Completely baseless pronouncements are the lifeblood of ESPN commentary. At times, I think ESPN purposely hires the most ignorant and asinine broadcasters and "journalists" in the industry explicitly because they realize that we love their network most in the moments when their "experts" reveal themselves as so vulgarly stupid and incompetent that it becomes impossible to suffer them in silence. While watching television, seemingly unmolested, you suddenly scream invectives so blue they surprise even your wife. Or, while taking a leisurely stroll along the beach, innocently listening to a podcast on your headphones, you're inspired to bark incomprehensible half-syllables like a Tourette's sufferer, frightening bikini-clad passers-by.
The brazen ineptitude of the ESPN's "talent" begat one of the best sports blogs to yet grace the internet, Fire Joe Morgan, which is now being reborn as part of Deadspin. However, ESPN's greatest contribution has definitely been making sport fans more self-aware. One is less likely to blurt out an over-ambitious and/or under-developed assumption after seeing a buddy ruin his flatscreen trying to hit John Kruk with his beer.
A pervasive and irrational fondness for the Yankees and Red Sox at ESPN is, of course, nothing new, but in recent weeks they've gone googoo-gaga all over again for the Bronx Bombers. If you're a baseball junkie like me, you won't need any proof of this, but perhaps the most egregious example was Eric Karabell and Mark Simon pronouncing on Baseball Today their assurance that the Yankees would end up winning the AL East by six or more games. I've come to expect such things from their self-aggrandizing doofus of a co-host, Seth Everett, but Karabell and especially Simon are usually more tactful and deliberate in their reasoning. In this case, however, they offered nothing in the way of evidence to support this prediction. So, I have to assume that it's based on "pedigree" alone.
Ah, yes, the Yankee pedigree. I've always found the fondness for this phrase fascinating, considering the term quite literally implies a high incidence of incest.
So, let's test their hypothesis...
First of all, at no point this season have the Yankees led the Rays by more than four games. That certainly doesn't mean it can't happen, but the landscape of the first 90% of the season would have to be radically altered.
As things stand, entering tonight's contest against Texas, the Yankees have a one-game lead over the Rays in the AL East. Both the Yankees and the Rays have 21 games remaining. We should point out, there was only one instance this season when the Yankees gained as many as five games on the Rays in so short a period of time, that was in late May and early June, during a stretch when the Rays went 7-10 while the Yanks went 12-5.
At no point this season have the Rays played 21 games and done any worse than 8-13. Assuming they won't do any worse than that down the stretch (I'll explain the safeness of this assumption momentarily), for the Yankees to gain five or more games over the Rays, they will need to win, at the very least, 12 more games.
The remaining schedule makes both sides of this postulate seem far-fetched.
New York has eighteen games left against winning teams, including seven against the Rays and six against the archrival Red Sox. So far, on the season, the Yanks have gone 5-6 against Tampa and 7-5 against Boston. They also have to travel to Toronto to play a Jays team who is actually leading them in their season series (7-8). This is hardly an easy schedule. In fact, even factoring in the lowly Orioles, who the Yankees have owned (11-4), New York has just a .566 winning percentage against these teams, barely enough to get to 12 wins in 21 games.
And, to make matters worst, they will spend most of the remaining schedule on the road, playing 14 of their remaining 21 away from the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium (for the season, New York has a .567 W% on the road, .662 at home).
The Rays, on the other hand, have 13 of their remaining contests in Tampa (.623 at home, .592 on road). More importantly, the only winning team they play the rest of the way is the Yankees (as well as one remaining game in their current series with the Jays). Even when the Rays had their worst 21-game stretch of the season, if featured opponents like Boston, Chicago, San Diego, Atlanta, and Texas. Against the teams they will actually be playing down the stretch, the Rays are 27-15 (.643).
Looking at these schedules, not only does it seem highly unlikely that the Yankees will gain significant ground over the Rays, it actually looks like it would be an impressive feat if they were able to hold off the Rays and maintain their loose hold on the division. While the Yankees last ten games come against Boston (7) and Toronto (3), the Rays will be getting rich on three worst franchises in the American League: Seattle (3), Baltimore (3), and Kansas City (4).