Risky business to fall behind early

By Joe Auriemma

jeter_pena300_042909.jpgThe Yankees have done it before. This is
nothing new in the life of a Yankees fan. The team has had notoriously slow
starts in past seasons. Last season was no different, however,
unlike previous years, the hole that the team put themselves in was
just too deep of which to get out.

It’s really a risky proposition
for any team in the American League East to fall behind in a division so deep. The
Yankees and the Rays both have started this season off slowly, but they
are still within striking distance and one nice winning streak away from
forging to the top of the division once again. Some may say it’s too soon
to panic and that this is a very small sampling size of games. That may
be true, but it’s never too early to be concerned. The Yankees are only
four games behind the Blue Jays, but any extended losing streak can
increase the games back number to double digits, especially with the
way the Red Sox and Blue Jays are playing right now.

Just
looking at the last couple of seasons in the AL as a
reference, it’s very hard to win a division when you are really far
behind to start the season. To use May 1st as the first marker, last
season the Yankees were behind both division-leading Tampa Bay and the Red
Sox. Now, they were only three games back at the time of May 1st, but
they continued to play inconsistent ball, while the other teams
thrived, giving the Yankees an insurmountable season-long climb that
would end with a third-place finish. In the AL Central, the Chicago
White Sox had the lead on May 1st and eventually won the division. The
Angels started off well, had the division lead early and built a major
lead by late August, securing another AL West title.

Going back
to 2007, Boston built a 5.5 game lead on the Yankees by May 1st, and
wouldn’t you know it, they held off the Yankees to win the division. Now,
the Yankees did win the Wild Card, but they were always playing catch
up, and, in fact, the Red Sox built themselves a commanding lead in
mid-July, but even with a hot second half the Yankees could not come
back and win the AL East. The Indians and Angels had the division lead
on May 1, 2007, and wound up winning the division.

The
biggest deficit by a team on May 1st over the last three seasons that
has been overcome to win a division was the Minnesota Twins in 2006,
who came back from nine games. However, that season the Detroit
Tigers were only one and a half games back on May 1st and wound up
winning the Wild Card. The Yankees were only one game back and won the
division. Out in the west, the A’s played well in April and were a half
game back of Texas and won the division.

This is certainly not
an exact science of who will win a division and there is a lot more
baseball to be played, but if recent history has shown us anything, the
teams that play well at the beginning of the season usually have pretty
good seasons and the teams playing catch up have a difficult climb the
rest of the way through their schedule.

That old adage says you are what your record says you are, but one nice winning streak puts that old adage to bed.

1 Comment

Joe,

What you said makes sense. As a team you definitely need to finish the first month of the season with a winning record and at least be within striking distance of the top team to have a chance to come out on top.

I think the Yankees are currently in a good position in the AL East. I look at the first month of the season as a chance to fine tune the team and get the roster determined. The Yankee’s are still trying to figure out the bullpen and who belongs in what roles. Unfortunately some injuries have forced these moves, but there isn’t a team that doesn’t experience injuries.

The Rays are currently 8-14 and 7 games behind. They have quite a large hole to climb out of to get back on top of the division. This definitely helps the Yankees, but as fans we can’t underestimate the Rays. I believe the Blue Jays will start to fall in the division, they have had too many injuries to sustain their rank in the division. The other thing about the Jays is that they haven’t faced an AL East team in the month of April, while each other team has played 9 or 10 games against division rivals.

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