In recent weeks, the Yankees chances of winning the division have taken a hit. Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge have gone down with injuries to start the second half. Luis Severino has not been the same dominant force in the rotation his last four starts. And the team has generally failed to get into a rhythm for almost a month now.
Most importantly, the Red Sox simply refuse to lose ballgames. At 75-34, the team sports an ungodly .688 winning percentage, putting them on pace for 111 wins this year. Even with the second best record in baseball, the Yankees sit a healthy five games behind Boston in the AL East.
But one factor that Yankees fans have continually been touting is the drastic difference in strength of schedule between the two teams down the home stretch. The Yankees schedule is populated with games against the league’s bottom dwellers. They play series against the likes of the Orioles, White Sox, Tigers, Marlins and Mets, with few games against true contenders.
More important than the Yanks many games against league’s worst teams is the vast amount of contests the Red Sox have with playoff hopefuls. In fact, Boston will play a total of 15 more tough games against Astros, Phillies, Braves, and Indians. The Yankees by contrast have just two three-game series against the Mariners and A’s.
That structural advantage for the Yankees is only set to get better after the trades of the past few days. As contenders do, the teams mentioned above made drastic moves to improve their rosters before the trade deadline. The Phillies added Asdrubal Cabrera, Aaron Loup, and Wilson Ramos to round out their roster. The Braves moved for Jonny Venters, Brad Brach, and Kevin Gausman to round out their pitching staff. The Astros made underrated moves for Martin Maldonado and Ryan Pressly, and added the contentious but highly talented Roberto Osuna. Finally, the Indians got Leonys Martin, Adam Cimber, and most importantly Brad Hand to shore up their struggling bullpen.
The Mariners and A’s admittedly made moves too, primarily fixing shoddy bullpens of their own. But the key here is that Boston faces fully nine more games against competing teams than the Yankees do. That all of these teams upgraded in a big way makes the road to the AL East that much tougher for the Sox.
As things stand, prediction websites like Fangraphs, FiveThirtyEight, and Baseball Prospectus give the bad guys around a 70-75 percent chance of taking home the division crown. But if the Yankees can take care of business against their schedule of bad and middling teams, they can apply pressure to the Red Sox as they take on this gauntlet of contenders down the stretch.
This could reduce the Yankees need to go an unlikely 8-2 against Boston in their remaining head-to-head matchups, and allow them to win the division by simply going a more reasonable 6-4.
There is no question these two teams are the best in baseball, and a sprint to the finish lies ahead in the AL East. And while trade season led to notable acquisitions by both squads, the biggest power shift is arguably indirect due to these external moves.
As John Sterling always reminds us, you can’t predict baseball Suzyn! But there is no doubt the Red Sox road got tougher and the Yankees’ easier thanks to transactions around the league. Add in the additional factor of Chris Sale‘s recently reported DL stint, and suddenly the division race looks a whole lot more competitive.
If the Yankees are in a position to overtake Boston in the final three game set of the season, don’t be surprised if it comes thanks to the shifting winds in this last week of July.