Here are 6 teams who could challenge the Yankees

June 25th, 2022

The Yankees are in a league of their own right now, to the point where you’re shocked when even a good team gets a game off them. The Astros, who have also been one of the best teams, nearly had them beaten on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium. Aaron Hicks then tied the game with a three-run homer, and Aaron Judge won it with a walk-off single.

Even when the Astros did get a game on Friday night, the Yankees still put two men on in the bottom of the ninth, before DJ LeMahieu grounded out as the potential winning run. The Yankees are off to one of the best starts in franchise history because they can hit for power, they can hit in the clutch, they've had lights-out starting pitching and sport almost-as-good relief pitching.

If the postseason were to start today, the Yankees would undoubtedly be odds-on favorites to not just make it back to the World Series for the first time since 2009, but to finally win the team’s 28th championship.

However -- and you can look this up -- the postseason doesn’t start today.

It could turn out to be silliness to bet against the Bombers when we finally get to October. Again: What they have done so far, to this point of the season, puts them next to the best Yankees teams of all time.

But let’s have some fun today, as we approach July 4, the unofficial halfway point of the season. If the Yankees somehow don’t get it done this time, who’s the best bet out of the teams in the pack behind them? If you could only pick six for now, which six would be on your list?

Not looking to go to WAR with anybody, pun intended. But here’s my list, at least for now:

Mets: Through Friday night’s games, they had the second-best record in the sport at 46-26, just ahead of the Dodgers (44-25). They have done this with Max Scherzer only making eight starts and Jacob deGrom making none. They haven’t had their starting catcher, James McCann, or their primary setup man for Edwin Diaz, Trevor May, for more than a month. They’re hopeful to have all of them back in July, even deGrom. Even with the Braves coming on in recent weeks, look out for Buck Showalter’s Mets if and when his entire crew is intact.

Braves: Everybody knows they got off to a slow start. They didn't have Ronald Acuña Jr. at first. They no longer had Freddie Freeman, the former beating heart of their team, even if they replaced him with Matt Olson. Then, they got Acuña back -- but now they've lost Ozzie Albies. So a lot has happened. But in June, the Braves have happened. They entered Saturday’s games at 18-4, tied with the Yankees for the best record this month. And they've made a big move on the Mets, cutting their National League East deficit roughly in half to 5 games.

Dodgers: They’re really good, because they’re always really good, even though Mookie Betts and Walker Buehler are on the shelf. Cody Bellinger, the 2019 NL Most Valuable Player, remains a mystery with a .209 batting average, and he's still down there near the bottom of Dave Roberts’ batting order. But they still come at you with Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urías and Tony Gonsolin, a breakout star at 9-0. That’s the good pitching news. The bad, besides Buehler? Craig Kimbrel, the closer they got to replace Kenley Jansen, just had a stretch that saw the opposition have 24 baserunners and score 10 earned runs in 12 innings.

Astros: They never go away. Houston has played in five straight League Championship Series, with three World Series appearances in that span, including last year. They’ve got their ace, Justin Verlander, back and dealing -- like he did against the Yankees on Friday night. And they can mash as well as anybody. For the past two nights they’ve gone toe-to-toe with the Yankees, and it’s been big fun to watch. And it gets you thinking what another Yanks-Astros American League Championship Series would look like.

Red Sox: Has Boston been helped mightily by a soft schedule, after they started 10-19? You bet they have. But it doesn’t change the fact that they are only a half-game worse than the Yankees and Braves in June at 17-4. They’re also about to finally get Chris Sale back. That said, they have to play the Jays in Toronto this week without their closer, Tanner Houck, and the exciting kid in their outfield, Jarren Duran.

Padres: The dream is for Fernando Tatis Jr. to finally return after the All-Star break if he has no further setbacks in his recovery from spring surgery on his left wrist. They’re hopeful that their other star, Manny Machado, doesn’t have to go to the injured list because of a left leg injury suffered against the Rockies on Sunday. But the Padres are hanging right there with the Dodgers. They have a terrific manager in Bob Melvin and -- wait for it -- they are pitching better than they have in years. They could be something to see the second half.

So there you have it. I know, I know: No Giants on the list, and nobody from the AL Central, even as well as the Guardians are playing. There's also no Rays, Jays, Cards or Brewers. For now. A lot has changed in a month, except with your reimagined Bronx Bombers. A lot will change over the next month. Know why? It’s baseball, that’s why.