The shocking part was not that the Yankees were swept in four games by the Astros, the team they pointed to all season long, but it was how they were thoroughly outplayed in the sweep, something that is difficult to do to any opponent in the post season.
The Astros were the better team and have been in all these series (Yankees didn’t lose in 2017 because of the Astros sign stealing scandal) but being thoroughly outplayed is stunning because that just doesn’t happen a whole lot in October baseball. It reminded me of the 1963 World Series when Sandy Koufax and the Dodgers stunningly shut down the powerful Yankee lineup. The Yankees played a total of 100 innings against the Astros this season and led after only five of them. To me, that sounds like being thoroughly outplayed, or dominated, if you will.
This was the fourth time, third in the ALCS, that Houston has ended the Yankees’ season. Each time, the number of games has lessened from 7 to 6 to 4 so the gap between the teams has widened since the Yankees showed so much promise after the 2017 season.
The Astros hit better, the Astros pitched better, they played better defense, they ran the bases better. You name it, they did it better, but they were also more prepared to do it better.
On July 8th, the Yankees were riding high at 61-23 and led the AL East by 15½ games. It was a mirage.
There was talk of this Yankee team winning more games than the 1998 team that won 114 games, and the World Series. The Yankees were not going to be able to maintain a .726 winning percentage, but the signs were there that this team would not be good enough to get to the World Series.
Despite Bill Parcells’ famous credo, “You are what your record says you are,” the Yankees did not play like a 99-win team for the final two and a half months and in the post season.
This wasn’t a great year for the American League East despite four teams finishing over .500. The Yankees had 47 of their wins in divisional play but they were 12-17 against playoff teams outside of their division, including the Astros where they dropped 5 of 7 in the regular season.
After July 8th, the Yankees went 38-40. If you include the post season, the Yankees finished the season with a 41-46 mark. Essentially, the Astros were playing a .500 team.
Their lead in the division shrunk to 3.5 games on September 9, but Toronto, Tampa Bay and Baltimore were all flawed teams and could not take advantage when the Yankees were most vulnerable.
Anytime Houston took the lead in this series, it seemed insurmountable for a Yankee offense that was literally invisible at times. Yes, the Astros have a great team, keyed by their terrific pitching and balanced lineup and stellar defense, but there comes a time when you stop tipping your cap to the opposition and do something about it.
In the ALCS, the Yankees hit .162 as a team with 9 runs scored in the four games. 10 walks and 50 strikeouts will help send a team home in a hurry.
Aaron Judge had a rough time (1 for 16, 1 BB, 4 Ks) and who knows if the home run chase took a lot out of him. Like Judge, Gleyber Torres may have played his final game with the Yankees. Unlike Judge, Torres has no say in the matter. Torres was 3 for 15 with 1 walk and 7 strikeouts and has been a disappointment since his 38 home run, 90 RBI season in 2019.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. Josh Donaldson was a horror show (1 for 13 with 10 strikeouts) and things got so bad, that fans cheered when he hit a foul ball.
Jose Trevino, who was never projected to be a productive hitter, was 0 for 11. It wasn’t his fault, but Trevino, who was brought here for his defense, was part of a lower third of the Yankee batting order that was always going to be a problem. It was covered up in the first few months when Trevino put up some surprisingly good numbers in the early going but he was eventually exposed as an offensive player.
Injuries to D.J. LeMahieu and Andrew Benintendi certainly contributed to the malaise, but the Yankee bench Sunday night consisted of Matt Carpenter (who did not have enough at bats to prepare him when he returned from injury) Tim Locastro, Oswald Peraza and Kyle Higashioka.
The way to have a chance to beat the Astros is with lefties, both hitting and pitching.
The only left hander that Houston threw was Framber Valdez. Houston gave the Yankees a steady diet of quality right handed pitchers who can negate their right handed power but can be susceptible to solid left handed hitters.
Look at last year’s World Series. Atlanta had five lefties in the bullpen and a left handed starter named Max Fried, who tossed six scoreless innings in the clinching game six. Left hand hitting Freddie Freeman had a good series and Eddie Rosario and Joc Pederson, two in-season acquisitions, gave their lineup more of a left handed presence against Houston’s pitchers.
The Yankees left hand hitters consisted of Carpenter, Oswaldo Cabrera and Anthony Rizzo. The three of them combined to go 4 for 31 with one home run and four RBIs. Rizzo got three of those hits, two in the final game, and was responsible for the power (?) stats.
The Yankees seemed to be guessing at the plate. They let a lot of hittable pitches go by and the Astros were able to be one step ahead of the Yankee hitters.
Manager Aaron Boone has not shined in post season play. His faux pas with the “open roof” comment after the game two loss was not a good look, not to mention going to Lou Trivino, instead of Jonathan Loaisiga with the bases loaded and no one out in game 3. (This is not a second guess)
On the Harrison Bader error in game three, the batter, Christian Vazquez appeared to have abandoned his base by running towards the third base dugout. When Vazquez became aware that the ball was dropped, he was on the infield grass and then ran back to first base.
According to the rule book, “Any runner who reaches first base who leaves the base line heading for his dugout or his position may be declared out if the umpire judges the act of the runner to be considered abandoning his efforts to run the bases.”
Boone should at least be questioning that, even if he doesn’t believe he’ll have Vazquez called out. You never know. At least, show the team that he’s on top of it because a subtle thing like that can instill confidence in a team. He hasn’t always demonstrated that in the past.
There were some good things that came out of this loss.
Bader stepped up big time and did all he could. Despite that crucial error in game three, Bader provided a spark and maybe the Yankees have solved centerfield.
Cabrera was overmatched in this series (0 for 9) but gaining playoff experience is invaluable for a promising young player, who may end up being the starting left fielder next season. Peraza showed he is the real deal defensively, but we still don’t know about his offense.
The Astros have beaten the Yankees four times in four tries in the post season. Will they ever be able to clear this formidable hurdle?