‘Nothing like playing in the AL East’ – but wouldn’t an easy route to the playoffs be nice?

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NEW YORK – Aaron Boone let out a small laugh.

Life as Yankees manager often meant answering hard questions, questions with no answers, questions with answers that would lead to more questions, questions with answers he was not willing or able to make public. It's kind of funny, then, to be asked — in a roundabout — whether he'd want his last-place team to be currently in first place.

“I don't think so,” he said on Friday. “Especially now there's nothing like playing in the AL East.”

Granted, that wasn't quite how the question was phrased. The Yankees are in last place because their starting rotation has been destroyed by injuries, because the battered lineup is filled with offensive voices, because Aaron Judge can only come to the plate once every nine at-bats, because Gerrit Cole can only make one home run every time. Can pitch times. Five days – and because they play in the American League East, baseball's toughest division.

Wouldn't an easy route to the top be better?

In the National League East, National League Central, National League West or American League West, the Yankees' .550 winning percentage would place them in second place. If they played in the notably weaker American League Central, the Yankees would be in first place. Here, though, in the division that basically invented a rivalry built on mutual excellence, it leaves them dead last, seeing what could be the best division in MLB history.

“I mean, it's good every year,” Boone said, “but I definitely feel like this is my chance to be the best, top to bottom.”

“I really like the AL East. I mean, look at the Orioles from two years ago now,” Yankees pitcher Ryan Weber said. “They're in second place. We're in last place — it doesn't feel like it.”

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Webber, a veteran reliever who bounced between Triple-A and the majors, was called up for his second stint with New York just before this weekend's series against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“It also says something about ,” he said of the high level of difficulty this split provides. “If AL East teams are willing to take me and throw me into the AL East fire, I'll take it and be sure.”

ten days ago, Sarah Langs ponders whether this current iteration of the AL East is really the best division ever Sometimes, At the time, the five teams had a combined winning percentage of .623; It is now .620, which is still significantly higher than the current full-season record of .566 set by the 2002 AL West, when there were only four teams in each division.

Langs explained how the newly balanced schedule has allowed AL East teams to flourish. With fewer between them in which a team has to lose, they are able to defeat weaker divisions around the league. if anything, before United NationsThe balanced schedule was hiding just how good these five teams could be.

“I mean, the AL East is stacked,” Yankees ace Cole said. “It's piled up for my entire career and more so in the last five or six years.”

Granted, the season is still young. Conventional wisdom advises against reading too much into any particular performance before Memorial Day, and recent years have shown how much can after the deadline and stretch of the trade. But the success so far is not a fluke. FanGraphs projects all five teams — Yankees, Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox — to finish above 500, The AL East is the only division in which every team has at least a 2% chance of winning the division. Even the team that is projected to finish last (Baltimore) has more than a 30% chance of making the playoffs.

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But at least one team is guaranteed to be disappointed. An expanded postseason field with three wild cards means up to four teams from any one division can enter. The worst team in the AL Central is better than the best team in the AL Central – someone from the East stuck at home watching a potentially inferior Central division winner ride into October's crapshoot.

And so, you have to wonder, would Boone and the Yankees choose to play in an easier division?

Boone said, “It's always fun for great athletes and great competitors to play against the best and know that if you're going to have success, you have to play really well, not just on any given day but sustainably throughout the year.” ” , “Maybe there are days where you just want to take it easy. But in the end, as a competitor, you want to play your best.”

“We like competition,” said Osvaldo Cabrera. “We are the New York Yankees.”

“I think any player who wears this uniform and chooses to play here embraces that type of challenge,” Cole said. “It at least gives you a good barometer of where you are because you're always facing the best, and you're always getting the best from the other club.”

Yankees would say that, wouldn't they?

This week, he's had ample opportunity to measure himself against the best of the best, including a seven-game 10-game streak against the Rays, who started the season 13-0 and still look unbeaten but invincible. Four of the first five matches have been decided by one run. In Tampa, to meet fan demand, the team opened the Upper Deck in the regular season for the first time since 2018. In the Bronx, a sold-out game in mid-May had all the tension of October.

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Ultimately, it may determine who will be there, and in this division, no one is ever comfortable.

Not even Rays manager Kevin Cash. His team spent the first quarter of the season at the top of every leaderboard. But facing the prospect of another 4.5 months in the AL East, he didn't hesitate to say that he would prefer to be in an easier division.

“Hell, yes,” he said. “Yeah, I would. But we're not, so we have to keep working it out.”