With their win over the Orioles Wednesday the Yankees are now 11 games over .500. This isn’t the sort of thing the Yankees do early in May. For example, last season the Yankees didn’t get to 11 games over .500 until June 8th, and then gave that surge right back the next day. The team didn’t really put 11 games over .500 in its rearview mirror until early July.
Unfortunately, I can’t enjoy the Yankees’ dominant start the way I should. Normally, if my team gets off to a 19-8 start with many of its key contributors playing badly I’d be marking my calendar for the explosive winning streak due to accompany the end of Tex and A-Rod’s slumps. But this season the Yankees are off to a great start, yet find themselves in 2nd place. Sure, the Yankees are 19-8, but the Tampa Bay Rays are 20-7.
The Yankees have been getting it done on both sides of the ball. According to ESPN, the Yankees are near the top in the AL in, well, everything. The team’s slash stats are .275/.362/.455. The .817 OPS leads the junior circuit. The 144 runs scored is good for third in the AL. Heck, the Bombers are even running well. Their 22 steals are good for 5th in the AL.
The Rays, on the other hand, aren’t as good offensively as the Yankees. The team trails the Yankees in AVG, OBP, and SLG. Its .767 OPS is 6th in the AL. The Rays have been better than the Bombers at stealing bases (natch), and lead the AL in runs scored with 152, despite lower offensive averages. Their real strength is pitching.
As a team Tampa Bay leads the AL in ERA, BAA and WHIP, with marks of 2.97, .224 and 1.17, respectively. You’re going to win a lot of games when teams are only hitting .224 against you. It should come as no surprise that the Rays have the best run differential in the majors, having outscored the opposition by 70 runs. That translates to 2.69 runs a game!
The Yankees’ staff has been phenomenal itself. If not for Javier Vazquez, and certain members of the bullpen, the Yankee pitchers would be right there with Tampa. As it stands the Bombers are 3rd in ERA and 2nd in BAA and WHIP, with numbers of 3.38, .229 and 1.20, respectively.
Right now the Rays own the best record in baseball, led by the best pitching staff in the AL and a solid offense. But so far this season the common reply among Yankee fans is that the Bombers have faced a grueling schedule, while the Rays have had it easy by comparison.
The Yankees have played Anaheim and Baltimore six times each, and Boston, Chicago, Oakland, Tampa and Texas three times each. Collectively the Yankees’ opponents have a winning percentage of .472 right now. If that average is weighted against the number of times the Yankees have played each team then the Yankees opposition has had a winning percentage of .444.
Tampa has played Baltimore six times, Boston and Kansas City four times each, Chicago, the Yankees and Toronto each 3 times, Oakland twice and two games so far against Seattle. Those teams have a combined winning percentage of .468 right now. Weighting that percentage for the number of times these teams have played the Rays, it falls to .442.
Yankees fans are correct in their belief that the Rays have faced an easier schedule than the Yankees so far this season, but not by much. It may explain the slight difference between the two teams’ records so far, but I’m more inclined to blame Home Run Javy. At this juncture these two heavyweights have punched to a draw.
The real test still remains. The Yankees’ schedule is about to take a turn for the brutal. The Bombers have 17 games in 17 days against Boston, Detroit, Minnesota, the Mets and Tampa. Once the Rays end their current series against Seattle (11-15) their next 17 games feature Oakland, Anaheim, Seattle again, Cleveland, the Yankees, Houston (Houston! They get to pad their stats against stinkin’ Houston?!?!) and Boston.
During the coming stretch of games Boston is the only team the Yankees will face with a losing record. Tampa, on the other hand, only plays two teams with winning records during the same stretch. Oakland is one of them. The Bombers are the other.
Tampa hasn’t had an easier ride yet, but that’s about to change. Expect the Rays to hang around for a while.