The Yankees managed to score only two unearned runs in Game 2 of the ALCS, lost 3-2 and are now in an 0-2 hole against the Astros.
1. Prior to Game 2, in jest, I tweeted the following:
Yankees win tonight.
Cole in Game 3.
Cortes in Game 4.
Yankees have 3-1 series lead.
Boom. That easy!
It couldn’t possibly have been more sarcastic. Obviously, nothing about this ALCS was ever going to be easy (as I have said all season long), and nothing about being down 1-0 in the series already and needing to win four of the next six games was going to be easy. The Yankees are now down 2-0 in the series and need to win four of the next five games to avoid being eliminated by the Astros for the fourth time in eight seasons.
2. Game 2 was a lot like Game 1, which means it was a lot like every game the Yankees have played in Houston in the postseason since the start of the 2017 ALCS. The Yankees lost 3-2, which was their fourth one-run loss to the in Houston in the ALCS in nine games. Add in the Game 6 loss in the 2019 ALCS and the Game 1 loss from Wednesday, and the Yankees have lost six games in Houston in the ALCS by two runs or less. The Game 2 loss dropped them to 1-8 in Houston in the ALCS.
For as much as Game 2 was like Game 1, it was even worse. Sure, the result was the same in that the Yankees lost, but the way they lost was more painful than only hitting a pair of solo home runs and striking out 17 times like they had the night before. In Game 2, the Yankees scored only two runs (which were both unearned as a result of two errors on the same play by Framber Valdez) and struck out 13 times. As a team, the Yankees are 9-for-65 with four walks, 30 strikeouts and a .138/.200/.262 slash line through two games. It’s making their .214/.289/.383 slash line from the six-game loss to the Astros in the 2019 ALCS look amazing. Every Yankees fan would sign up for a .214/.289/.383 slash line right now.
The Yankees have such an abysmal batting line because they have faced arguably the best pitcher in the world who is soon to be awarded his third Cy Young award, and the Astros’ No. 2 starter, who would be a No. 1 on nearly every other team in baseball after leading the league in innings pitched, complete games, quality starts and home runs per nine innings.
3. The Yankees were built as a boom-or-bust offense, and when there’s no boom (like there wasn’t in Game 2), and it’s a lot of bust, it looks awful. Thirty strikeouts in two games is awful. Nine straight postseason games with six or fewer hits is awful (and also the all-time record in Major League Baseball history).
The Yankees are able to reach the postseason as often as they do with this offensive strategy because they are able to beat up on the mediocre and bad teams (of which there are a lot) during the regular season, and beat up on those teams’ fourth and fifth starters and fringe-major-league middle relievers. Those pitchers aren’t part of the postseason, and when they are, like Aaron Civale was inexplicably as the starter in Game 5 for the Guardians, the Yankees beat up on him. But other than Civale, here are the pitchers the Yankees have faced in the postseason:
Cal Quantrill: 3.38 ERA in 186 1/3 innings
Trevor Stephan: 11.6 K/9
Enyel De Los Santos: 10.3 K/9
James Karinchak: 14.3 K/9
Shane Bieber: 2.88 ERA in in 200 innings
Emmanuel Clase: League-leading 42 saves and 0.729 WHIP in 72 2/3 innings
Trevor McKenzie: 2.96 ERA in 191 1/3 innings
Sam Hentges: 10.5 K/9
Eli Morgan: 0.885 WHIP in 66 2/3 innings
Justin Verlander: 1.75 ERA in 175 innings
Hector Neris: 10.9 K/9
Rafael Montero: 1.024 WHIP in 68 1/3 innings
Ryan Pressly: 12.1 K/9
Bryan Abreu: 13.1 K/9
There’s no fringe major leaguer on that list. There’s no mediocre arm on that list. It’s a list of some of the very best starters and relievers in the entire game.
Because this is the norm for postseason play, the Yankees’ boom-or-bust approach tends to be exposed more often than not. But any approach against pitchers like these is to be exposed more often than not. The difference between the Yankees’ lack of success against the Astros and the Astros’ success against the Yankees is the one thing the Yankees do better than every team during nearly every regular season: hit home runs.
Between the 2017, 2019 and 2022 ALCS, the Astros haven’t collectively hit better than the Yankees (outside of these last two games) …
… and yet, the Astros are 10-5 against the Yankees in these three series.
The difference has been timely hitting.
4. The Yankees outhit the Astros overall in the 2017 ALCS, but their slash line is propped up by the success they had in Games 3, 4 and 5 at Yankee Stadium. In that series, in Houston, the Yankees scored three totals runs in four games.
