009 and 2011 their winning percentage through the end of July is a terrific .613 (192-121). Yet they get even better: their August winning percentage in those same three years is .635 (54-31). The spike in winning percentage works out to about two extra wins for the Yanks in the month. That may not seem like much, but excluding 2010 (where the Yankees actually played worse than they had through July) the Yankees are actually 4 games better than their average. And as we know in baseball: every game matters.
Reason #2: They’re getting healthier
Losing C.C. Sabathia to a groin injury was tough, but watching the lefty toss 6 scoreless innings in his return from the DL is a good sign. The team was 12-6 while in between his starts, and now that they have their ace back they should get even better: C.C. is 2nd in the AL with 68 wins since he became a Yankee (behind Justin Verlander). There are more reinforcements on the way too. Joba Chamberlain has hit 98 on the gun in rehab appearances, Andy Pettitte is a little over a month away from returning, and the great Mariano Rivera expects to be back in September. As solid as the Bombers’ pitching staff has been (3.79 ERA—5th in the AL), these additional arms will lead to improvements.
Reason #3: They still have plenty of AL East games left
After this series with the Blue Jays the Yankees will still have 41 games against their 4 division opponents. Despite the AL East being arguably the best division in baseball this should be favorable for them. Along with having the best record in their division (and the league) New York also has a 16-13 record against their AL East foes. Those 41 games present an opportunity for the Yanks to bury the other teams in their division.
The Yankees have been good. Really good. But there is reason to believe that their excellent season is about to take a turn for the better.
The baseball season is half over, and there have been surprises all year. Underdogs rose, favorites fell, and with the All-Star Game in the books it’s time to look back on the first half and see which teams over performed and under performed.
It sounds weird, but if the season were to end today the Baltimore Orioles (45-40, 7GB, 2nd in AL East) would be in the postseason. Not many people predicted the O’s to be where they are at this point especially considering their division, the potent AL East. Baltimore has run the gauntlet so far—they’re 17-15 against their division. Jason Hammel (8-5, 3.47) and Wei-Yin Chen (7-5, 3.93) anchor the rotation and all-star Jim Johnson (26 SVs, 1.21) leads an impressive bullpen. Adam Jones’ (20 HRs, 44 RBI) explosive bat has kept the Orioles relevant despite the team being outscored by 36 runs on the year. It’s because of this stat that I don’t see the Orioles keeping their torrid pace all year. They should be tough for years to come though, with top prospects Dylan Bundy (Single-A) and Manny Machado (Double-A) developing in the minors.
The Mets (46-40) and Pirates (48-37) have both defied odds by remaining in the playoff race, but the underdog team whose first half put them in the best position to make a run in October is Washington. The Nats (49-34, 1st in NL East) are led by a young pitching staff with the best ERA (3.21) in the league (’94 Expos anyone?), teenage phenom Bryce Harper (8 HRs, .472 SLG%), and stellar managing from Davey Johnson. The Nationals are definite contenders, especially if heavy hitters Ryan Zimmerman (.243 BA) and Mike Morse (4 HRs, 16 RBI) can turn things around at the plate, and Jayson Werth (.372 OBP) becomes a factor once returning from a broken wrist.
With the addition of Prince Fielder, the Tigers looked poised to repeat as AL Central champs. They currently sit third in their division at 44-42 (3.5 GB), but they would’ve been under .500 had it not been for a five-game winning streak to close out the half. Justin Verlander (9-5, 2.58) has been filthy as usual, but the rest of the rotation has struggled, and lights out closer Jose Valverde (16 SVs, 4.11) has only been mediocre. Detroit should likely improve in the second half behind the big bats of Fielder (15 HRs, 63 RBI), Miguel Cabrera (.324 BA, 18 HRs, 71 RBI), and Austin Jackson (.332 BA).
There will likely be a new NL East champion, as the Philadelphia Phillies (37-50, 14 GB) currently sit in dead last in the division. It’s been 6 years since the last time the Phillies had a sub-.500 record at this date, although they haven’t been helped by injuries to ace Roy Halladay (11 starts), Chase Utley (10 games), and Ryan Howard (0 games). Former all-stars Cliff Lee (1-5, 3.98) and Shane Victorino (.245 BA) have slumped after being expected to pick up the slack. Philly might have the worst record in the league if it hadn’t been for the play of Carlos Ruiz (.350 BA, 13 HRs) and Cole Hamels (10-4, 3.20).
With the second half beginning the 13th there is ample time for Detroit and Philly to get back in the playoff picture. Likewise Washington or Baltimore could find themselves out of the playoff picture if they turn in a poor second half. All four teams will be tested as the grueling months of August and September await. One thing is for sure: the second half should be full of plenty of surprises.