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The Yankees will need a magical second half to sneak into the playoffs

The Yankees start the second half of the 2021 season tonight with a four-game set at home against the first-place Red Sox, who the Yankees trail by seven games in the loss column. In the Wild Card hunt, the team is only three games in the loss column behind the Athletics for the second spot. This series could very well make or break the team when it comes to whether they should be buyers or (modest) sellers at the trade deadline in two weeks.

Since the second Wild Card was implemented in 2012, the team in that position has won, on average, 90.75 games. In the last two normal seasons (2018-2019), the second Wild Card team won 97 and 96 games. The A’s are on pace to win 91.6 games this season. That would mean that the Yankees would have to go 46-27 to make the playoffs. That is a .630 winning percentage, a 102-win pace over a full season. Is that feasible?

Here are the Yankees’ second-half records since 2015 (excluding 2020):

Season

2nd Half Record 2nd Half Winning %

2015

39-35

0.527

2016

40-34

0.541

2017

46-30

0.605

2018

38-29

0.567

2019 46-28

0.622

In 2009, the last time the Yankees won it all, the team went 52-22 (.703) in the second half of the season. Are the 2021 Yankees as good as the 2009 Yankees? No, but the 2021 Yankees are only 3.5 games out of a Wild Card spot and have the potential to make up that ground. 

But as seen above, the Yankees have never had a winning percentage as good as .630 in recent history. The last time it happened was back in 2007 when they went 51-25, good for a .671 winning percentage. Their first half that year was actually worse than where the team is this year, as they had an even 43-43 record. So naturally, here is a comparison between the 2007 Yankees and the 2021 Yankees:

Team

Record

wRC+

OPS

ERA

FIP

WHIP

2007, 1st half

43-43

110

0.792

4.36

4.70

1.40

2021, 1st half

46-43

100

0.717

3.80

3.84

1.17

2007, 2nd half

51-25

129

0.869

4.65

4.30

1.47

Here are the league averages from both seasons (all of 2007 season, up to date for 2021 season):

Season

wRC+

OPS

ERA

FIP

WHIP

2007

96

0.758

4.47

4.47

1.41

2021

97

0.718

4.19

4.19

1.29

Obviously, you can’t exactly compare 2007 to 2021, as the game has changed. But for the purpose of this exercise, you can see that the 2021 Yankees have had better pitching, but worse offense. 

The 2007 team took a big leap forward in their offense in the second half of the year — can the 2021 team do the same? Sure, there are many flaws up and down the team, but they are mostly the same guys who have led this team to have one of the top offenses in the league the past few seasons. They are more than capable of turning it around. However, I look at this upcoming series with the Red Sox as being similar to the series from July 29-31, 2016 against the Rays: it goes badly, you sell what you can; if it goes well, you keep pushing towards a playoff spot.