The Yankees and Astros, with their combined 210 regular season wins, have been on a collision course to square off in this American League Championship Series since Opening Day. It was one of the few correct predictions I made before the season began, and that doesn’t exactly make me a prophet. It makes me part of the majority who thought this would happen. Through two games, you can’t necessarily say that the details of how we got here have played out predictably. But a series deadlocked at one game apiece with the venue shifting to the Bronx for Games 3 through 5 is certainly befitting of this clash of baseball titans.
The Yanks caught some good fortune in the ALDS round, simply by virtue of Houston having to throw Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole in Games 4 and 5 just to dispatch the pesky Tampa Bay Rays. The Bombers did what they had to do in Game 1. They combined a virtuoso pitching performance from Masahiro Tanaka, some great defense, and 5 RBI’s from wunderkind Gleyber Torres in a game they won 7-0. There really wasn’t much to dissect afterwords. The Yanks played a damn near perfect game. The Astros didn’t have an answer on that night. And that was that.
Game 2 was predictably tight from start to finish. Justin Verlander was dominant, save for a lead-off walk to DJ LeMahieu that was promptly followed by a two-run laser beam homer off the bat of Aaron Judge. James Paxton only lasted 2 1/3 innings for New York in which he allowed six men to reach base. Aaron Boone wisely didn’t let Paxton give it away early, and instead turned to Chad Green. He retired six in a row, before being removed with one out in the 5th in favor of Adam Ottavino. But his first-pitch slider to George Springer was hit roughly 800 feet to tie the game. It stayed that way until Carlos Correa’s walk-off homer off J.A. Happ in the 11th to give the Astros a much-needed 3-2 victory.
So now that the series is tied and the venue shifts to the Bronx, a few observations about how this has all played out so far.
The Game 2 loss was on the offense, NOT Aaron Boone
I’ll admit, I wasn’t crazy about the move to take Green out of the game for Ottavino in that spot. But even after Springer’s moon shot, the game was still tied. The fact that the Yankees got Verlander out of the game with the score still even should have been considered an advantage. But as the Yanks were burning through the best of their bullpen to put up zeroes, the offense went dormant. Consider this. Brett Gardner hit a single off the glove of Jose Altuve in the 6th that was alertly barehanded by Correa, who fired home to nail LeMahieu at the plate for the final out of the inning. The Yankees only got one more hit the rest of the ballgame, and it would seem to be that any reasonable person would place the brunt of the blame for the loss right there.
There really is no dispute as to which team has the better pen in this series. It’s the Yankees. But at the plate, they came up empty against Houston relievers Will Harris, Roberto Osuna, Joe Smith, Ryan Pressly and Josh James. That’s not to say that all of the guys I just mentioned are what you would call scrubs, but if the Yankees managed to scratch out a run against any one of them, then Jonathan Loaisiga and J.A. Happ wouldn’t have had to play major roles in such big spots in the extra frames.
The decision to send LeMahieu home was the right call, it just didn’t work out
As it played out live, I was livid that third-base coach Phil Nevin allowed the third out of the inning to be made at home plate, depriving the Yankees of a bases-loaded opportunity. However, after watching the wide angle replay, I can’t say I would have done it any differently. As the ball bounced away from Altuve, it sure did look like it was going to get far enough away to allow the play at the plate to at least be a lot closer than it ended up being. But give credit to Correa, who made a perfect heads-up play to cut LeMahieu down at home.
Two things about this. One, Gary Sanchez has had a really tough time at the plate lately and was anything but a guarantee to produce in the next at bat against Verlander. And two, I’m a firm believer that aggressive baserunning has a tendency to work out in big spots in the playoffs. You always want to put pressure on the defense to execute to perfection when possible, and in this case, the Astros did. A tip of the cap to them for that. But I can’t fault Nevin for sending LeMahieu there.
The middle of the Yankees lineup HAS to be better
With no Giancarlo Stanton last night, the Yankees needed someone to produce in the middle of their batting order, and it just didn’t happen. Even though Gardner did collect a pair of hits out of the 5-hole, Edwin Encarnacion and Sanchez combined to go 0-for-9 with six strikeouts, and Gardner also struck out twice. Adding Game 1 into the equation, Sanchez and Encarncacion are collectively 1-for-17 in the series so far with 10 K’s, and I don’t think I’m overreacting to say that just isn’t gonna cut it. I’ve seen a lot of tweets today clamoring for Sanchez to be benched in favor of Austin Romine, but I just can’t get on board with that…at least not yet. Here’s hoping that a day off and three home games will be the elixir for what ails those bats.
FOX’s in-game Charmin sponsorship was sublime
Ok, this is really all I wanted to write about today, so now that I’ve gotten all the bullshit about baseball out of the way I can talk about this Charmin graphic FOX used on the broadcast last night. I don’t remember what inning it was. Frankly, I don’t even remember what the premise of the graphic was. Apparently it was a comparison of the two second basemen. All I remember for sure was that at one point, Joe Buck (somehow keeping a straight face) introduced a graphic brought to us by Charmin toilet paper that was called “Charmin #2’s,” and by the time I stopped laughing, several innings had gone by.
To get a sponsorship like that approved and then presented on an ALCS telecast makes me, like, unreasonably happy. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good poop joke. What I really want now is to just drop the subtlety completely and have Charmin sponsor a scoring summary graphic called “Who Has the Runs?” Depends could have sponsored that crazy Sanchez at-bat in the 11th inning as the “Pants-Shitting Moment of the Game.” Now that the door for poop puns on baseball broadcasts has been cracked ajar, let’s just kick that motherfucker down and really let it all hang out. Make it happen, FOX.
Anyway, Game 3 is Tuesday in the Bronx and should be another tight pitching matchup between Luis Severino and Gerrit Cole. The term “pivotal” really gets played out in these situations, but this game is literally the definition of the word. All I know is this series figures to go at least six and nothing is certain from here on out. Are we having fun yet? Well, my blood pressure has never been higher, so…yes?