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Down in a hole

Odds stacked against Yankees making postseason

Posted: Tuesday May 1, 2007 11:13AM; Updated: Tuesday May 1, 2007 1:21PM
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Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees have their work cut out for them if they are to make the playoffs.
Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees have their work cut out for them if they are to make the playoffs.
Bryan Yablonsky/WireImage.com
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The Milwaukee Brewers are a good team, one likely to stay afloat through the summer, but I don't know that the city of Milwaukee should be planning a parade route just yet. Championships aren't won in April. But can they be lost? You bet.

No team expected to be a contender is off to a worst start than the Yankees, who finished the month 9-14 (.391). New York can reassure itself all it wants that its horrid starting rotation will return to normal

-- if Mike Mussina comes back with better stuff than he showed before he injured his hamstring

-- if Phil Hughes is as good as advertised immediately and can hold up over the workload of a full big league season

-- if Roger Clemens leaves his hometown team in Houston and turns away a special place in posterity in Boston (retired uniform, all-time franchise win leader, Hall of Fame Sox cap, etc.)

-- if Carl Pavano decides he wants to pitch, if ... well, you get it.

The Yankees assuredly will be better and fall within the range of the 95 wins it will take for them to get into the playoffs. (The Yankees can only qualify as the AL East champion or AL wild-card winner; the past 12 such slots were claimed by teams with no fewer than 95 wins.) But the cold fact is the Yankees face overwhelming odds to get into the postseason after such a brutal start.

Firstly, good teams tend to be apparent one month into the season. Of the 88 playoff teams since 1996 (the first season with a full April schedule since the wild card format began) only 17 (or 19 percent) played losing baseball in April.

But wait. The Yankees were not just a little off their game in April, or a game or two below .500. They were .391 baseball awful. How many teams recover from that kind of terrible start to get into the postseason? Would you believe 4.8 percent? That's right. From 1996 to 2006, 62 teams played worse than .400 baseball in April. Only three of those 62 teams made the playoffs. If there is good news for New York it is that it was done twice just last year, bringing the odds up all the way from 1.3 percent.

Here are the worst Aprils by playoff teams in the wild-card era:

Rk. Team April W-L PCT.
1. 2001 A's 8-17 .320
T2. 2006 Twins 9-15 .375
T2. 2006 Padres 9-15 .375
4. 2005 Astros 9-13 .409
5. 2005 Yankees 10-13 .417

Of course, the 3-for-62 history includes many teams that never had a prayer of getting to the postseason. Nobody was expecting the 1999 Tigers to mount a charge. And New York's sub-.400 company this year includes the Rockies, Nationals and Royals. Obviously, the Yankees' postseason chances are not as poor as those of Colorado, Washington and Kansas City.

New York isn't done yet, not with 86 percent of its season still to play. And if the Yankees need to go 86-53 (.619) to get their playoff threshold 95 wins, they can take comfort in knowing that's been-there-done-that territory for them. They have played that well over 139-game stretches in 2002, '04, '05 and '06, just as recent examples.

But the six-division history at least suggests the Yankees' April cannot be easily dismissed. Either they will be one of the rare teams of this era to overcome such a poor opening month, or they will end up in October wondering if the pennant was lost in April.

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