Fast start puts 2018 Yankees among storied franchise squads
The only thing that’s been able to slow the Yankees avalanche has been the weather and the schedule-maker. Two rainouts sandwiched between two scheduled off days mean that when the Yankees bring their 28-12 record and their .700 winning percentage to Kansas City’s Kauffman Stadium this weekend, they will do so having played exactly 5 ½ innings in four days.
Which means they haven’t been able to add to their hot start. Still, a fraction shy of the one-quarter mark of the season does hint that these Yankees already belong in a rarefied pantheon in franchise history — which, given this franchise’s history, is really saying something about just how rarefied that is.
And what’s most amazing about their 28-12 start — beyond the fact that it’s tied for the fifth-best 40-game start in team history, beyond the fact that of the previous 14 times the Yankees started 28-12 or better they won the World Series nine times, the AL pennant three, finished first in a strike-shortened season and only once missed postseason (surely you remember the heartbreak of 1910) — is who isn’t on the list.
The fabled ’27 Murderers’ Row Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, the original Bronx Bombers? Not on the list (they creaked out of the gate 26-14 on the way to 110-44).
The powerful ’61 Yankees of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, who seemed to set various home-run records every couple of days? Not on the list (they were a pedestrian 23-17 after 40, sitting in fourth place, before managing to eke out a 109-55 mark).
The ’98 Yankees are on the list with the second-best mark of 31-9 after 40, which makes sense because it seemed that every way you sliced that season into quadrants, they were 31-9 and playing at a .770 clip (although they settled for 114 wins and a mere .703 winning percentage).
This, of course, is one of the fascinating and fun things about a team that has such a vast supply of history, so much of it entwined in the very fabric of the game itself. When you study the list of Yankees teams that have gotten off to .700-or-better starts, there isn’t a joke or a fluke or a slouch in the bunch — which speaks to what you should expect from the ’18 Yankees across the next five months.
“We expect a lot of ourselves,” CC Sabathia said during the Yankees’ interminable non-series in Washington this week. “We feed off one another and we are playing so well that we expect to win every day. And it’s an awful lot of fun to go to the office every day when you’re playing that well.”
On top of that list are two teams of note. First was the ’28 Yankees, still riding the crest of the previous year’s bashers, who started 33-7 and ended 101-53 and crushed the Cardinals four straight games in the World Series. And though the 1939 Yankees aren’t often listed alongside the ’27, ’61 and ’98 teams when the best of the best is discussed, of all the terrific Yankees teams that have come before, this is the one that hearkens closest to what the ’18 Yankees can be.
That team scored 967 runs. It allowed only 556. Those are numbers that suggest the ’39 team — which endured the trauma of Lou Gehrig’s self-benching, his deadly diagnosis and his retirement, but also won the AL by 17 games and swept the Reds in the World Series — actually underachieved because that’s a run-differential that should have yielded a staggering 111-40 record.
It also means the average score that year was Yankees 6.4, Opponent 3.7.
(Which also sounds like the likely scores of at least two of the games against the scuffling Royals this weekend. Conservatively.)
And it was that team that first inspired the time-honored baseball battle cry: “BREAK UP THE YANKEES!”
Now, look: History guarantees nothing. Forty games guarantee nothing. There’s still a lot of season to be played, and more than a few teams who will be reluctant to concede to these waves of history.
But history certainly suggests something. And since 1910 — when the Yankees of Roxey Roach and Birdie Cree and Hippo Vaughn couldn’t sustain their 28-12 start and wound up finishing 14 ½ games behind Connie Mack’s Philly A’s in second place — whenever a Yankees team has started this strong, it’s finished even stronger.
As if you weren’t peaking ahead toward October already …
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