The Yankees outhit the Astros again in the 2019 ALCS, but their slash line was propped up by a 7-0 win in Game 1 (when Gleyber Torres was still good at baseball).
The Astros have out-timely hit the Yankees the majority of the time. Whether it was Alex Bregman’s three-run home run in Game 2 or the pair of solo home runs off Clarke Schmidt in Game 1. Whether it was Jose Altuve’s two-run, walk-off home run off Aroldis Chapman in Game 6 in 2019 or Yuli Gurriel’s three-run home run off Chad Green in the first inning in that same game, or the pair of three-run home runs by George Springer and Carlos Correa in Game 5 in 2019, or the pair of solo home runs by Jose Altuve and Josh Reddick in the first two innings in Game 3 in 2019, or the game-tying solo home run by Springer and the walk-off solo home run by Correa in Game 2 in 2019. The list goes on and on.
What’s the common theme on this list? The home run. The biggest, game-changing and game-winning moments in the postseason are home runs. It’s nearly impossible to string together three or four hits in an inning against the list of arms I provided, and the best odds of scoring are to get a mistake, run into one or get a little bit of luck and have one carry out.
The difference between these two teams in the ALCS isn’t limited to the Astros. In the five games the Yankees have won, it’s been the home run that got them back in a game, changed the game or won the game for them. Whether it’s Torres’ big Game 1 in 2019 or Aaron Hicks’ three-run bomb off Justin Verlander in Game 5 in 2019. When DJ LeMahieu nearly changed the 2019 series by tying the game in the ninth inning in Game 6, how did he do it? A single to right field? No. A double down the line? No. A two-run shot that is now the second-most forgotten about nearly-all-time-home run in Yankees history after Alfonso Soriano’s go-ahead solo home run off Curt Schilling in the eighth inning of Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.
5. The difference in Game 2 was that Bregman hit a ball off Luis Severino that had an expected batting average of .040 and carried out to left field for a three-run home run, and Aaron Judge hit a ball with an expected batting average of .910 that instead of giving the Yankees a one-run lead in the eighth inning, was caught at the wall for an out.
To make matters worse if you’re a Yankees fan, look at this stat:
Judge’s flyout was hit at 106.3 mph and at a 28-degree launch angle, but it only traveled 345 feet. Similarly-hit batted balls (106-107 mph exit velocity with a 27-29-degree launch angle) traveled an average of 414 feet during the regular season.
Did the MinuteMaid Park roof being open for the second time in 2022 help Bregman’s ball for a three-run home run and prevent Judge’s ball from going over the wall and giving the Yankees the lead and changing the series? Yes.
The Yankees ran into the ultimate bad luck between Bregman and Judge in Game 2, in a game in which the margin of error was extremely slim. Instead of the series being tied at 1, the Yankee are in an 0-2 hole, and the odds of them advancing to the World Series for the first time in 13 years are looking grim.
The Yankees may have not needed the opened roof to be on their side if they had done anything else at the plate all night. They couldn’t touch Valdez’s elite curveball, and seemed to take every single one of his over-the-plate, and at times middle-middle fastballs. How many times were the Yankees in an 0-1 count after taking a mid-90s fastball over the plate only to then start chasing the curveball in at the feet of the right-handed batters and low-and-away to Anthony Rizzo? It was infuriating to watch them have the same approach and make the same mistakes over and over each time through the lineup with no adjustment.
But that’s also what makes Valdez great. He’s not the No. 2 starter on the Astros because he throws get-me-over, loopy curveballs. He’s second to only Verlander on the Astros because he throws strikes, works ahead and can locate his curveball wherever he wants it. The Yankees barely made him work and the bottom four hitters of the order must have made him laugh.
6. As I have said each and every season, I’m never worried about the Yankees’ pitching in the postseason. It’s their hitting I’m always worried about. In all seven of their postseason games this year, they have gotten good to great starts from their starters, with no eggs laid and no clunkers. The pitching has been there, and it was again in Game 2 with Severino shutting down the Astros outside of Bregman’s wind-aided home run. Look at where the pitch to Bregman was.
Painted on the black. In on the hands. It was a great pitch that Bregman was able to lift and the Houston atmosphere did the rest.
