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6/01/2007 01:39:00 PM

Wild Card: Yanks down, but not out yet

By Cliff Corcoran

On September 27, 1993 the Yankees beat Rick Sutcliffe and the Orioles 9-1 at Camden Yards in Baltimore behind a strong eight-inning outing by Scott Kamieniecki and a perfect inning of relief by Steve Howe. The Yankee lineup that night included Dion James, Danny Tartabull, Mike Stanley, Mike Gallego and Pat Kelly. That same night, the defending World Champion Toronto Blue Jays beat the Brewers 2-0 at County Stadium in Milwaukee. The Brewers, in Robin Yount's final season, would finish dead last in the American League East. The Blue Jays, meanwhile, clinched their second straight division championship with their win that night.

That was the last time that the New York Yankees were eliminated during the regular season.

The Yankees are a long way from being eliminated in 2007, but for the first time in 14 years, it seems not only possible, but likely that the Yankees will not make it to the postseason. Last year, the Atlanta Braves failed to win their division for the first time since 1990, ending the longest streak of both division titles and playoff appearances in baseball history. This year it looks as though the second-longest streaks of both kind will come to an end in the Bronx.

Two years ago, the Yankees got off to another awful start and many articles such as this one were written about the fact that the dynasty had come to an end. As it turned out, the Yankees managed to keep their streak of division titles going by virtue of a tie-breaker secured on the penultimate day of the season. On June 1, 2005 the Yankees were four games out of first place in the AL East, 2.5 games out of the wild card, and had a .529 winning percentage. Tonight, the Yankees open up a three-game series in Boston trailing the first-place Red Sox by 13.5 games. They are seven games behind the defending AL Champion Tigers in the wild card race, with six other teams filling the space in between, and have a .431 winning percentage. Yankees legend and unofficial team mascot Yogi Berra famously said, "it ain't over 'til it's over," but it's looking awfully over in the Bronx.

Yogi himself didn't see much of this in his days as Yankees catcher. In fact, he saw it just once, in 1959 when the Yankees were six games out with a .452 winning percentage on June 1 and finished the season 15 games behind the Go-Go White Sox with a .513 mark. When Berra was a Yankee coach, the 1978 Bronx Bombers famously came from 14 games back on July 20 to steal the division from the Red Sox in a one-game playoff. On June 1, 1978, however, the Yankees were three games behind Boston with a .630 winning percentage.

In a series of articles on Baseball Prospectus.com in early 2003 and again in an upcoming Baseball Prospectus book on pennant races, Dr. Rany Jazayerli has examined the importance of a team's early-season performance. The result of his research was a series of formulas that allows us to calculate a team's most likely full-season record based on its performance in its first 50 games as well as over the previous three seasons. Using Dr. Jazayerli's formulas we come up with the following for the Yankees, Red Sox, and Tigers:

Team W-L Pct.
BOS 100-62 .617
DET 89-73 .552
NYY 80-82 .497
By these methods, the Yankees can be expected to finish 20 games out in the East and nine games out in the wild card while finishing below .500 for the first time since 1992, when Buck Showalter was in his first year as Yankees manager. Pythagorean record is more optimistic, but even that measure determined by runs scored and allowed would have the Yankees finishing a solid 14 games out of first in the East and three games behind the Tigers in the Wild Card race.

If there's any hope to be had for the Yankees, who just lost Jason Giambi to the disabled list for at least a month with a tear in the plantar fascia in his left foot and announced that prized pitching prospect Phil Hughes suffered a Grade 3 ankle sprain while rehabbing his Grade 2 hamstring tear and will likely not be able to rejoin the team until at least August, it's in the examples from recent history provided by the A's, Marlins, and Astros.

In 2001, the A's came from eight games out on July 7 to win the AL Wild Card. In 2002, those same A's came from nine games behind on June 5 to win the AL West. In 2003, the eventual world champion Marlins came from 9.5 games out on June 19 to win the NL wild card. In 2005, the eventual NL champion Astros came from eight games out on June 29 and 10.5 games out on June 1 to win the NL wild card. Most significantly, none of those four teams had a winning record on June 1, with the Astros posting an especially awful .373 winning percentage over their first 51 games of the 2005 season. The Astros went 70-41 (.631) over final four months of the 2005 season to win the wild card on the very last day of the regular season by a single game over the Philadelphia Phillies. The Astros' record that year was 89-73, identical to the projected record for the Tigers above.

It's worth noting that those Astros featured the pitching tandem of Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. It seems extremely unlikely that Clemens and Pettitte could experience such a thrilling comeback twice in four years, but there remain a few lingering reasons for optimism in New York. The first of which is the arrival of Clemens, who will make his first start for the Yankees in Chicago on Monday night. That said, such a comeback by the Yankees would be historic, which only means that, whether they make the postseason or not, the fate of the Yankees will prove to be one of the biggest stories of the 2007 baseball season.


posted by SI.com | View comments |  


Posted: June 1, 2007 3:31 PM   by Anonymous
"The Yankees are a long way from being eliminated in 2006"

I'll say... they won the division in 2006.
Posted: June 2, 2007 12:13 AM   by Anonymous
The Yankees will win the wild card. They are only 6 games behind the faltering Tigers, and they are too good not to pass Detroit. See you in October.
Posted: June 2, 2007 1:08 AM   by Anonymous
We know the Yankees face an up-hill battle - isn't that painfully clear to everyone? Hasn't the media covered it sufficiently?

