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It's been an unpredictable year in baseball. Who would have thought, midway through June, that the Pittsburgh Pirates would have a better record than the Cleveland Indians, New York Mets, and Detroit Tigers? Who would have thought that Dontrelle Willis would be playing single-A ball? Not even the most optimistic Tampa Bay Rays fans had the team playing this well this late into the season. As crazy and unpredictable as the season has been, there's one thing that's for certain: no matter how bad the New York Yankees have struggled, they aren't out of the playoff race.
The Yanks might be six games out of first place and trailing the Rays and Oakland A's in the Wild Card race, but if last year was any indication, the Yankees place in the standings in June is not accurate. On June 16 last year, the Yankees were 34-32, 8.5 games behind the first place Boston Red Sox and behind the Tigers, A's, and Seattle Mariners in the Wild Card. The team wouldn't be over .500 for good for nearly another month (July 14th). By season's end, the team was 94-68, just two games back of the Red Sox, and won the Wild Card by six games.
This year shouldn't be any different. If anything, the team is in better shape this year than it was last year. The team has a better record, 37-31, than last year, and has been on fire recently. The team has won 7 of it's last 10 games and is finally showing the promise it had before the season began. Jason Giambi and Johnny Damon have been red hot, hitting .341 and .444 for the month respectively, after getting off to slow starts. Mike Mussina is 8-1 with a 3.33 ERA in his last ten starts. A-Rod is not killing the ball the way he normally is, but putting up .326/.411/.603 with 12 home runs and 37 RBI's isn't terrible either. Joba Chamberlain is pitching deeper into games and should be one of the team's top starters by season's end. Robinson Cano isn't exactly lighting the world on fire right now, but he is a much better player in the second half and he'll put up respectable numbers in the second half and make everyone forget his early season struggles.
The Yankees talent alone is good enough to get them into the playoffs, but the team has enough other things going for them to carry into the post season once again.
This year, the Wild Card race is much weaker than it usually is. Most of the teams that were supposed to be contenders this year have been terrible. The Indians and Tigers have struggled with injuries and poor performances by their star players. The Mariners, who some thought would win the AL West, have just been terrible as a whole. Had these teams played up to their expectations, the Yankees would be light years away from the Wild Card lead. Instead, they sit just 3.5 games behind the Rays. The biggest advantage the Yankees have is experience. The young Rays have been playing well, but it is only the middle of June and there is still a lot of baseball left to play. The Rays certainly have the talent to retain the Wild Card lead for the rest of the season, but they lack experience. Most of the team has not played in meaningful games in late August or into September. Usually by the trading deadline, the Rays have established their place at the bottom of the AL East, and are just waiting for another disappointing season to end. It is unsure how the team will play in those late season games. The fatigue might be too much for the team to handle and they start slipping. The Yankees won't have this kind of problem. The Yankees go into every season expecting to make the playoffs, and for the past 13 years, they have. The Yankees are used to playing meaningful games late in the season. Advantage: Yankees...
It seems that every year, the Yankees get off to a slow start, and ESPN asks if this year's the year the Yankees finally miss the playoffs. Every year, the Yankees start to get hot as the weather heats up and carry their momentum into the post season. Don't expect this year to be the year.