The New York Yankees have clinched a playoff spot for the sixth straight season after a 5-4 extra-innings win over the Boston Red Sox Thursday night in the Bronx.
On another night that Aaron Judge was just waiting to crush his 61st home run of the season, it was Josh Donaldson who was the hero, driving in the game-winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning at Yankee Stadium to help New York punch its ticket to the postseason.
On July 8, the Yankees held a 61-23 record, which was the best win-loss mark in baseball by six-and-a-half games over the 54-29 Los Angeles Dodgers.
New York had six All-Stars led by presumptive AL MVP Aaron Judge, who has posted 60 home runs and 128 RBI in a contract year. His prodigious power and clutch hitting guided the Yankees to its greatest first half since 1998. Giancarlo Stanton complemented Judge's power with 24 home runs in his first 80 games.
Clay Holmes developed into a breakout star in the closer role (0.28 ERA through June 18), and Jose Trevino proved to be a very welcome surprise and addition at catcher. Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes also formed a solid one-two punch atop the rotation, with the latter player sporting the starters' best ERA (2.67).
The Yanks also caught lightning in a bottle by adding a former St. Louis Cardinals star (and ex-Texas Rangers minor leaguer) during the midseason in Matt Carpenter, who has been playing the best ball of his career in the Bronx (15 HR, 37 RBI, 1.138 OPS).
It looked as though the Yanks would cruise to the best record in baseball at the midway point of the season, and threatening the MLB regular-season record of 116 wins (1908 Chicago Cubs, 2001 Seattle Mariners) remained a possibility.
But New York has largely been disastrous ever since its 61-23 start, going 21-24 during a run that included a 9-20 stretch beginning with an 8-6 home loss to the Seattle Mariners on Aug. 2.
The offense largely went silent during the slump, including a seven-game stretch where the Yankees scored just nine runs. That also included a 1-0 loss to Seattle in 13 innings.
Injuries have hindered the team's performance at the plate (Stanton, Carpenter) and on the mound (Luis Severino, Michael King, Chad Green). Numerous hitters (e.g. Josh Donaldson, Aaron Hicks) have struggled for much of the season, and the same goes for the pitching staff of late (e.g. Jameson Taillon, Holmes).
Trade-deadline additions in starting pitcher Frankie Montas and outfielder Andrew Benintendi have also struggled out of the gate.
All of those reasons have contributed to a late-summer swoon in the Bronx, but the Yanks have a chance to make things right in October after clinching the playoff berth.