Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Might be time to call the Yankees what they are: The best team in the American League.
Sure, the standings didn't say so during the regular season, and the Yanks only got into the playoff tournament via the wild card. But they're playing like it now in this run of quality baseball that's been nothing short of spectacular, including their stomping of ace Dallas Keuchel and the Astros, 5-0, Wednesday in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series.
To recap: The Yanks beat the 102-win Indians in the ALDS after Cleveland had its foot on their pinstriped necks. Down 0-2 after their manager blew the second game, the Yankees roared back to win the series.
After losing the first two games of the ALCS by what amounts to a gossamer thread in both, the Yanks clobbered the 101-win Astros in Games 3-5 at Yankee Stadium. As the games in the Bronx continued and Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez came to life in the batter's box, the 'Stros looked more and more like a defeated, deflated team.
Whatever hold Keuchel had on the Yankees was broken into shards Wednesday night as they hung four runs on him. The man who brought a 1.09 ERA against the Yankees into the game didn't get out of the fifth inning. Perhaps more importantly, the Yanks banked the one win they needed from the four games in the series that would be started by Keuchel and Justin Verlander.
Heck, things are going so well that the Yankees are even getting contributions from the designated hitter spot. We kid, of course, but that lineup slot was a wasteland of outs earlier in the postseason. Chase Headley was 3-for-4 Wednesday.
Yankee pitchers also flattened Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa in the Bronx. After the pair went bonkers in the games in Houston, they were just 2-for-22 in Games 3-5. No wonder the club as a whole had 11 hits and scored five runs over that span.
The Astros aren't hitting in general, smothered by the Yankee starters, who probably aren't getting enough credit in the series. The Yanks rotation has a 1.29 ERA during the series and is holding Astros hitters to a .133 average and Luis Severino, perhaps their best starter, gets another turn Friday night.
The Yanks bullpen, the pitching element that gets the most attention because of its plethora of power arms, has a 1.76 ERA.
The Astros, who led MLB by averaging 5.53 runs this year, have scored nine times in five games. Nine! They have 22 hits and are batting .147 with a .213 slugging percentage.
Josh Reddick is 0-for-17. Brian McCann is 0-for-10. Carlos Beltran has one hit in 12 at-bats, George Springer has two in 18 trips to the plate and Alex Bregman is 2-for-17. No wonder reports surfaced after Game 5 that both Beltran and McCann talked to their teammates, urging them to fight on.
After Thursday's workout day - call it a Reset Day for the Astros, one to lick their wounds and purge the Bronx from their minds - Houston gets its chance to get back into the series.
The Astros still have home field advantage, and they won't have to play the fall guys in the October tale of Yankee Stadium regaining its status as an intimidator anymore, either. The joint clearly made Houston uncomfortable.
Game 6 is Friday at Minute Maid Park, and the Astros will be playing in front of their crowd with the spectacular Verlander on the mound.
But they'd better hope he's got another 124 pitches of dominance in him.
Verlander won Game 2 with an October masterpiece, striking out 13 in a complete game, 2-1 win. If he needs relief help on Friday, however, expect the confidence meter to plummet in Houston. The Astros bullpen is a glaring weakness, with a 6.17 ERA and one huge blown game on its rap sheet - Houston held a 4-0 lead in Game 4. Had they won, command of the series was theirs; they lost, 6-4.
The Yankees, of course, can still win the series even if Verlander thrives Friday. They hold a significant advantage in the pitching matchup in a potential Game 7 with CC Sabathia scheduled.
And there's so much else going for them, too, including this mindset, which sounds like the worldview the best team in the American League would take:
"I've been incredibly impressed with the poise we've shown as a club," Headley said in a press conference after Game 5. "We struggled individually, struggled as a team, we made mistakes that maybe even cost us a game, but there was never any panic.
"I always trusted that we could win that next game. And that's been the whole philosophy, don't worry about what's coming, just worry about that one game, and it's worked well for us."