Enough speculation, enough analysis, enough attention. Let's just have fun with baseball - if the Yankees get their act together and make a run, talk about it then. In the end, they're playing like a very bad team and unless that changes, no speculation is needed on whether they can overcome this deficit.
This kind of hurts, since I'm a pretty big Yankees fan (check out my blog - through the profile - if you want to make sure, a majority of the posts are Yankee related) but I think the Yankees need this; To do so horribly that they are forced to rebuild.

The RedSox went through it last year and with their desperation, they managed the year they're having now thanks to some big changes (named Dice-K) and a lot of luck, (frankly, Youkilis and Lowell are hitting at a rate that they really can't sustain Okajima came out of nowhere, and Beckett suddenly found himself - so did Burnett and Penny, so I guess it just takes them a few years out of Florida to do it).

The Yankees need to fix a lot of things - finding a solid first baseman, finding 2/3 of their outfield (possibly all 3 if Matsui drops any further), fixing their DH problem, and possibly adding a new 3rd baseman and catcher (though I'm hoping they'll throw enough money at the last 2 to keep it stable enough). Their bullpen is in need of some help (or some rest, I'm not sure which, but frankly, they can't all have regressed so much for any reason other than overexertion) and they need a bench. They also need a manager who can get some hustle from the team and who won't kill the bullpen (Girardi, NOT Mattingly)

I'm hoping they get that center fielder from Japan (but I'm actually guessing he'll be in Anaheim). This leaves the Yankees with a few options: First of all, no matter what they are saying, they need to go after Texiera. They're probably waiting for him to just go to free agency, but really they should consider trading for him and seeing if he can handle New York before signing him to anything. They need to replace Roger Clemens (and Mike Mussina, if possible) with somebody (Sabathia or Zambrano come to mind, though it's probably a safer bet to just stockpile young pitchers and maybe bring up a Humberto Sanchez) and they may need to fix their closer (probably he's having some confidence issues, and talk of getting K-Rod out of Anaheim isn't helping... I'd consider just signing him to a deal, but not a super long one, in case he really is done). They need to stockpile draft picks, and get some positional help. How is their one solid position player in the minors a shortstop? That's the one position they are set at for at least a few more years (other than 2nd base). That's poor planning on Cashman's part.

I am critical of them, but it's mainly because they can do better. This year is a goner, I think - RedSox out of reach, and the Wild Card will probably be a Central Division team, so they should consider waving the white flag now and trading off their assets (namely, Damon and Abreu). Then, back to the playoffs next year.
Posted: June 2, 2007 9:53 AM   by Anonymous
The Jays won their third straight division title in 1993.
Posted: June 2, 2007 10:51 AM   by Anonymous
I love these stupid articles. IT'S JUNE!!!!!! 4 months of baseball left! Who cares what some writer thinks about any team's chances at this point of the season?!?!?!? Let the games be played and leave your not-so-bold predictions at home.
Posted: June 2, 2007 11:38 AM   by Anonymous
what are you talking about
Posted: June 2, 2007 12:30 PM   by Anonymous
yankees will win the world series. they just will
Posted: June 2, 2007 4:39 PM   by Anonymous
It says 07 in the blog. I find as a redsox fan i get more pleasure out of the yankees misfortunes then the sox winning. Sad yes but true. OH one more thing this team doesn't have don zimmer managing and sticking there best pitcher against the yanks in the bullpen just cause he didnt like him. Terry would never do that if zim had decided winning was more important then if him and bill lee got along the sox not yanks win in 78.
Posted: June 2, 2007 7:38 PM   by Anonymous
Is this writer serious...the Yanks are DONE!!!
Posted: June 2, 2007 8:04 PM   by Chloe
Theeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee Yankees Lose!!!!!!!!
Posted: June 2, 2007 8:48 PM   by Anonymous
Red Sox- 106-56
Posted: June 2, 2007 9:45 PM   by Anonymous
The first of which is the arrival of Clemens, who will make his first start for the Yankees in Chicago on Monday night.

Posted: June 3, 2007 11:57 AM   by Anonymous
sure ..... no chemistry .... don't even think of playoff .. spent all the money ... go ahead!
Posted: June 4, 2007 12:52 PM   by Anonymous
All I have to say is 1978. How many games were they back in July? 14 1/2 and ended up winning the division in a playoff with the Red Sux. 'Nuff said.
Posted: June 4, 2007 1:12 PM   by Anonymous
As a lifelong Mets fan, watching the Yankees revert to their mid eighties form has been pure pleasure.
Unlike Boston of 2006, I think the Yanks are looking at a few years (at least) in the deep freeze. Maybe George can throw some money at another bunch of overrated, one-dimensional players in the offseason- you know he'll try.
Posted: June 5, 2007 11:15 PM   by Anonymous
Three things we know about the Yankees: (1) The level of injuries they've experienced is bordering on freaky. (2) They're better than their record (Pythagorean theorem or just simple observation). (3) They're gonna add some talent.

In other words, one can reasonably predict that the Yankees will play better in the second half. The question is, will other team(s) cool off enough to let them back in the playoff race? The answer is, nobody knows, and it's foolishness to assert otherwise.
Posted: June 11, 2007 2:58 AM   by Anonymous
Look at what we know. The Yanks are a very good team; the number and severity of injuries have significantly affected their performance(and W-L record). What we may safely assume: injuries, especially to starting pitchers, should be fewer for the remainder of this season. What we don't know: can they play .650-.680 baseball for the remainder of this year, and if so, will that get them into the post-season? I hope the answers are yes. TDB Boston
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