NEW YORK -- Before the 2015 season started, in one of my least favorite chores on this job, I was asked (ordered?) to predict how many games the New York Yankees would win and whether they would make the playoffs.
If memory serves me correctly -- because trust me, stories like that go out of my head virtually before I've finished writing them -- I predicted 87 wins and a wild-card berth, followed by a probable rapid departure from October.
Now that we are halfway through the season, I am proud to report that my 87 wins is looking pretty good. (Actually, I’m now revising it upwards to 88.)
But my guess that the Yankees would sneak into a wild-card spot, and probably the second wild card at that, looks way off base.
Now, with less than half a season to play, I’m thinking the Yankees have a very good chance to win the AL East.
And if they do that, they have a very good chance to go to the World Series, and maybe even to a parade up Broadway.
This is based in part on some mathematical calculations, which I will share a bit later, as well as two totally subjective observations.
The first is that the AL East basically stinks, and 88 wins will probably be enough to take the top spot.
The second is that as long as the Yankees' bullpen holds up, they appear to be uniquely designed for playoff baseball.
Let's start with the numbers. Of the 74 games remaining, the Yankees play 40 of them at home, where they have played very well. They also play 38 of them against AL East teams, who they have played well against. They certainly could improve their record on the road, but since there are only 34 road games left, and only one trip as far away as the Central Time Zone, it might not be that important.
To this point, the Yankees (48-40) have played .545 ball. Assuming they play to the same level the rest of the way, that gives them a 40-34 second half and a final record of 88-74.
Let’s take it further. The Yankees have played .610 ball at home. Assuming a comparable level of performance, that would give them 24 wins out of their remaining 40 home games. And applying their .489 winning percentage on the road, that adds another 17 wins. That adds up to 41 more, or 89 overall.
Of course, this does not factor in the possibilities of injury, second-half underperformance, a prolonged hot or cold streak by the Yankees or a similar surge or nosedive by the other teams in their division.
But since baseball is a game in which numbers are remarkably consistent over long periods of time, 88-90 wins seems like a reasonable expectation. And that probably lands them atop the AL East on Oct. 4.
In fact, right now Fangraphs.com pegs the Yankees' chances of winning the AL East at 63.5 percent, far higher than any other team in the division, and their overall chances of making the playoffs at 78.6 percent.
Now, here’s the good part: The same website puts the Yankees' chances of getting to the World Series at 11.9 percent, the highest in the AL (the Angels are second at 8.7 percent and the defending AL champion Kansas City Royals a distant third at 5.6 percent).
The Vegas wiseguys are less convinced; according to Bovada.lv, the Yankees' odds of reaching the World Series have improved from 22/1 to 16/1.
But percentages aside, the Yankees have many of the qualities you look for in a successful playoff team. Their run differential is +26 (although you should take that with a large grain of salt; the Oakland Athletics' run differential is +44, and they are nine games below .500).
They can score runs (409 so far, second in the AL to the Toronto Blue Jays), they can hit the ball out of the park (a league-best 116 home runs) and their team OPS is .748, third best in the AL.
And they have a lockdown bullpen, which is exactly what you need to win playoff games, which are generally close and often low-scoring.
The age of the roster is also a concern. The Yankees, of course, are the oldest team in the league, with an average age of 31.5 among their position players, about two years older than the next oldest team. That raises the possibility of fatigue and injury striking down some of their most dangerous hitters, notably Alex Rodriguez (40 on July 27) and Mark Teixeira, who turned 35 in April.
There’s also some inexperience on the roster, notably in Didi Gregorius, who is really playing in his first season as a full-time big-league shortstop, and Robert Refsnyder, who -- assuming he sticks after his two-day pre-All-Star break audition -- will have less than a half season of major-league experience by October. A shaky double-play combination will not help the Yankees' chances of winning tight games in the postseason.
Of course, there is also the very real possibility that the Yankees, as currently constituted, will look quite different in a couple of weeks; it is very rare that GM Brian Cashman stands pat at the trade deadline, and he isn't likely to this year, either.
It’s highly improbable that any of the “big names" are headed to the Bronx; I seriously doubt the Yankees would take on the $96 million owed to Cole Hamels, or would part with any of their top prospects for a rental deal on, say, Johnny Cueto. And the emergence of Refsnyder probably renders Ben Zobrist superfluous.
As the manager likes to say, the bottom line is that the numbers are in the Yankees' favor. So is the weakness of their division. With a little tinkering, they seem to have the parts to win the AL East. And if they get that far, anything can happen.
Maybe even something great.