Following the Yankees latest devastating loss on Wednesday night, which dropped them to a season-high eight games back in the AL East and four games back of the second Wild Card position, the likelihood of the team playing baseball in October appears bleak.
Entering Friday, the Yankees have a 8.0 percent chance of making the playoffs according to projections at Fangraphs.com, their lowest playoff odds of the season.
The computers might say the Yankees are a longshot to be playing baseball in October, but in reality a postseason berth for a team in the Yankees current position is not without precedent.
Though Fangraphs does not have historical postseason probabilities, its odds are an adaption of the coolstandings.com playoff odds. Fortunately we do have historical data from that website, so we can look at teams that were in a similar position to the Yankees odds-wise and that eventually made the playoffs.
In the Wild Card Era (since 1995), there have been six teams that played in the postseason despite having a less than nine percent chance to reach the playoffs in August or later – and one of the teams should be very familiar to Yankee fans.
The six teams are the 2011 Rays, 2011 Cardinals, 2009 Twins, 2004 Astros, 1999 Mets and… the 1995 Yankees. In the famous words of Lloyd Christmas: “So you are telling me there’s a chance….”
And that ’95 squad was in an even worse situation than the ’14 team. Their playoff odds were as low as 1.7 percent on August 26, when they stood at 53-58-1 after losing their eighth game in a row.
But that team never gave up. Determined to give Don Mattingly his first and only taste of postseason baseball, the Yankees went 26-7 over the final five weeks of the season to clinch the AL Wild Card on the final day of the season.
Can the 2014 Yankees do the same with Derek Jeter on the brink of retirement, and find a way to make sure they are playing in October in their captain’s final season?
How the Yankees make the playoffs
According to Fangraphs’ Playoff Odds, they will likely need at least 87 wins to make the postseason and would have to go 26-17 over their final 43 games to reach that total for the season.
That’s a .605 winning percentage, which doesn’t sound that hard, right?
It’s actually really hard for this team, which has not won more than 24 games in any 43-game span this season. In fact, the last time the Yankees won at least 26 of their final 43 games was in 2009, and we know that the current version of the Yankees is nowhere near as talented as that ’09 team.
The other factor working against this Yankees team is that they have been “lucky” to win 61 of their 119 games, given that they have actually been outscored by 35 runs this season (which is only two runs better than the Twins).
Based on those numbers, a late-season rally to make the postseason would be truly historic.
The Yankees have never reached the playoffs with a negative run differential through 119 games, and the only time they made it with as few as 61 wins at this point in the season was in 1995.
In the Wild Card Era, only one major-league team has played October baseball despite a negative run differential of at least 35 runs and no more than 61 wins through its first 119 games: the 2005 Padres, who won the NL West with 82 wins – a total that is clearly not going to win this year’s AL East.
Is the glass half-empty or half-full?
There is no doubt that the Yankees current playoff chances are razor-thin but there are two ways to look at the situation….
The good news is that other teams facing long postseason odds have recently fashioned similar comebacks to make the playoffs in the final two months of the season.
The bad news is that it appears that it will take a near-historic run over the next six weeks for the Yankees to overcome their statistical shortcomings and put themselves in the playoffs.