After losing three of four games to the Chicago White Sox, the Yankees are 24-29 against teams that are currently .500 or better. Even worse, they are 0-8 against their archrivals, the Boston Red Sox, against whom they open a four-game series on Thursday. How can the Yankees win in October, the thinking goes, if they’re so-so against good teams now?
This actually isn’t a bad sign at all, though. In fact, it’s the mark of a champion. In recent years, winning the World Series has had nothing to do with being good against good competition. Five of the nine champions this decade posted losing regular-season records against opponents that were .500 or better, including the 2008 Phillies (43-46).
Conversely, teams that excel against tough opponents tend to flop in the postseason. Not since the 1995 Braves has the team with the best record against .500-or-better competition won the World Series that same season.
These data sets are very fickle because of all the variables included. For example, if the Twins win their next game, the Yankees will suddenly be 31-29 against “good teams” and apparently will morph into a more serious contender. This seems a bit silly and arbitrary. However, taken at face value, the numbers do show that beating good teams is not a prerequisite for a champion. The short series playoff system essentially means that everything that happened during the regular season goes out the window. Would it be nice to see the Yankees play better against winning clubs? You bet. But the key is just to get into the tournament. At that point, anything can happen.
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