The Yankees entered Game 4 knowing it was as must-win as a non-elimination game could be. Wednesday’s rainout meant four games in four days if the series went the distance. It meant overextending the bullpen if the starting pitching couldn’t give length. It meant needing to win three straight against the best team in baseball. It meant winning games started by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and another game on top of that. It meant needing to win Game 4.
The Yankees didn’t win Game 4. They didn’t come close. Instead, they turned in another humiliating offensive performance, a poor starting pitching effort, a bullpen meltdown and a defensive disaster. The offense left nine more runners on base, bringing their four-game total to 34. Masahiro Tanaka was only able to go five innings, giving up four runs and three earned runs. Chad Green finally couldn’t get out of a jam, allowing a three-run home run, after now having appeared in every game of the series. DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres combined for four errors, two each, to become the first right side of an infield to have four errors in a postseason game in history.
For the second straight game, the Yankees had a chance to do significant damage in the first inning and failed to. With the bases loaded against Zack Greinke and the future Hall of Famer unable to throw a strike, the Yankees were only able to plate one run on a bases-loaded walk from Brett Gardner. The Yankees finished the inning leaving the bases loaded in what has been a never-ending theme with the team not just in this series, but in every ALCS they have played in since their last World Series appearance in 2009.
In the 2010 ALCS against the Rangers, the Yankees scored six total runs in Games 2, 3, 4 and 6.
In the 2012 ALCS against the Tigers, the Yankees scored six total runs in the four-game loss.
In the 2017 ALCS against these same Astros, the Yankees scored three total runs in the four road games.
This is why my No. 1 fear for the postseason wasn’t the starting pitching (though that has been just about as bad as expected) and it wasn’t even so much Aaron Boone managing the team to losses like he did in last year’s postseason. It was the offense performing its annual October disappearing act, and my biggest fear has come true yet again.
The Yankees’ lineup is built for regular-season success. It’s built to mash No. 4 and 5 starters and bad bullpens over 162 games. But when it’s faced with elite starting pitchers and high-end relievers on a nightly basis, it looks as bad as it has for the last three games. Since Game 2, the Yankees have scored six runs in 29 innings and four runs in 18 home innings. I worried a lot all season about the team needing home-field advantage to beat the Astros, but they had home-field advantage in the series after winning Game 1 and it hasn’t mattered. Maybe there’s just no beating these Astros for these Yankees, home-field advantage or not.
The numbers are ugly in this series for nearly everyone in the lineup.
Aaron Judge is batting .235/.316/.412.
Edwin Encarnacion is batting .067/.222/.133.
Brett Gardner is batting .133/.235/.133.
Gary Sanchez is batting .118/.118/.294.
Gio Urshela is batting .133/.188/.333.
Didi Gregorius is batting .125/.125/.125.
(Giancarlo Stanton, who continues to be “available” but not play and Aaron Hicks who bats third with 10 plate appearances since August 3 were omitted.)
Aside from DJ LeMehaieu (.412/.500/.471) and Gleyber Torres (.294/.368/.706), no one is consistently contributing. While the Astros get timely hits and game-changing at-bats from different parts of their lineup each game, the Yankees are playing with a two-batter (LeMahieu and Torres), maybe two-and-a-half-batter (Judge) lineup each game. The bottom two-thirds of the lineup have been automatic outs, and the Yankees’ season might only have one game left because of it.
There will be plenty of time to talk about the Yankees’ decision not to upgrade their starting pitching through free agency or trades and going with the strategy of needing 12-plus outs from their bullpen each postseason game if they don’t win three straight and don’t advance to the World Series. For now, everything is about the offense ending its three-game slump and sending the series back to Houston.
In order to win this series, the Yankees will have to win a postseason game started by Justin Verlander, which is something the franchise has never done unless you count the weird one-inning suspended game in the 2011 ALDS, which shouldn’t be counted since the game was tied at the time of suspension. They lost Game 2 of the 2006 ALDS. They lost Game 3 of the 2011 ALDS. They lost Game 3 of the 2012 ALCS. They lost Game 2 of the 2017 ALCS. They lost Game 6 of the 2017 ALCS. They lost Game 2 of the 2019 ALCS. Then if they win a game started by Verlander for the first time ever, they will go to back to Houston where the Astros are historically good to face Jose Urquidy and/or the Astros’ bullpen in Game 6. If they’re able to also win that game, they will have to win another game in Houston against the best pitcher in the world this season in Gerrit Cole.
The Yankees had their chances to beat Verlander and the bullpen to win Game 2. They had their chances to beat Cole and win Game 3. They could have had at worst a 2-1 series lead or at best a 3-0 series lead before Thursday’s night debacle. Instead, they trailed 2-1 entering Game 4 and now trail 3-1 entering Game 5 because the Astros have capitalized on every opportunity since Game 1 and the Yankees haven’t.
It’s going to take a miracle for the Yankees to win this series. Three wins in three consecutive days against the best team in baseball with two of those wins needing to come against the two best pitchers in the American League and two of those wins needing to come on the road against the best home team in baseball.
The Yankees are on the brink of elimination and will remain there for as long as this series goes. If the Yankees play the way they have the last three games, the series won’t go past tonight.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!