Yankees Thoughts: Astros Are Best Team in AL

Yankees finish season series against Astros with five losses in seven games

The Yankees opened their second “half” with the worst possible day imaginable: swept in a doubleheader in Houston. The Yankees’ lead over the Astros for the best record in the American League is now down to two games in the loss column.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees.

1. The only people left who don’t seem to think the 1-seed in the American League is important are the Yankees. Aaron Boone came back from the three-day All-Star break and couldn’t bring himself to play the best possible lineup in both games of the doubleheader in Houston. Giancarlo Stanton didn’t start the first game and DJ LeMahieu and Anthony Rizzo were left out of the starting lineup in the second game. The Yankees sat their 1- 2- and 4-hitters in the two most important remaining games of the regular season.

They also decided to give Domingo German his first start since July 31, 2021 in one of the two most important remaining games of the season, on the road, in Houston, against the Astros. I love John Sterling, but he’s wrong: you can predict baseball. German got lit up, allowing back-to-back home runs in the first inning, lasted only three innings and gave up on five runs on seven baserunners. It was the least surprising performance of all time, as the starting pitcher who isn’t any good, wasn’t good again, and the starting pitcher who averages nearly two home runs per nine innings allowed two in just three innings.

2. German should have been released by the Yankees in 2019 as soon as he was suspended. Instead, the Yankees have continued to roster him, even as the clubhouse wanted no part of him in spring training last year, and even as his performance has been abysmal. The Yankees couldn’t wait to get him back into the majors. They couldn’t wait to give him a start against a team they never beat in a stadium they never win at. They couldn’t wait for him to pitch them to another loss, and he did exactly that.

And yes, those two games were the two most important remaining games of the Yankees’ 70 remaining games (now 68). The Yankees entered the second “half” with a four-game lead in the loss column over the Astros, and that’s now down to two after losing 3-2 and 7-5 on Thursday.

3. As Boone was giving his postgame press conference following the second loss (a press conference in which he said he saw “some good” from German in what was his latest embarrassing evaluation), YES showed a graphic that read “Yankees never led in doubleheader.” Forget the doubleheader. The Yankees never led in any of the seven games between the two teams this season. In the two Yankees’ wins, the Yankees didn’t lead until Aaron Judge walked off the Astros twice. They never led in the entire seven games.

4. Here is a summary of the now-over season series:

Game 1: Yankees are no-hit from innings 2 through 8, and overcome three-run deficit in ninth inning to walk off.

Game 2: Yankees score one run in loss.

Game 3: Yankees are no-hit for first time in 19 years.

Game 4: Yankees are no-hit for first 6 1/3 innings, over come three-run deficit in seventh and eighth innings because Dusty Baker refuses to use his best relievers again, and Yankees walk off in 10th.

Game 5: Yankees score one run in loss.

Game 6: Yankees score two runs in loss.

Game 7: Yankees start pitcher who has thrown 1 1/3 innings since July 31, 2021, and lose.

That’s a lot of being no-hit, a lot of not scoring and a lot of losing. The Astros thoroughly own the Yankees. They own them in the regular season and they have owned them in the postseason. The only two Astros position players still on the team from their 2015 wild-card win over the Yankees are Jose Altuve and Jason Castro, and Castro is currently on the injured list and rarely ever plays. The only Astros position players still on the team from their 2017 ALCS win over the Yankees are Altuve, Castro, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel. The Astros have changed their entire roster, they have let George Springer, Gerrit Cole and Carlos Correa walk, and they still own the Yankees. That’s because they have signed the right free agents (like Michael Brantley, who I begged the Yankees to sign after 2018), and continue to fill their roster voids with capable major leaguers who become All-Stars like Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Jeremy Pena. At full strength, the Astros don’t have Isiah Kiner-Falefa or Joey Gallo in their lineup, and they aren’t wasting at-bats and money on Josh Donaldson. (Sure, Gurriel is having a down year, but he also won the batting title just last year and is making one-third of what Donaldson makes.)

