Baseball’s all-time saves leader has given the 2018 Yankees his blessing.
Mariano Rivera, who won five world championships and recorded a major league-high 42 postseason saves as a member of the Yankees’ iconic “Core Four” group, told ESPN Radio’s The Michael Kay Show on Friday afternoon that the current team has a legitimate chance to surpass the historic 1998 squad, which won a franchise-best 114 regular season games en route to a title.
“I believe, with all my strength, that they have the potential to do it. It’s fun to see these boys,” Rivera said. “The way they play, the way they enjoy it, the way they fight until the end, the way they push, never giving up. And that’s the beauty about it.
“Yes, they have the potential. They have to keep pushing. It’s not an easy task…”
Much like the ’98 team, this year’s Yankees (50-22) are winning at a historically high rate. In the franchise’s last 65 seasons, the only team to reach 50 wins and 28 games over the .500 mark more quickly was that ’98 club. At the moment, these Yankees are on pace to win 113 regular season games– just one game shy of tying that 20-year-old record.
But the Yankees are chasing more than one number. Their 122 home runs on the year has them on pace to finish with 275. That mark would beat the all-time record set by the Seattle Mariners (264) back in 1997.
And guess what? The numbers go much farther than that, too. While owning the best record in baseball, the Yankees are a league-best 29-11 at home. They’re 21-11 on the road. Against right-handed starters, their record is 32-17. Against left-handed ones, they’re 18-5. Their starter ERA in the month of June is 2.69. Their bullpen ERA in the month of June is 0.84.
Want more? There’s plenty to go around.
These Yankees are beating up on mediocre teams, like any superior team should. In 40 games against teams under .500, they’ve won 27 of them. However, they’re also beating up on the American League’s playoff teams. In 14 games against the Boston Red Sox, Houston Astros, and Cleveland Indians, the Yankees are 10-4. They also have the league’s best winning percentage (.719) against teams with a record over .500.
Those are some pretty impressive accomplishments, and it’s fair to magnify them since the All-Star break is still over three weeks away.
“We’ve obviously played well and racked up a lot of wins, but you also realize every night how precious those wins are and how hard they are to come by,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone recently told NJ.com. “I don’t care who we’re playing, but when you look at it, it is gratifying to know that we’ve played pretty well against some of the elite teams and some of the hot teams.
“I think it just speaks to what we believe our team is capable of, and the confidence these guys have no matter who the opponent is.”
And that’s the trick, the secret ingredient to success: confidence. Sure, the 2017 Yankees possessed that trait. Those three C’s — confidence, commitment, and chemistry — carried them deep into the postseason last fall.
But there’s no disputing that the 2018 roster is more skilled, more experienced, more capable of overcoming that towering and ultimate obstacle.
And that’s why Rivera expects the Yankees to reach the pinnacle by this season’s end.
“Remember, they were short by one game to go to the World Series [last year], “Rivera told ESPN Radio. “And now, this year, they are going all the way. That’s what appears to me when I see them play. The determination, the mentality that they have to do what they didn’t finish last year.”