The Yankees have reached the three-quarter pole, and their position in the pennant race is an unfamiliar one. Instead of leading the field, the Bronx Bombers find themselves stalking a wide field that includes a few thoroughbreds as well as a couple of dark horses. And, among all the contenders, the Yankees may be the biggest long shot of them all.
Before last night’s victory over the Red Sox, the Yankees trailed the division lead by 8 ½ games, which was the 18th time since the advent of the 162-game schedule that they have been at least that far back at the same point in the season. Unfortunately for the Bronx Bombers, when the team has been running distant after playing 75% of their games, they have rarely made a recovery. However, there are two seasons to which Yankee fans can look for a glimmer of hope.
Largest Yankees’ Deficits at 3/4-Mark, Since 1961 (162-game schedule)
Note: The Yankees won the A.L. East in 1978 and the Wild Card in 1995. The 1995 season had a 145-game schedule. Other seasons may have had more or less than 162 games for non-scheduling reasons (e.g., postponements).
In 1978, the Yankees, who were battling key injuries, struggled through a listless summer, eventually falling 14 games behind the Boston Red Sox. With the team scuffling on the field, and fighting with each other in the clubhouse, the defending champions already seemed counted out. Then, the Yankees got on a hot streak and whittled the deficit to 8 ½ after 122 games, the same position they were in this past Sunday. The good news stops there, however. In order to overtake the Red Sox, the Yankees had to play a scalding 30-10 over the final quarter, and even then, still needed a one-game playoff to complete the comeback.
1978 Yankees: Before and After (Division Race)
Do the 2013 Yankees have a similar run in them? Since bottoming out in Chicago, the team has looked impressive, winning seven of 10 and nearly doubling their offensive output in the process. But, can they sustain that level over the final 39 games? Considering the size of the deficit and quality of the teams ahead of them in the East, winning the division is probably out of the question. And yet, if the Bronx Bombers can keep winning at a reasonably similar pace, they could end up in a wild card slot.
The 1978 Yankees came together much earlier in the season and had a more well rounded team. When they trailed Boston by 8 ½ after 122 games, the team boasted a 69-53 record, which, this season, would be in contention for the best mark in the American League. The 2013 squad, however, is only five games over .500 with a run differential suggesting they are lucky to be so. That’s why the 1995 season is probably the better template for getting the Yankees in the postseason.
1995 Yankees: Before and After (Wild Card Race)
After a long postseason drought, the 1994 Yankees were coasting in the A.L. East when the strike hit. When the season was canceled, it was a bitter end to a revival in the Bronx. And, the hangover seemed to last into the following campaign. Despite a team that looked just as strong on paper in 1995, the Yankees stumbled throughout the early going, falling as much seven games under .500 in July. Then, after a hot stretch whittled the deficit to 4 ½ games, the team plummeted back under .500 and 14 ½ games back after their 109th game (1995 featured an abbreviated 145-game schedule) on August 23.
By the three-quarter mark, the 1995 Yankees had no chance to win the division, but, unlike 1978, the team had the wild card as a fall back. With one-quarter of the schedule left, the Yankees trailed the Texas Rangers by five games for the inaugural wild card position. However, despite the safety net, the team still needed to play at a torrid pace. The Bronx Bombers went 26-10 over the final quarter, and still squeaked in by only one game on the last day of the season.
The Yankees have made the postseason in every year but one since breaking their Schneid in 1995. That impressive run of success is on the line over the final 39 games of the 2013 season, and it will probably take a finish just as strong to once again eke out a wild card. Can the Bronx Bombers stage a late season comeback and complete the circle they began nearly 20 years ago? Or, will the team fall short this time, bringing a symbolic end (especially with the retirement of Mariano Rivera and possible departure of Andy Pettitte) to the dynasty that was born during the first wild card pennant race? The Bronx Bombers are heating up, but time is running out. Now, the Yankees have to hope it hasn’t passed them by already.