5. Since the Yankees’ 2017 ALCS loss to the Astros, the Astros have moved on or traded pitchers like Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel, Mike Fiers, Collin McHugh, Joe Musgrove, Wade Miley and Zack Greinke. The only two constants have been Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers Jr., and when Verlander missed 2020 and 2021, and when McCullers Jr. missed 2021 the Astros still managed to get to the ALCS in both seasons and the World Series in 2021.

6. The only Astros starter the Yankees haven’t seen in 2022 is Jake Odorizzi, and it would take an inordinate amount of injuries for him to get a postseason start (like it did in 2021).

Here is how the Astros’ starters have fared against the Yankees in 2022:

Justin Verlander: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR

Christian Javier: 12 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 BB, 16 K, 1 HR

Luis Garcia: 10.1, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 12 K, 2 HR

Justin Verlander: 7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 1 HR

Jose Urquidy: 7 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K, 1 HR

Framber Valdez: 6 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, 7 K, 1 HR

Total: 42.1 IP, 15 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 16 BB, 41 H, 6 HR, 1.91 ERA, 0.732 WHIP

McCullers Jr, who has always pitched well against the Yankees, is nearing a return, which means at least one of these starters is going to the bullpen. Or maybe McCullers Jr. will go to the bullpen, like he did when he threw four scoreless innings to close out Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS against the Yankees, throwing only breaking balls.

7. What happens if the Astros go out and upgrade their roster like they did at the 2017 deadline when they added Verlander (because the Yankees wouldn’t take on his salary and watched him single-handedly swing the ALCS), or prior to 2018 when they added Cole (because the Yankees wouldn’t trade Clint Frazier or Miguel Andujar, eventually releasing Frazier for nothing and still won’t give Andujar everyday playing time over Aaron Hicks or Joey Gallo), or like they did in 2019 when they added Zack Greinke (and the eventual 103-win Yankees didn’t make a single move and overused their bullpen in that ALCS with Zack Britton admitting the relievers were fatigued). What happens if the Astros trade for Luis Castillo?

8. The Yankees need to do something. The right play is to give up the farm for Juan Soto, because he not only helps the Yankees now, but would help them for the next 10-plus years if extended. The other option is to be the team that trades for Castillo, not the Astros (or Dodgers).

9. As currently constructed, the Yankees won’t get past the Astros in a possible ALCS matchup. Home-field advantage wouldn’t even matter. That has been made clear through the seven games the teams played against each other. The Astros are better than the Yankees in every facet of the game, aside from the back end of the bullpen, and one half of the Yankees’ back end of the bullpen lost the first game on Thursday, and the other half didn’t even pitch. The bullpen has been the Astros’ biggest flaw since 2017, but it hasn’t stopped them from going to five straight ALCS and three of the last five World Series. Because come October, they will just move starters to the bullpen once again to supplement Ryan Pressly, Rafael Montero and Ryne Stanek.

10. The 1-seed is in serious jeopardy. The Yankees had a double-digit lead over the Astros at one point, and now it’s down to two games in the loss column. While the Yankees will spend the next two-plus months battling their division opponents, all of which are at least .500 and all of which have a chance at the postseason, the Astros will play nearly one quarter of their schedule against the A’s and Angels, who are counting down the days until their miserable seasons are over.

The Yankees had an unbelievable opportunity  to increase their odds at having home-field advantage on Thursday, and they blew it, with the days going as badly as possible. If they continue to not play the best possible lineup even once a week and continue to give extended rest to their starters and relievers and act like they have already clinched everything there is to clinch, they will continue to make it easy for the Astros to pass them.

With home-field advantage the Yankees will have a chance at representing the American League in the World Series. Without it, a Yankees-Astros ALCS is likely to play out the same way it did in 2017 and 2019.

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