The season is 60 percent full.
That stands as Yankee optimism right now. That more than half the season remains to honor their pedigree and payroll.
But that is it.
Because the 40 percent of the schedule that has been played has been so empty. If you believe in the 2021 Yankees, it is about a lot of seasons that are not 2021. It is about those years since 1993 when they finished above .500 and — at minimum — were in playoff contention well into September (albeit not 1994 when a strike ended the season in August) no matter how perilous the picture looked.
The 2005, ’07 and ’08 club all had the identical 33-32 record after 65 games that the Yankees have now. All were at least 4 ¹/₂ games out of the wild card and further back in the AL East. The 2005 Yankees won the division, the ’07 club was the wild card and the ’08 team — Joe Girardi’s first as manager — reached 89 victories without making the postseason.
The 1995 Yankees were 30-35, yet surged to be the first AL wild card in a 144-game season. The 2016 Yankees were 31-34 and for the only time in Steinbenner ownership were sellers at the deadline, yet actually played better after dealing Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, Carlos Beltran and Ivan Nova.
But dig deeper. The 1995 Yankees obtained David Cone and rallied around getting Don Mattingly to the playoffs to have a historic season. The 2005 club received pretty much baseball miracles in Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small, plus the farm system gave that roster Robinson Cano and Chien-Ming Wang — neither of whom were viewed as an elite prospect at the time of promotion. The 2016 Yankees got a historic homer binge from Gary Sanchez after his elevation. The 2005-08 teams still were clinging to key pieces of a dynasty that had winning at the highest level in their muscle memory. The 2007 club received an MVP season from Alex Rodriguez.
Are there any hints of any of this right now? Will this club give up the prospects necessary to get a David Cone-like difference maker? Is there anyone to rally around like Mattingly? The closest baseball miracle right now is Lucas Luetge. The first foray for help from the system — Deivi Garcia, Chris Gittens and Nick Nelson — has not gone well. Brett Gardner is the championship lineage on a club that has bled a lot of leadership in recent years. Aaron Judge cannot stay healthy enough to hunt an MVP.
And this is not a one-year thing. The Yankees had the AL’s sixth-best record in the 60-game season last year. Watching them, did you think that club was going to play better if there were the usual 100 more games in front of them? These Yankees finished the weekend tied for the AL’s eighth-best record with the Mike Trout-less Angels. So even if MLB had gotten its wish rather than rejection from the Players Association to have seven teams make the playoffs in each league, the Yankees would not currently qualify.
And playoff admittance is not as liberal this season. It is back to five teams per league. So the Yankees were not just 8 ¹/₂ games behind the Rays in the AL East. They were four back of the second wild card. It is not insurmountable with that 60 percent of the season remaining. But even if the second wild card necessitates 93 wins, the Yankees will have to play .619 ball from here forward. Do you see a 60-37 run in this version of the Yankees with all their flaws on the bases, on defense and with athleticism?
The Yankees began hitting better recently — maybe it is just coincidence that it coincides with greater scrutiny of pitchers using illegal sticky substances on the ball. But once they faced a top righty starter, Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola on Sunday, the righty-laden lineup went meek again. Also the Yankee pitching is in the midst of its worst run of the season — maybe it is just coincidence that it coincides with greater scrutiny toward pitchers using illegal sticky substances on the ball.
And the Yankees now have three games in Buffalo against the Blue Jays, first in the majors in homers and third in runs per game. Toronto and especially Tampa Bay still have internal options to improve in the way that the Yankees do not — unless Hal Steinbrenner is going to let the club blow by the $210 million luxury tax threshold and/or Brian Cashman is about to become more willing to sacrifice the best of his prospect base to find outside trade answers.
So, yes, the Yankees have 60 percent of a season to right themselves and a history over the last quarter century of doing just that. But is there anything about the 40 percent of the season played so far by this defect-heavy team that makes you feel a 60-percent solution is in the future?