Division rivalries can be intense yet nauseating. The average baseball team plays each team in their division about 20 times a year. For the Yankees, this means half of their games come against the rival Red Sox, Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays. The surest path to a division title? Beating the teams in your division.
The Yankees struggled in division play last year. As a whole, they went 44-36. While this looks okay on paper, they had losing records against Tampa and Boston. They also struggled with the Orioles, going 12-7. (The Red Sox went 16-3 against Baltimore.) Underachieving in the division is what caused the Yankees to limp into the Wild Card game last year.
A New Year
Luckily, the Yankees are dominating the A.L. East this year. They are are fresh off taking two of three from Boston, and a 4-1 start against the Sox is more than anyone could’ve asked for. The Red Sox are completely healthy. The Yankees are anything but. Unlike last year, the Yankees are also dominating Baltimore. Since losing two of three to them during opening week, they have rattled off nine wins in a row and are now 10-2 against the Birds. The Yankees have also taken care of the Rays, winning both series against Tampa, good enough for a 4-2 start. Overall, the Yankees are 18-5 against the division (.783) as opposed to last year when they were .550 against the division.
More Reason for Optimism
While this .783 winning percentage may not be sustainable, the Yankees have set themselves up beautifully to win the division. The Yankees still haven’t played the Blue Jays yet. The Blue Jays are awful, and the Yankees should be able to go around 14-5 against them this season. They still have seven games remaining against the Orioles. Conservatively, we can estimate a 5-2 record, but they could easily run the table in those games. This puts the Yankees at around 39-12 before accounting for the rest of the Red Sox and Rays games. If the Yankees can simply play 500 ball against those two teams, they would finish with a division record of 53-25 (.679)
Built to Last
Additionally, there is ample reason to believe the Yankees could blow past my conservative projections. With all of the dominant players they have set to return from injury, the Yankees could easily go 9-4 against the Red Sox instead of playing .500. They could have similar success against the Rays as well, especially if Tyler Glasnow continues to miss extended time.
The Red Sox and Rays don’t have nearly the depth that the Yankees have, and they simply aren’t built to withstand major injuries. One major injury to J.D. Martinez, Mookie Betts or Chris Sale essentially ends the Red Sox season. On the contrary, the Yankees could lose Giancarlo Stanton for the season and still win the World Series.
It’s Not That Early
There is still a ton of baseball left to be played and a lot could happen. The Yankees could sign Dallas Keuchel tomorrow. They could lose some key contributors for the year. The Rays could make a big trade or signing. Despite their being a lot of baseball let, there has been a decent amount of baseball already played. And division wise, the Yankees have dominated the first third of the season. Red Sox and Rays fans will continue to say that it’s “still early.” At some point, they’ll have to face reality. As the great Yogi Berra once said, “It gets late early over here.”