I have been writing about the Yankees and home-field advantage in the postseason a lot lately because I think it’s that important. It was the difference in the 2017 ALCS and screwed up the team’s chances in 2018. Avoiding a situation in which the Yankees would have to play the first two games of the ALCS in Houston against Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole and four of the seven games of a potential series there is crucial. It has to be avoided, even if that means using pitchers other than Nestor Cortes, Luis Cessa, Cory Gearrin, Tyler Lyons, Ryan Dull and Chance Adams when there is a game to be won.
As I wrote on Wednesday, there’s certainly the chance the Astros could be upset in the ALDS or don’t reach the ALCS, and there’s also the chance the Yankees could upset the Astros in the ALCS despite not having home-field advantage. But the odds of either happening aren’t likely and aren’t in the Yankees’ favor, and the Yankees’ entire organization is based on decisions made to put the odds in their favor.
The Yankees have proven they would like to have home-field advantage, but they’re not going to go out of their way to win it, even if going out of their way only means giving a little less extra and unnecessary rest to the roster. To the Yankees, if it happens and they fall into home-field, great, and if they don’t, oh well. Somehow the organization has come to the conclusion that giving even more rest and days off to their regulars will help them be more successful in October than potentially needing to win at least one game in Houston against Verlander or Cole or Cole again or Zack Greinke. Despite their best efforts to prevent injuries in a season in which they set the all-time record for most players placed on the injured list in a single season, the Yankees still watched J.A. Happ, Edwin Encarnacion and Gary Sanchez all come away from Thursday’s doubleheader injured.
The Yankees have a right-handed heavy lineup and their only available left-handed hitters who will play in the postseason are Didi Gregorius and Brett Gardner, and neither should be hitting above seventh in the postseason lineup. That leaves the strikeout-prone Yankees extremely vulnerable in a series in which they will face the two best power starting pitchers in baseball, who also happen to be right-handed, in Verlander and Cole, and they will face them twice if the series lasts longer than four games. Already without the switch-hitting Aaron Hicks for the rest of the season and not knowing what the next few weeks will hold for the recently-injured Sanchez or the always-injured Giancarlo Stanton, and the fact the Yankees have a much inferior rotation compared to the Astros, the Yankees need every edge they can get in a potential ALCS matchup. They need every advantage they can get in a potential ALCS matchup. They need home-field advantage for a potential ALCS matchup.
The Yankees have a two-game lead over the Astros with two weeks and 14 games left in the season. (They also have a two-game lead over the Dodgers for the best record in baseball and home-field in the World Series). Home-field is theirs right now and it’s set up to be theirs as long as they don’t decide to go full-spring training on the remaining games once the division is clinched. Since the magic number for the division is down to 5, the Yankees have the opportunity to clinch as early as Sunday, which would mean if you have tickets to any of the games in the final two weeks of the season, get ready for a lot of Tyler Wade, Breyvic Valera and the endless Goof Troop of relievers the Yankees will pitch from their 40-man roster. The Yankees were already going to treat the final two weeks of September like the first two weeks of March and that was before Happ, Encarnacion and Sanchez were injured on Thursday, which will certainly scare them into increasing whatever rest they were already prepared to give to their regulars.
The Yankees remaining schedule is: three games at Toronto, three games against the Angels, three games against Toronto, two games at Tampa Bay and three games at Texas. Outside of the two games against the Rays, it’s about as easy as final 14-game schedule gets. The only easier remaining schedule you could come up with is the Astros’. The Astros remaining schedule is: three games at Kansas City, two games against Texas, three games against the Angels, two games at Seattle and four games at the Angels. The Astros won’t play a winning team in their remaining 14 games.
The Yankees have to beat the Astros by at least one game to win home-field, and a tie will go in the Astros’ favor after the Astros won the season series, thanks to a three-game sweep in Houston in April in which the Yankees blew two of the three games in the seventh and eighth inning. (It’s almost as if April games do matter. Who knew?)
I don’t think the Yankees will finish worse than .500 in their remaining games and even that seems low given their remaining opponents. But let’s say the Yankees play between .500 and undefeated baseball through the end of the season, here is what the Astros would have to do to at least tie them to win home-field.
If the Yankees truly want home-field advantage, it’s there for them to win. The Yankees should go into the postseason knowing they did everything possible to put themselves in the best position to win a championship for the first time in a decade and make the path to doing so the easiest as possible. It won’t be easy to win the American League, even if they don’t have to face the Astros to do so, but it will be that much harder if they do, and if they have to win it by winning in Houston.
The Yankees control their own home-field destiny with two weeks to go in the season. It could once again be the difference between winning the pennant or missing out on the World Series for the 10th straight season. The Yankees shouldn’t want to take that chance.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available!