Ninety or 91 games very likely gets the final Wild Card spot in the American League. Some have been saying for a few weeks that the Yankees will need to win roughly two-thirds of their games the remainder of the way.
If you believe in the historical statistics, that's exactly right.
The Yankees enter play Wednesday, August 21 with 37 games remaining. Few things are guaranteed in this world, though the Yankees would be setting themselves up very well for October baseball if they can reach either 90 or 91 victories.
That means finishing the slate with a mark of 24-13 or 25-12. Or, if you prefer percentages, that means winning roughly 65 percent or, almost precisely 67.6 percent of their remaining games. Either way, the Yankees need to win nearly two-thirds of their remaining games.
Here's a look at the last 10 years of the teams in the AL that finished in the Wild Card spot, and in either the second Wild Card spot (from 2012 only) or the spot that would have been the second Wild Card spot. The Wild Card team is listed first and wins are in parentheses:
2012: Both Wild Cards finished with 93 wins
2011: Tampa (91); Boston (90)
2010: Yankees (95); Boston (89)
2009: Boston (95); Texas (87)
2008: Boston (95); Yankees (89)*
2006: Detroit (95); Chicago (90)
2005: Boston (95); Cleveland (93)
2004: Boston (98); Oakland (91)
2003: Boston (95); Seattle (93)
*Interesting to note: If the second Wild Card were in play, the Yankees would have had it in 2008.
That comes out to an average of 90.3 wins for the team that would have had the second Wild Card over the last 10 years. Of course, this is not always reflecting the team with the fifth-best record in the AL. This is also controlling for division champs.
The Yankees play a remarkable 28 of their remaining games against division opponents. You could say that despite several obstacles in front of them, they largely hold their fate in their hands. Beat the teams in your division more often than not, and you've got a shot.
Of course, that would mean that some combination of Tampa Bay, Boston and Baltimore would have to falter somewhat down the stretch. For the Yankees, it would also help if Oakland and Texas started to lose more games than they win.
Every game is a playoff game and it's one game at a time. Each night is the Yankees' one and only game. Tonight, it's time to solve knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and time for Adam Warren to pitch a great game. It's time for the Yankee hitters to keep slugging.
For the month of August, the Yankees have the best OPS of any team in baseball. The Yankees still have a top-five pitching staff by ERA in the American League for the season, but in the month of August they have one of the worst pitching staffs in all of baseball.
Moving on to how else it’s gotten done, the Yankees' hot play does happen to coincide with Alfonso Soriano, Curtis Granderson and—wait for it—yes, Jayson Nix returning to the lineup. Oh yeah, there’s this Rodriguez fellow you also may have heard of.
Soriano, Granderson, Rodriguez and Nix's numbers for the month of August are all very strong. Nix's are a small sample size to be sure, but he's come through in big spots and gotten on base. All of those players have hit well this month for the Yankees.
In addition to taking into account the stats, I also take a contrarian view when it comes to the man that has drawn so much attention to himself these days, Alex Rodriguez. The Yankee haters have been champing at the bit to see both he and the Yankees fail.
Many writers and fans wish to see the Yankees saddled with his lousy contract, which would in turn hamstring the Yankees' efforts to improve by adding more talent in the off season. The chorus is rooting on the Yankees demise.
What this has done is greatly mask the fact that the team has rallied around this controversy, galvanizing at the right time to surge forward toward the stretch run. At a time when many ball clubs are fighting the dog days of August, the Yankees look more energetic and happy on the playing field.
There have been some huge wins and some great rallies. All three of their previous wins fall into those categories.
I believe two things have occurred, which cannot be measured, that have helped spur on the Bombers from a psychological perspective: 1) A-Rod’s return, no matter how controversial, has given this team a boost of confidence.
We all know he's a cheater but he's also (aided by chemicals) one of the greatest players of all time. My hunch is, no matter how many drugs he's put in his body, the players on the field still recognize him as an all-time great.
I believe that engenders confidence. His presence in the lineup adds depth and it's entirely possible some of these hitters are getting more pitches to hit now. 2) A-Rod has taken the pressure and stress off some players. Again, nothing that is measurable or can be proven.
However, pressure and stress affect one's performance in the workplace. Scientific studies, of many varieties, posit as much. Organizational behaviorists make a living demonstrating this. You may find this has affected you in your cubicle.
The Yankees players are likely affected by this each season in some capacity.
Yes, there's pressure on the team to win, in the sense they very well might miss the playoffs for only the second time in 19 years. But suddenly, they're coming from a "nobody believes in us" angle. The Yankees are gaining steam.
Then, here's this massive, attention-grabbing figure creating this perfect storm to take away the pressure from the other players and put it all on him. There's moments like Sunday night when Ryan Dempster's bush league beaning of A-Rod vitalized the Yankees and helped propel them to victory.
Relaxed players are going to perform better. Perhaps, well enough to win two-thirds of their remaining games and nab yet another playoff spot.