7. Yes, luck was on the Astros’ side and not on the Yankees’ side in Game 2. A lot of postseason games are decided by luck, and sometimes they are decided by an inordinate amount of luck. Think about Jeffrey Maier leaning over the wall to pull in Derek Jeter’s “home run” in the 1996 ALCS, or Tino Martinez getting a second chance on a missed strike call before hitting a grand slam in the 1998 World Series, or the umpires missing Joe Mauer hitting the chalk of the left-field foul line with the bases-loaded in Game 2 of the 2009 ALDS at Yankee Stadium. All of those moments were game-changing and series-changing breaks that went the Yankees’ way.
But even if Bregman’s “lucky” home run was the difference in Game 2, no one wants to hear that from the Yankees. Not from the manager and certainly not from the players. For Aaron Boone to blame the loss on the roof being opened, saying, “The roof (being open) kinda killed us,” is embarrassing, and yet, it’s not even in the Top 20 embarrassing excuses he has made in five years as Yankees manager.
8. You know who makes excuses? Losers. In Jeter’s documentary over the summer, while reflecting on the 2001 and 2003 World Series and 2004 ALCS and commenting that he thought the Yankees “should have won” those years, he admitted he sounded like a loser by saying “should have won.” As Sean Connery’s character John Mason famously said, “Losers whine about their best. Winners go home and fuck the prom queen.”
This Yankees core is essentially a group of losers because all they have ever done together is lose. And led by a manager who has never won anything as a player or manager, he has instilled a culture that is accepting of losing and comfortable with losing. “Annie” Boone is always talking about “tomorrow” the way the Broadway character sang about it and his players have followed his act. The one time Boone has been unaccepting of losing as Yankees manager was this summer when the team nearly blew its 15 1/2-game division lead, and in showing his frustration with losing, he admitted to the media the Yankees may actually blow their astronomical division lead. (Yes, the Yankees moved on from a manager who had won three championships as a player with the team and a fourth as a manger for this loser.) Every Yankee who spoke with the media after the Game 2 loss sounded exactly like their manager because as a team they don’t know what winning looks like or sounds like. The only current Yankee to have ever won anything is Anthony Rizzo, and shockingly, he is the only Yankee to consistently produce this postseason.
9. The Yankees sound like losers blaming the roof for yet another postseason loss to the Astros, even if it helped the Astros win. The roof didn’t cause the Yankees to strike out 13 times. It didn’t cause Josh Donaldson to swing at breaking balls like he had never seen one before. It didn’t cause Boone to use his sixth different lineup, third different leadoff hitter and third different shortstop in seven games. It didn’t cause Boone to play Kyle Higashioka and then bat him seventh over a Top 50 MLB prospect and a player who had been the Yankees’ No. 5-6 hitter for the last month-plus.
The roof didn’t cause Brian Cashman to take on the nearly $50 million owed to Donaldson in order to acquire Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who neither the Twins nor Rangers wanted. It didn’t cause Boone to play Kiner-Falefa all season, and including in the last month of the season when Oswald Peraza was on the roster and outplaying Kiner-Falefa. It didn’t cause Boone to play Kiner-Falefa in the ALDS and leave Peraza off the ALDS roster, only to then have to bench Kiner-Falefa with the Yankees on the brink of elimination as he single-handedly ruined Game 3 against the Guardians. It didn’t cause Boone’s love for Kiner-Falefa and hate for Peraza to extend the ALDS to five games, forcing the Yankees to go from the ALDS and ALCS in back-to-back days with a tired team, fatigued bullpen and out-of-order rotation.
The roof helped the Astros hit a home run and prevented the Yankees from hitting one. It didn’t cause the seismic gap between the two organizations that has the Astros two wins away from going to their second straight World Series and third in six years and has the Yankees two losses away from being eliminated before the World Series for the 12th straight year and 18th time in 19 years. It didn’t cause one organization to be able to let Gerrit Cole, Springer and Correa walk and fill their voids from within their own homegrown talent pool, while the other organization trades for players like Donaldson and Kiner-Falefa to fill their lineup voids. It didn’t cause one organization to re-sign Verlander at two years and $50 million, while the other organization was only willing to give him one year and $25 million, five years after one organization was willing to take on his salary from the Tigers, while the other organization wasn’t.
10. The opened roof may have changed the result of Game 2, but it’s not the reason the Astros won 106 games and the 1-seed in the playoffs, as the Yankees stumbled for the final three months of the season and completed the worst trade deadline outcome of all time. It’s not the reason the Yankees have led the Astros for a total of six batters in nine games this season.
The Yankees needed to play their best baseball of the season and have luck on their side to beat the Astros in this series. They haven’t had the latter, but it’s the former that has them one loss away from being on the brink of elimination for the second time in less than a week.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!