The New York Yankees began the season with a terrible 8-16 start, seemingly squashing their playoff chances before the season was four weeks old.
However, with 36 games left on the schedule, the Yankees sit five games back of the second Wild Card spot and six games behind in the American League East race.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi believes they have a chance to reach the postseason because of the schedule immediately ahead of them.
"I think our guys believe, because when you think about it, we're [playing a lot of games] in our division," Girardi told MLB.com. "And those are … a lot of the teams that we're chasing. … The opportunity is there."
Is there any evidence the Yankees are playing well enough to make noise over the next month-plus of games?
While the team has remained somewhat inconsistent over the subsequent 102 games, they compiled a 57-45 record in the process. That is good for the sixth-best record in the American League and eight-best in baseball during the span.
Shortening the sample sizes, the Yankees (65-61) have won five of their last six series and have a 13-9 record in August. The team's record this month is fourth-best in the AL, and fifth in baseball.
Despite recent inspired play, the Yankees have an uphill battle. As the season winds down, gaining ground in the playoff race becomes difficult when there are a handful of teams to leap in the standings.
The next nine games might make or break their faint playoff chances (3.6 percent according to FanGraphs).
The Yankees will face the Orioles (70-56) in six games and the Royals (65-61) for three. The games against the Orioles are most important of course, as they hold the second Wild Card slot.
The Yankees have split their 10 games with the Orioles this season, and took three of four games from the Royals in May.
In my estimation, the Yanks will have to go 6-3 in these nine games in order to make up at least a couple games in the standings. Even that might not be enough as the Mariners (67-59), Tigers (67-59) and Astros (66-61) also sit above New York in the standings.
The recent youth movement is a certain positive for the Yankees' future, but in the now, the team having to rely on inexperienced players down the stretch might be asking for too much.
Rookie catcher Gary Sanchez has been a marvel, with nine home runs in his first 21 games of the season, but that pace cannot be expected to continue. His rookie counterparts, right fielder Aaron Judge and IF/OF Tyler Austin have already cooled down after making immediate impacts upon their call-ups.
On the mound, the Yankees are hoping to receive positive production from rookie starters Chad Green and Luis Cessa, both of whom have had ups and downs with the big league club this season. The Yankees continue to depend on young hurlers in middle relief roles, which has been more of a detriment than a luxury for much of the season.
While the Yankees have the benefit to directly affect their standing in the race as they play a large portion of their remaining schedule against AL East counterparts (30 of 36 remaining games), they are just 19-27 against divisional opponents this season.
Further, while a big nine-game run could thrust the Yankees closer to a postseason berth, they will not have a chance to let down with 20 of 23 games left on the schedule against the AL East and the other three against the National League West leading Dodgers (71-55).
The infusion of youth has made the Yankees more exciting to watch and they are playing loose baseball, but that only goes so far.
The Yankees need the remaining veterans to contribute and the club must continue to get production from both sides of the ball as they have managed to accomplish this month. Any slide backward will quickly knock the wind out of the postseason sails and again force the team to look toward 2017 and beyond.