In the spirit of Halloween, I thought it would be interesting to touch upon the biggest fear of the New York Yankees: facing Houston in the playoffs. The Yankees boast a star-studded lineup with the potential league MVP and now all-time leading American League home run hitter, Aaron Judge. After Judge comes a dangerous batting order heating up behind him, led by Giancarlo Stanton. Adding in the red-hot Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes Jr. on the mound, the Bronx Bombers thought they had everything they needed to put number twenty-eight on the shelf. Despite a dreadful middle and end to the season record-wise, the Yankees cashed in off their hot start to the MLB season and found themselves with an AL East title, the second seed, and a first-round bye in the AL bracket. Although this is an Astros defeat Yankees article, I feel there is more that needs to be touched upon before we explore how the Astros won the ALCS. Game one of the ALDS ended 4-2 Yankees over Guardians. The Bronx is bustling, and the country is starting to fear a twenty-eighth Yankees championship on the horizon. Game 2 tells a different story and would be the tale of the tape for the Yankees’ demise in the ALCS vs. Houston as well. My method for referring back to the ALDS vs. Cleveland is quite simple. Game 2 vs. the Guardians was a loss in extra innings for New York. The reason is an elite pitcher in Cleveland’s Shane Bieber, coming from the bullpen and shutting down the Yankees’ power-hitting lineup. This leads to chances for the opposition, whether it be Clevland or Houston, to light up the scoreboard and cripple the Yankees’ hope for any sort of comeback. Transitioning to the ALCS, the Astros took full advantage of this strategy. The Astros had earned the first seed in the AL bracket and would have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They made quick work of Seattle in a clean three-game sweep. And had time to rest and prepare for the winner of Game 5 between the Guardians and the Yankees. Due to this ample rest time, Houston was able to start the always-reliable Justin Verlander, a formidable (and common) foe of the Yankees and a veteran Cy Young winner. Despite his age, he is always a force to be reckoned with. Verlander’s skill and veteran presence truly displayed itself in Game 1 of the ALCS: through 6 innings, the 39-year-old threw 103 pitches and only let up three hits and one run to Harrison Bader off a solo shot to left field. After Verlander was pulled, the cleanup crew came through on the mound, letting up just one more run, eventually sending out closer Ryan Pressly for a one-two-three inning to stall the Yankees’ comeback and win the game for Houston 4-2. I could go into detail for all four games of the sweep on how the Houston pitchers bested the Yankees hitters, leading to an already electric Astros lineup getting way ahead on the board. Now, you can give credit where credit is due to the likes of Verlander and Bregman for both having an explosive series against the Yankees, but there can also be blame to go around on the losing side. For starters, you would expect the league MVP to be great in the postseason as well as the regular season. Throughout the ALDS and ALCS, Aaron Judge only had two home runs through the span of those nine games. Then you could even look at Gerrit Cole, who was elite throughout the Cleveland series but let up an ERA of 5.40 and allowed five runs, helping Houston to go up 3-0 in the ALCS at the time. Despite these factors – whether it be the long series vs. Cleveland or lack of performance from Judge and Cole – I believe the most crucial theory as to why the Yankees lost this series can be broken down into two reasons:
- Aaron Boone mismanaged an absolutely loaded team.
Aaron Boone has been a scapegoat for the Yankees’ issues for a few years now. Whether it be mishandling in-game decisions, like challenges, or his dreadful management of the bullpen by placing a new pitcher on the mound after each inning late in the game, Boone is at least partially at fault. So far, signs point to the organization keeping him around . . . for now.
- The Houston Astros are just the better team right now.
Call them out for cheating, if you will, but the MLB has locked down on Altuve and others that were involved in the sign-stealing scandal in 2019. Also, remember that that series went to six games. The Astros, with a watchful eye over them the whole time, not only won but swept the Yankees out the playoff door right on the loser’s curb.
For now, this is the reality of the MLB from the American League perspective. The Houston Astros have a vice grip like the New England Patriots did over the AFC in the NFL for nearly two decades. My hot take is to give it a few years, Yankees, and if you find yourselves still unable to beat the Astros . . . blow it up and rebuild until you can.