Before the beginning of the season, nearly everyone expected the New York Yankees to coast into the 2021 playoffs. Sports Illustrated projected the Yanks to finish with the best record in the American League. The Ringer had the Bombers second to the Los Angeles Dodgers in its 2021 preseason power ranking. At MLB.com, the Yankees were tabbed to be one of the top three teams in baseball.
Today, that preseason optimism has all but evaporated.
The Yankees are currently 41-39. They’re the fourth-place team in the AL East, where they sit nine games behind the rival Boston Red Sox. To make matters worse, the Yanks also find themselves 5.5 games back in the Wild Card race. There are three solid teams (Cleveland, Seattle, and Baltimore), that presently stand between the Yankees and the second Wild Card spot.
The more confident, relaxed portion of the fan base has argued that the Yankees will be fine, that they’ll turn the season around and make the playoffs for the fifth-straight season. On the other hand, the whistleblowers have repeatedly said that this team is broken—that a playoff birth is undoubtedly in jeopardy. Right now, it seems like the whistleblowers may be right. A look at the Yankees’ present path to the postseason reveals that things are as bleak as they’ve been in a long time.
Getting Enough Wins
In 2012, Major League Baseball expanded its playoff format to include a second Wild Card team in each league. Since then, 16 teams have qualified in the second Wild Card spot. The average number of wins for teams that finish in the second Wild Card position is 90.
For the Yankees to hit 90 wins, they will have to go 49-33 in their final 82 games of the season. That works out to a .598 winning percentage, which is certainly doable for a good baseball team. The question, however, isn’t whether or not it is possible for the Yankees play out the rest of the season at a .598 clip. The question is whether or not the Yankees are likely to do so.
In their last 140 games (80 this year and 60 last season), the Yankees are 74-66, which works out to a .529 winning percentage. The difference between a .529 team and a .598 team is significant. Over the course of a 162 game season, a .529 team will win 86 games—a .598 team will win 97.
Expecting this Yankee team to play like a 97 win team for the next three months is probably expecting too much. The reality is that this team hasn’t played at that high of a level for that length of time in roughly two years. Barring a major change in their level of play, 49 wins in 82 games will be a tall task.
The Yankees’ Playoff Odds
Disgruntled fans aren’t the only ones who think that the postseason is rapidly moving out of reach. FanGraphs gives the Yankees a 44.8% chance of qualifying for October baseball. FiveThirtyEight projects the Yankees to finish at 86-76, and gives them a 35% chance of making the playoffs. On the low end, Baseball Reference gives the Bombers just a 17.9% chance of reaching the postseason.
Do these disheartening projections mean that we should give up on the team? Of course not—it’s possible to beat the odds. The Yankees had a 99% chance of winning Wednesday night’s game in the ninth inning, but Chapman gave up a grand slam and the Los Angeles Angels won 11-8.
Nevertheless, it’s impossible to deny that things aren’t trending in the right direction. Unless the Yankees start turning things around soon, they’ll run out of time to save this season. Like Yogi Berra said, it gets late early out here. With the All-Star break just around the corner, time is becoming another serious opponent for the struggling Yankees to contend with.