Just under two weeks ago, the Yankees returned from the All-Star break sitting 5.5 GB in the Wild Card race. Since then, they have gone 8-5 - a nearly 100 win pace - with series victories over the Orioles, the Giants, and the Astros (that's two division leaders, and one of the teams that they're chasing for that second wild card). And despite this, they sit 4 GB in the playoff race, and still have to leapfrog three teams (the Red Sox, Tigers, and Astros) to make up that gap. That seems more likely now than it did two weeks ago ... but their playoff odds remain low (10.5% according to Baseball Prospectus, 9.4% per FanGraphs).
Their strong play during this stretch has revolved around the performance of the pitching staff. See for yourself:
As a group, the Yankees have an MLB-best 2.27 ERA since the break - that's good! Their 3.67 FIP is a still-solid 3.67 (10th in the Majors), and most every pitcher has shown flashes of figuring something out of late. The offense has been another story entirely:
The word 'disaster' just about sums it up, as the team's 67 wRC+ ranks 27th in the Majors, and they've scored just over 3 runs per game. Two-thirds of their lineup has been nothing short of terrible in this stretch and this isn't a new occurrence for the team - they ranked 25th in wRC+ heading into the break, after all.
Much of this is small sample size noise, to be sure. It's two or three starts for the starting pitchers, a handful of appearances for the relievers, and 50ish PA for the position players. It is also, in many ways, representative of what has plagued the team all season - when they're pitching well, they don't hit. And when they're hitting well, the staff can't get outs quickly enough.
With a three-game set against the Rays separating the Yankees from the trade deadline, it is important that the front office figure out where this team actually stands. They have gained little ground in the playoff race despite their recent success, and it is difficult to count on bounce-backs from everyone - particularly those who have struggled for quite some time now. Moreover, the pitching staff has not shown that it is capable of carrying the team for an extended period of time. So while the team has been successful of late, the bigger picture means a great deal more.
All that being said, I have no idea where the team will go from here. As EJ and I discussed last night, selling only really works if there are willing buyers out there. Masahiro Tanaka and Andrew Miller may net a huge return - but they could also ostensibly be a part of a reloaded Yankees team in a year or two. Carlos Beltran and Ivan Nova are free agents after this season, but how much are they really worth? Beltran has raked, but I suspect most teams view him as a DH-only. And so despite being a proponent of selling for the right price, I realize that there is more in play than simple import/export - the bigger picture, so to speak.
Here's hoping the Yankees do, too.