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The Yankees are the only interesting story in the AL

After years of stolid, hyper-expensive reliability, the Yankees weren’t supposed to be good. They are, but even more surprisingly, they’re... fun?

Kansas City Royals v New York Yankees Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The title of this piece is an exaggeration, as it often is. There are interesting stories on every team in baseball: surprisingly elite players, disappointments, long-term plans, ownership machinations, and everything else possible. It's hard to be truly bored as a baseball fan, whatever your team.

But if we focus on the playoff picture, the interesting stories are few and far between. FanGraphs' playoff odds are a good way of capturing both preseason expectations and current outlooks; here's the difference for each team between their estimates shot at the playoffs before the season started, and currently.

The change in NL playoff picture

Preseason Current Change
Preseason Current Change
Giants 66.0% 9.8% -56.2%
Rockies 10.4% 66.1% 55.7%
Diamondbacks 8.2% 54.9% 46.7%
Mets 58.4% 14.5% -43.9%
Nationals 86.1% 97.2% 11.1%
Marlins 13.5% 3.1% -10.4%
Cubs 95.6% 88.7% -6.9%
Pirates 15.5% 9.5% -6.0%
Brewers 1.1% 6.5% 5.4%
Dodgers 95.2% 99.3% 4.1%
Cardinals 46.3% 48.3% 2.0%
Phillies 1.6% 0.1% -1.5%
Braves 1.9% 0.6% -1.3%
Reds 0.2% 1.2% 1.0%
Padres 0.1% 0.0% -0.1%
FanGraphs.com playoff odds

The change in AL playoff picture

Preseason Current Change
Preseason Current Change
Yankees 15.9% 72.3% 56.4%
Blue Jays 52.1% 27.6% -24.5%
Mariners 28.9% 7.3% -21.6%
Astros 78.4% 99.0% 20.6%
Angels 33.3% 15.6% -17.7%
Tigers 28.4% 15.2% -13.2%
Rangers 27.7% 14.6% -13.1%
Twins 5.1% 16.5% 11.4%
Rays 23.3% 28.3% 5.0%
Red Sox 80.3% 84.6% 4.3%
Royals 6.3% 3.1% -3.2%
Orioles 18.4% 15.4% -3.0%
Indians 92.8% 90.4% -2.4%
Athletics 8.7% 9.8% 1.1%
White Sox 0.4% 0.3% -0.1%
FanGraphs.com playoff odds

In the NL, the Giants have collapsed, and the Rockies and Diamondbacks have surged in tandem, as Devan Fink covered for us last week. There's been some scattered other movement, as well, but in the AL, there's really only been one story: the Yankees.

It is a bizarre feeling to think of the Yankees as young, scrappy underdogs, but here we are. The AL East looked likely to be competitive, with the Red Sox as clear favorites and a scramble for second behind them, leaving the Yankees at the back of the pack. Boston hasn't pulled away, nor have any of Toronto, Tampa Bay, or Baltimore achieved separation from the pack. Instead, it's been the back-of-the-pack Yankees who have moved the needle on their playoff odds. And that success has largely been the result of surprising performances from young players.

You've heard all about the 24-year-old Aaron Judge, but while they have more of a track record, Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks (each 27) aren't that much older than Judge, and have also played a huge role in the Yankees' success. Hicks, the former Minnesota Twin, is walking more than he’s striking out and hitting for more power than ever before, the kind of combination that leads to a 169 wRC+. To a lesser degree, Castro is following the same blueprint, and while his 131 wRC+ is lower, it’s still the highest of his career by a large margin. And Gary Sanchez, last year’s shocking star, is back in the lineup, and running a mortal-but-still-excellent 119 wRC+.

This is weird, not just because it's unexpected, but because the Yankees have been a lumbering, tradition-bound behemoth of a franchise for almost all of history. This has typically been a team that ran on expensive, older free agents, not homegrown youth (or imported youth, for that matter). As a result, there's a lot to like in the nimble 2017 Yankees and their unexpected success.

And thank god for that! Because if the Yankees weren’t injecting some excitement into the AL, there might not be any at all. The only other real movement in playoff odds have been the various collapses of the Blue Jays, Mariners, Angels, and Tigers. I guess those percentage points of playoff equity have to go somewhere, but better that they go to the Yankees, a team that started the season with chances that were slim at best, than to the Red Sox or Astros or some other preseason favorite.

Will this summer romance with the Yankees last? Who knows? On the one hand, they’re still run by the same people, and they still occupy the same horrible media market; odds are, they’ll throw their weight around in the free agent market as soon as possible and remind us all why we used to hate them. It’s not encouraging that a common-but-incredibly-forced comparison for Judge has been the truest, blandest Yankee himself, Derek Jeter. But the thing about youngsters like Castro, Hicks, Judge, and Sanchez (and Greg Bird, and Luis Severino) is that they can stick around for a while. Will they all be Yankees forever? No. Will they all be as good as they currently look, forever? Also no. But this core isn’t going to disappear, even when the Bombers sign a couple new eight-figure contracts, and hopefully that means the fun won’t disappear either.


Henry Druschel is the co-Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can find him on Twitter @henrydruschel.