The Yankees were baseball's early surprise this season, jumping out to a four-game lead in the A.L. East after 61 games. Visions of grandeur filled the heads of Yankees fans, the club's front office, and ownership. Unfortunately for the Yankees, the team many expected to see at the outset of the season arrived and has taken a firm grip over its makeup.
The notion that the Yankees could win the division has seemingly gone by the wayside and now they are losing grip on a playoff spot. Since June 13 (when the Yankees entered the day 38-23), they have gone 32-39 and now own a slim one-game lead for the top wild card spot and are just two games ahead in the second wild card position.
Here is a sampling of statistics that demonstrate why the Yankees have spiraled for an extended period.
Why Yanks will reach wild card
First, the talent is there. It didn't simply disappear. As poor as the Yankees offense has been in recent weeks, they can still find a collective hot streak over the last 30 games. That seems to begin with first-half star Aaron Judge snapping out of an extended slump and players like Greg Bird, Starlin Castro, and Aaron Hicks finding their way after extended disabled list stints. Others like Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez will have to continue to produce with the bat.
On the hill, the Yankees have been getting solid starting pitching from their top four hurlers -- Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, and CC Sabathia -- in recent weeks. That is something that can continue down the stretch with each displaying they are healthy and strong for the final run.
The schedule seems to benefit the Yankees. With 30 games left on the calendar, they will play 18 games at home where they currently hold a 37-26 record. Further, they play 13 games against teams currently with records under the .500 mark.
Why Yanks will not reach wild card
The Yankees cannot seem to get consistent production from both sides of the ball at the same time. When the offense shows some semblance of a hot streak, the pitching falters. As soon as the pitching picks up the pace, the offense goes into a slide.
As much as there is a chance that they will receive similar production from Judge, Hicks, and Castro as they managed in the first half, it is just as likely that they cannot. Judge looks lost at the plate more often than not and he's playing with a sore shoulder, which could be hindering his mechanics more than he is letting on. If the Yankees cannot get consistent production from the offense, they could suffer another season without a playoff berth.
Next, the Yankees will have some tough tests against their closest competition (three games against the Twins and seven against the suddenly-resurgent Orioles). A losing record in those series could swing the standings quickly.
Interestingly, the final reason the Yankees might not reach the playoffs is the manager. Joe Girardi has lost a feel for the club in my opinion, something that was not necessarily the case in recent seasons when the team played above their means. Girardi's bullpen decisions have been baffling at times and he's late to make lineup adjustments. There have been numerous questionable calls from Girardi along the way, some of which have directly impacted the club for lengthy periods of time.
How would Yanks fare in wild card game?
The wild card game is a complete crapshoot, which is why teams strive to win the division title. The number of teams the Yankees could play is quite large, with four teams within four games in the loss column of New York in the wild card race (three more are within six games in the loss column).
The Yankees most certainly would have a better shot to win a game in Yankee Stadium. The ballpark may not be as loud and might not shake like the previous incarnation, but a home crowd would surely be better than being on the road.
The Yankees would have to do something that has been a bugaboo of late and that is manufacture runs. They have been miserable at scoring runs on outs and generating hits with runners in scoring position. This can be troublesome in the postseason, when games tend to be close, and the Yankees' 15-23 record in one-run games is concerning.
Assuming the Yankees will have a chance to line up their pitchers for the game, Severino would likely take the ball. If there is one pitcher who can dominate a lineup among the rotation members, it is Severino. That said, Tanaka and Gray each have postseason experience and have pitched well of late, enough so that they could get the call and navigate the Yankees to a win. Regardless of who starts the game, the bullpen would come into play, The Yankees would need the bullpen to pitch to the back of their baseball cards -- something that has not happened enough this summer.
To answer the question, yes, the Yankees can win a wild card game, but there is no telling if they will play an all-around solid game required to come out on top. Worse, there is no assurance the Yankees will even get there.