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It's Amazing That the Yankees Are This Good

Decimated by injuries to All-Stars like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, it's remarkable that New York appears headed for a 100-win season.

by Rachael McDaniel
Aug 23 2018, 4:03pm

Photo by Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankees are looking a little decrepit lately. They split a mini two-game set against Derek Jeter's gutted Marlins, but that victory was not the kind of win a juggernaut is supposed to have versus a team with a winning percentage under .400. It took the Yankees until the 12th inning of that first game on Tuesday to take a precarious 2-1 lead, and the fact that they won at all was more a testament to the Marlins' remarkable ability to squander scoring chances than due to any show of dominance on New York's part. In the bottom of the ninth, the Marlins loaded the bases with one out against Chad Green; in the bottom of the 11th, they loaded the bases with nobody out against A.J. Cole. The Yankees managed to wriggle out unscathed both times, perhaps undeservingly.

But not only was the bullpen cheating fate, the game should have been decided in the Yankees' favor long before it got to that point. The lineup went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position, leaving 12 men on base. Four different Yankee hitters left runners in scoring position with two out, including the floundering Greg Bird, who stranded three on his own. So while the Yankees came away with the win, it was the kind of win that makes you feel more concerned than anything else. And, sure enough, the next day, which ended in a 9-3 loss, was ugly through and through. Starter Lance Lynn imploded in a five-run bottom of the sixth, the offense failed to capitalize on opportunities handed to them, the bullpen was leaky, and the defense made three errors.

The Yankees, expected by many to be neck-and-neck with the Red Sox for the division lead down the stretch, have been playing a lot of this frustrating variety of baseball lately. While Boston, until recently, appeared undefeatable, New York has look staggered. What was once a two-game division lead has turned into a nine-game deficit, and with the irrepressible surge of the Athletics out west, even the Yankees' hold on the first wild-card spot has become a little more tenuous.

The most amazing thing about the Yankees over the past few months, though, is not how poorly they've played, or how much they've failed to keep pace with the Red Sox, or how many opportunities they've wasted. It's that they’ve played as well as they have. They've been frustrating, to be sure. Players expected to perform have failed to live up to expectations. Their lineup and rotation have been decimated by an endlessly recurrent tide of injuries. And yet, they are sitting at 79-47 going into an off day before juicy matchups to close out August against the Orioles, White Sox, and Tigers, with a 100-win season still easily within their grasp.

Let's roll the clock back to before everyone was talking about what a trainwreck the Yankees are—back to two months ago, when they had been playing at full steam ahead, and had claimed the division lead in spite of their own mediocre start to the season and the Red Sox's historically good start to theirs. On June 21, the Yankees' odds of winning the AL East title were at their peak, sitting at 79.1 percent, according to FanGraphs' projections. At 50-22, they'd won the same number of games as the Red Sox. They were coming off a four-game sweep of the contending Seattle Mariners, capped off by a 4-3 victory in a Luis Severino-James Paxton showdown. Things were looking pretty bright.

Since that day, the Yankees have played 54 games. Seventeen of those games—almost a third—have been against teams either in first place (Boston, Cleveland, Atlanta) or near it (Philadelphia). Over those 17 games, the Yankees went 8-9, winning three of the five series and splitting one, with four losses coming consecutively in a sweep at the hands of the Red Sox earlier this month. They've played nine games against the Tampa Bay Rays, apparently their Kryptonite, in which they are 2-7. That leaves 28 other games which they've gone 19-9 in, bringing their overall record to 29-25. Maybe that isn't the pace you want out of a championship team, but a .537 winning percentage is still respectable. If the Yankees end the season having gone .537 since June 21, they will have won 98 games.

With that in mind, then, let us consider some of what the Yankees have lost over that 54-game stretch. Aaron Judge has missed 25 games and counting due to a chip fracture in his wrist. Gary Sanchez has missed 47 games and counting over two DL stints for groin strains. Gleyber Torres missed 15 games in July with a hip strain. Clint Frazier is still sidelined with concussion-related migraines. CC Sabathia missed his last start due to knee inflammation, while J.A. Happ missed a start with hand, foot and mouth disease. Didi Gregorius was put on the DL this week with a heel bruise, followed by Aroldis Chapman being put on the DL with the knee tendinitis that caused him to miss games earlier this season.

The injuries keep mounting for New York. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

This isn't even taking into account the recent struggles of Severino, who's pitched into the sixth inning only twice in his last eight starts, or the injuries that the Yankees sustained earlier in the season—like the loss of Jordan Montgomery to Tommy John, or the month Masahiro Tanaka missed with a hamstring strain, or the multiple months Bird missed after bone spur surgery. There are other teams with DLs that are currently lengthier than the Yankees' right now, but there are few whose ranks are stacked with more impactful players. Judge and Sanchez alone combined for 12.6 WAR last season, and Didi Gregorius has been one of the top five shortstops in baseball this year. That's a huge amount of power to have disappear from your lineup, let alone to have it replaced by Kyle Higashioka.

When Pedro Martinez tweeted Wednesday night that these Yankees weren't the same as the ones who'd faced the Red Sox earlier this season he was actually right, though perhaps not in the sense he meant. The Yankees taking the field today are a severely diminished version of themselves. No wonder they've been so frustrating to watch. It's incredible that the Red Sox—a team that might break the regular-season win record, and a team getting MVP-caliber seasons from two different position players and a Cy Young-caliber season from its ace—still have a division lead that's only in the single digits.

Going down the stretch, the Yankees have the second-weakest strength of schedule of any team in baseball at just .470. Sabathia is scheduled to return this week, and Sanchez starts his minor-league rehab assignment on Thursday. And though the timeline for his return is still uncertain, each day that passes is a day that brings the Yankees closer to getting Judge back. The time to unseat the Sox may have passed, but in spite of everything, this disastrously injury-stricken Yankees team remains 32 games above .500, all but guaranteed a spot in the postseason as long as they can tread. I'd call that something of a success, really.

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports US.