The Yankees are hot. Good for them.
Let’s not freak out, though.
Everybody’s favorite enemy is 19-7 since the All-Star break, has been mashing the ball at a prodigious pace, and has everybody in a tizzy that they’re right back in the race, just a half-game behind the Tigers for the wild card lead.
As for the AL East? Please.
As much as you want to fear that they still have a shot at the East (they’re now just 6 games behind the Red Sox), there’s a better chance of Kei Igawa switching to tinted contacts than there is of a division coup.
Still, many a Boston fan has watched the standings in recent weeks with shorter fingernails. At the All-Star break, these Yankees were 9˝ in back of Boston, having picked up 3˝ games in just under a month. At that pace, and with a month and a half remaining in the season, one could conclude that it was over, 1978 repeated again, 29 years later for a new generation of fans.
The truth of the matter is, the Yankees need to play at this .731 pace for the final 51 games this season to overtake the Red Sox, who themselves have been on a .600 pace (15-10) since returning from the Midsummer Classic.
Oh, and how many teams over .500 has New York played since that same point? One.
And that was only yesterday in Toronto, where the Yankees beat the Blue Jays, 5-4. (When the two teams met last month, Toronto was two games under .500.)
Yes, indeed. The Yankees have certainly plowed through the weakest competition the AL has to offer, including the 42-69 Devil Rays (6-2), the 48-62 Royals (6-1), and the 52-59 White Sox (2-1). Boston enjoyed that same trio in July, and went just 6-4 in those 10 games, but also played a more difficult schedule against actual contenders, including the 63-49 Indians (3-1), the 60-49 Mariners (2-1), and now the 65-46 Angels (0-1 after last night’s 4-2 loss).
Little different, no?
Still, this is the Yankees’ best surge since winning nine in a row in June. When the Mets broke that streak on June 15, the Yankees were but eight games out of first place, just a half-game better than they were on that same date one month earlier. One month later, on July 15, the Yankees found themselves ... eight games out of first place.
Forgive us if we don't get all excited over a two-game swing.
The Yankees’ cupcake schedule is over, beginning this week in Toronto, which has watched its Blue Jays win 10 of 16 since their mid-July meeting with New York. The tough stretch continues this weekend in Cleveland against the first place Indians. They head to Baltimore to face the Orioles, against whom they are just 4-6 this season. Then it’s the first four of eight against some wild card competition in the Tigers, a team floundering as of late, but still considered by some one of the top three teams in the game. Three games at Anaheim come in between, then the late-month showdown with Boston at Yankee Stadium.
Since the break, the Yankees have faced one team with a better than .500 record. Before the month is out, though, they face the four best teams in the game in Detroit, Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Boston. Call it the “welcome to reality” stretch.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox, after this week’s series in Anaheim, have to deal with the Angels four more times next weekend at Fenway. Beyond that, before they meet the Yankees at the end of August, they get to play around with the Orioles three times, the Devil Rays six times, and the White Sox four times. Call it the “welcome to retribution” stretch.
Some names the Yankees have beaten the past few days: Gil Meche, Scott Downs, John Danks, and Odalis Perez.
Some names the Yankees will face in upcoming days: Roy Halladay, Fausto Carmona, and Paul Byrd.
The Yankees have hit a remarkable 47 home runs in 26 games since the break, and had a ridiculous .916 OPS in July ... against teams with three of the four worst ERAs in the American League, teams that the Red Sox get to enjoy for the bulk of this penultimate month of summer. Hideki Matsui has hit 11 home runs since the break ... against four of the six teams that have allowed the most in the league.
They’re just a half-game out of the wild card lead, but let’s not overlook the competition they’ve abused to get into this position. That’s about to change, as it is for the Red Sox in a completely opposite manner. Before Boston heads to the Bronx on Aug. 28, it will face teams that it is a combined 17-5 against this season.
The Yankees have gone 19-7 against similar competition. But that’s coming to an end. As is any lingering alarm that they might make a run at the division. Call it obnoxious, call it foolhardy, call it a certain counting of fowl, whatever. Six games might be as close as they get from here on out. In just over a week, it might even be eight.
When have we seen that before?