The New York Yankees played a close game against the Houston Astros. The final score of Game Two was 3-2. Aaron Judge came a foot, maybe closer, from a two-run blast that would have swung the game. Yet, the Yankees lost the second game of the series and currently trail two games to none for a chance to go to the World Series.
So, why does this series feel over? It shouldn’t. After all, Game One was also a close game, 4-2 to be exact. The Yankees pitching has looked sharp even without Gerrit Cole or Nestor Cortes taking the mound (they’ll do that in the upcoming games). Yet, this series looks lopsided with one team looking like the World Series Champions while the other just looks like a good American League team.
Let’s look at why this series, only two games young, feels over and possibly is.
Yankees Can’t Hit Off-Speed Pitches
This is the biggest problem for the Yankees. The Astros starters, specifically Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez, knew the Yankees were going to struggle with both the curve and off-speed pitches. That’s exactly what the Yankees batters saw, plate appearance after plate appearance. It resulted in 30 strikeouts in two games, which can be called embarrassing but to be fair, this team is in the Championship Series.
The strikeouts were one thing, but the other effect was the contact or lack thereof from the bats. Valdez thrived with the curveball and the sinker and his sinker particularly induced weak contact, and groundouts from the Yankees. Both pitches however allowed Valdez to end the game with nine strikeouts, an ace-like performance on the mound.
The best hitters in the lineup, specifically, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are waiting for the fastballs. That’s the pitch they’ll crush and punish opponents. Against the Astros, that’s not what they’ll see. It’s leaving the Yankees with their only runs coming on groundballs and walks, which isn’t a recipe for postseason success.
Astros Are Winning, Without Their Two Best Hitters
The Astros proved in the ALDS against the Seattle mariners that they can beat a team with one hitter. Yordan Alvarez was a one-man wrecking crew. The lesson for pitchers was if they wanted to pitch to Alvarez, don’t. The Yankees, so far, haven’t pitched to him and he hasn’t been a major factor in the series thus far.
This series, unlike the one against the Mariners, is a bit different. The Astros have proven that they can beat a team anywhere in the lineup. Yuli Gurriel could be the one to take a pitch deep. It could be Alex Bregman, as it was in Game Two with his three-run blast, the one that ultimately decided the game.
The Astros can win games without their best hitters showing up. Even Jose Altuve, who has established himself as one of the best postseason hitters in recent years, has been irrelevant. He’s started the postseason 0-23 but that doesn’t seem to matter as much with the Astros boasting a two-game series lead.
The Yankees pitchers have been good, sometimes even great. However, even great pitching can limit a great lineup for so long. When the Astros can drive in runs at any point in the lineup, they can and will win the pennant.
How The Yankees Can Turn Things Around
The first thing that comes to mind is plate discipline. The Yankees need to take pitches and wait for the Astros pitchers to cave where they throw inside and throw the fastball. Moreover, they need to get runners on base and make the Astros pitchers face pressure on the basepaths.
Granted, there are problems with this strategy, especially when the Astro’s off-speed and breaking pitches are strikes and not just swing-and-miss pitches. However, the Yankees have looked hapless at the plate until now, not just in this series but the entire postseason. They’ve lived and died by the longball and when the longball pitch isn’t there, they look doomed.
The next thing they need is more of a hopeful element and not a strategic one. They need Cole and Cortes to be lights out in their starts. They can be but it’s an uphill battle. However, if the Yankees get strong starts from Cole and Cortes, they can ride them to the World Series. They’ll start Game Three and Game Four and if they have great starts, they are called on for a possible Game Six and Game Seven. In theory, that can carry the Yankees to their first pennant since 2009.
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