Forgive me if I refuse to join the pity party that commenced after the Yankee offense failed to compensate for Randy Johnson's atrocious fourth inning yesterday, but with the Yankees having already taken the first two games of the series from the AL-leading White Sox, I can forgive them the failure to sweep. Of course, that might also have something to do with the fact that I didn't suffer through yesterday's game as I refuse to watch Jose Contreras pitch.
Still, rather than dwelling on what the Yankees did (or didn't do) yesterday, I'm more inclined to look back at what they've done over their previous forty games. Why forty? Because that is the exact extent of what I had previously dubbed (via Steven Goldman), the "punishingly difficult" portion of the Yankees' schedule.
So how'd the Bombers do against the best the league has to offer? Pretty darn well. The Yankees went 24-16 over the last forty games against the Red Sox, Angels, White Sox, Indians, Twins, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Devil Rays. That's a .600 winning percentage against six of the seven AL clubs above .500 (including all three division leaders), the fallen AL West challengers (Rangers), and the home nine's 2005 bugaboo (D-Rays).
Over that stretch, the only teams against whom the Yankees posted a losing record were the AL West leading Angels (3-4) and those pesky D-Rays (1-2). One could argue that they got fat on the collapsing Rangers (6-1), who now have the fourth worst record in the league, but emerging from that stretch of schedule with a .600 winning percentage, especially considering the fact that their starting rotation was in ruins for the bulk of that period, remains a remarkable accomplishment.
Looking to the next forty games (as that is all that remains of the regular season), there are just three .500 teams left on the Yankees schedule, the Red Sox and A's, the two teams the Yankees are chasing in the playoff hunt, and tonight's opponent, the Toronto Blue Jays.
Hanging in just five games off the A's Wild Card pace, the Blue Jays remain the most overlooked team in the American League, and the Yankees face them more times than any other team over the remainder of the 2005 season. Starting with this week's three-game series in the Bronx, the Blue Jays and Yankees play ten times over the remainder of the season, meaning these two teams will be playing each other over a full fourth of the remaining schedule.
Thus far, the Yankees are 5-3 against the Blue Jays, going 4-1 in Toronto, including a 2-1 series win a little over two weeks ago. The Blue Jays did take two of three from the Bombers in the Bronx to finish April, but they did so behind the pitching of Roy Halladay (in a fantastic first game) and against the pitching of Mike Stanton (in an awful third game), two pitchers who are unlikely to appear in the remaining ten games between these teams (Halladay having encountered numerous complications on his way back from a broken leg suffered just prior to the All-Star break).
Absent Halladay, I just don't think the Blue Jays have the pitching to beat the Yankees consistently (reliever Pete Walker got the win in the other two Blue Jays victories against the Yankees this year, both games in which the Jays scored 8 runs to outdistance the 5 and 6 spots put up by the Yankee bats). Indeed, looking at the men the Blue Jays have lined up for this series (Scott Downs, Josh Towers, Dave Bush, and Mr. Gustavo), I think the Yankees fate is in the hands of their pitching. If they can keep the Jays from dropping an eight spot on the board, I think they've got an excellent chance to make some major hay against the Jays.
Tonight, Scott Downs will be opposed by Jaret Wright, making his second start since being activated off the DL. Wright is pitching on six days of rest thanks to Thursday's off-day and the fact that Joe Torre elected to pitch Randy Johnson on normal rest yesterday, swapping him with Wright in the rotation. One hopes that decision, which went largely unnoticed, wasn't in response to Wright experiencing discomfort following his excellent start against the D-Rays a week ago. Much as I was rooting against him when Chein-Ming Wang (who continues to make progress, by the way, recently moving up to throwing batting practice in Tampa) was cruising, a healthy and effective Jaret Wright could be the difference in the Yankees' season at this point. We'll know more after tonight.