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Can Yankees fend off Rays, Blue Jays to win AL East title?

New York has struggled in the second half of the season but still leads the division. Can the Yanks hold off Tampa Bay and/or Toronto?

Andrew Benintendi #18 of the New York Yankees celebrates a home run with Aaron Judge #99 in the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 30, 2022 in Anaheim, California. Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It would have been certifiably insane to entertain this question less than two months ago, but here we are.

On July 9, the New York Yankees beat the Red Sox while both the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays lost in extra innings. That gave New York a 15.5-game lead over Tampa Bay in the AL East while the Blue Jays were sitting in fourth place, 16.5 games back.

From there, it’s not like the Rays or Jays turned into world-beaters. Through Friday’s action, the Rays have gone 28-19 while Toronto has posted a 26-19 record. Conversely, the Yankees have utterly collapsed. Their 18-30 mark since July 9 is the second-worst record in baseball.

This has opened the door for the Rays or Jays to be the subject of an incredible comeback in the AL East. Can they pull it off, or will the Yanks hang on?

MLB playoff picture: AL East

Standings overview

Yankees: 79-53
Rays: 73-57, five games back
Blue Jays: 71-59, seven games back

Schedule breakdown

The Yankees have shown recently that they can lose to just about anyone — they recently dropped four of six games out west against the Athletics and Angels. Every opponent looks like a difficult task right now. And their final month does have its fair share of tough foes. Entering Saturday’s game in Tampa Bay, the Yankees have five more games against the Rays, three against the Blue Jays, three versus the surging Orioles, and a combined six games against two other playoff hopefuls, the Twins and Brewers.

Based on opponent win percentage, the Rays have the toughest remaining schedule of any American League team. That’s largely because 11 of their final 32 games are against the Yanks and Astros. They will also see the Jays nine times and go on the road to face the AL Central-leading Guardians for three.

The Jays have the easiest road of the three combatants, although their 10 upcoming games against the Orioles look much different now on paper than they did just a couple of months ago. They will face the Rays eight times and go to the Bronx for a three-game set near the end of the month.

AL East division odds

Yankees: -1400
Rays: +1000
Blue Jays: +1500

Prediction

Remember when we thought the Yankees might challenge MLB’s single-season wins record? Seems like a lifetime ago. After going 49-16 in their first 65 games, the Yankees are 30-37 since. Their once-formidable offense has averaged just 2.9 runs over their previous 22 games. There are so many more numbers to emphasize their plight, but in short, the Yankees are terrible right now and have been for more than half the season.

And they won’t get any sympathy from the Rays, who had as many as 17 players on the injured list at one point this year. That includes star shortstop Wander Franco, who hasn’t played since that aforementioned July 9 game.

The Blue Jays make it tough to believe in them because, with all of their talent, they have been maddeningly inconsistent. That was on display no better than last weekend when they were swept at home by the Angels.

However, the Rays are a real threat in this division now, and they are only getting healthier. Meanwhile, the Yankees are dealing with a sudden rash of injuries — outfielder Andrew Benintendi left Friday’s game with a wrist problem — along with their offense’s extended drought. While writing this article, the Yankees’ odds to win the AL East dropped from -1600, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. The Rays moved up from +1600. Ultimately, the Yankees will probably find a way to cling to a division title here. But considering recent history and the value available, betting on the Rays at 10-1 right now looks like a worthwhile chance to take.