Don’t look back, Yankees. Somebody is gaining on you.

Credit: Dan Hamilton, USA TODAY Sports



Verb;  The instinctual response of fans and writers to small changes in a sporting team’s fortunes, especially in regard to those of the New York Yankees.

The New York Yankees will not win the American League East.  This is not an overreaction to the events of the last week.  The team which currently sits five and a half games behind them should be favored, and Yankee fans should be worried about which member of their depleted rotation will start the AL wild card game when Toronto celebrates its first division crown since 1993.

The Blue Jays are a significantly better team than the Bronx Bombers.  This was true before they acquired Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, and it is doubly so now. The Jays’ 56-52 record demonstrates a season long streak of poor luck.  Their major league best +112 run differential calculates to a Pythagorean record of 65-43, better than both New York’s current 60-45 or the 59-46 that would be expected from a team with the Yanks’ +70 differential.

With their deadline additions, which also included LaTroy Hawkins and Mark Lowe to shore up the bullpen along with Ben Revere to start in left field, the Blue Jays grade out as a significantly better team than the one that was already outslugging the entire league.  The addition of Price to the top of a much maligned rotation bolsters a group that currently ranks 19th in starter ERA (the Yankees underachieving group hasn’t drawn as much ire, but sits at 23rd).  The new look staff will enjoy the defensive upgrade that Tulowitzki represents over Jose Reyes, with a 12-run swing toward the positive side now patrolling shortstop.  This is a Blue Jays team that will not only score more runs than it has to this point, but should surrender far fewer as well.

With all that said, the Yankees still should win the division.  The Yankees are not a bad team, but rather a pretty damn good one.  And with 5.5 games separating the two teams, the 54 games the Jays have remaining don’t offer a lot of room for catching up.  FanGraphs’ playoff odds published after both teams won on Tuesday bear that out, giving New York a 77.4% chance at winning the East.  Toronto sits at a much less robust 18.2%, with the Jays slotted as the favorite for a wild card spot.

But should does not equal will.  These teams meet another nine times this year, giving Toronto plenty of opportunities to tighten the race quickly.  And while small samples should always be regarded with suspicion, the Jays have posted a 6-1 record since acquiring the game’s best shortstop in Tulowitzki, including winning 3 of 4 from the Royals, owners of the AL’s best record.  Price’s debut with the club lived up to its hype as well; he fired eight innings of one-run ball against Minnesota on Monday.

The Blue Jays are for real.  Their deficit will be a tough one to make up, as any team trailing by that margin this late in the season faces an uphill climb.  But as the Yankees look back at those behind them in the division race, there’s one that now has everything they need to beat them to the summit.  Worrying about that is no overreaction.


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