With a little more than two weeks left in the regular season, the Yankees have bounced back to within one game of a Wild Card spot. Playoff probability has the Yankees at their best odds since the end of July. Despite the hot streak, Baseball Prospectus still has the team at a 15% chance of making the Wild Card seed, and Cool Standings has them at a little over 20%. But for some reason, teams with worse records actually have a better chance. To get the most accurate odds possible, probability systems look at a whole year's worth of data. They calculate the runs allowed and runs scored, turn it over to the Pythagorean expectation, and figure out who is underperforming and overperforming. The Yankees look like overperformers, but a lot of that is due to circumstances which aren't calculated by these playoff probabilities. The Yankees have been a tale of two teams this year, and the current lineup is far superior than the one they played through mid-August.
I do believe that they have better odds of making the Wild Card than 15-20%, partly due to the unaccounted changes in their lineup. Another factor is their strength of schedule. With 18 days of regular season baseball left, we can now get a good idea of the Wild Card contenders and their competition through the end of September.
|Date||Yankees Opp||W/L%||Rays Opp||W/L%||Orioles Opp||W/L%||Indians Opp||W/L%||Royals Opp||W/L%||Rangers Opp||W/L%|
|AVG W/L%||Yankees Opp||0.484||Rays Opp||0.515||Orioles Opp||0.536||Indians Opp||0.418||Royals Opp||0.496||Rangers Opp||0.495|
The Yankees have a relatively easy schedule, especially after this weekend. Once they've wrapped up their series against the Red Sox on Sunday, the they not only have a couple of days off, but they get to play three out of four series against below .500 teams. The one series where they do play a contender is the Rays, a team that still leads the Yankees in the Wild Card standings, but is quickly floundering thanks to their rough schedule.
It doesn't get much easier for the Rays going forward. Although they play the Twins this weekend, Tampa Bay then faces the hungry Orioles, Yankees, and eventually the Blue Jays. Not to mention that the Rays don't have a single off day left. The Rangers series on Monday will end up being a huge factor in the Wild Card race. Here, the two teams currently in the lead for the two Wild Card spots will face off against each other in a four game series, and teams like the Yankees, Orioles, Indians, and Royals will have a guaranteed chance to make up ground on one of them for four straight days.
The Orioles have the toughest schedule, playing a handful of games against the Red Sox and Rays, as well as two series against the Blue Jays. You're probably saying that the Red Sox won't have much fight in the final series of the year. Boston will likely have their playoff spot all wrapped up, ready to rest players, but I highly doubt that they'll bow out. Why? They could have a chance to eliminate the Orioles from the playoffs and return a favor after the 2011 Red Sox elimination.
The Indians have the easiest schedule, and assuming they don't collapse by the hands of the Twins, White Sox, and Astros, they should be the biggest competition of any Wild Card contender. Hopefully the red hot Royals will be able to shut down the Indians in their three game series on Monday.
Meanwhile, the Royals have an interesting schedule. After a series against the Tigers, the Royals have a chance to decide their own future with games against the Indians and Rangers. They could do a lot of damage to teams that are currently ahead of them, which will be followed by games against the mediocre Mariners and unfortunate White Sox.
Which finally brings us to the Rangers. By now we know that the Rangers will have to defend their Wild Card spot against contenders like the Rays and Royals, but they also have to face the Athletics and Angels, who won't go down softly. Both teams did their part in the fall of the 2012 Rangers, taking 7 of the last 10 games from Texas. We could be looking at a repeat collapse of last year.
If the Yankees can survive through the weekend, the team has a strong schedule to look forward to. Most of the teams ahead of them have difficult matchups where they play superior teams or fight against each other for the same prize. The Indians could be a real concern, but with at least one series against the Rays, the Yankees have a chance to control their own destiny.