The Yankees are not on the same level as Houston and don’t have a clear path to getting there – The Denver Post

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In one way, Saturday’s pathetic performance by the Yankees’ batters actually marked an improvement.

The last time they faced Cristian Javier at Yankee Stadium prior to Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, he fired seven hitless innings. In Saturday’s loss, the Yankees were at least able to muster one hit off the right-hander, whose fastball and slider combination presented a deadly matchup for the predominantly right-handed group.

It was both entirely predictable and still a bit surprising to see the Yankees log another game of offensive ineptitude. The Astros’ indomitable pitching has been tough on everybody this season, and they seem to be getting even stronger during this inevitable march to the World Series, but one would think the prideful Bronx Bombers would have come up with something a little better than that.

Instead, for the third consecutive game, the Yankees got a strong outing from their starting pitcher but were undone by a completely lackluster offense. While they only struck out 11 times, better than the 17 and 13 they racked up in Games 1 and 2, the Yankees still finished with an unacceptable three hits. Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres went 0-for-10. At no point did anybody try to slap a ball through the shift or even bunt for a base hit, despite the fact that with each failed power swing, the season was slipping away from them. When the big hit never came, the home team was left with a big goose egg in the run column and a jam-packed weekend crowd was left hoarse after yelling obscenities at their fallen heroes.

Baseball fans in this city will always tell you how they feel. In Flushing earlier this month, with the Mets down for the count in the final game of their Wild Card series, fans left early from a game that wasn’t even sold out. During Game 3 of the ALCS, fans were completely shushed for the first three innings thanks to the Yankees’ failure to get a single hit. When the game unraveled in the Astros’ three-run half of the sixth inning, the solid wall of boos sent an obvious message: we are tired of watching this team, and we don’t believe you can pull this off anymore.

What a departure that is from the early stages of this season, when the Yankees pulled wins out of each other seemingly every night. One of their more joyous wins from the first half came against these very same Astros. On June 23, a ninth-inning rally sparked by Aaron Hicks’ three-run homer pushed the Yankees’ record to 52-18. After that comeback, which at the time made his team look invincible, manager Aaron Boone delivered a statement that now sounds like it’s about a completely different organization altogether.

“There’s a confidence where, if the game is in the balance or within reason, they’re gonna find a way to win,” Boone said.

The exact opposite is true today. Anybody who has watched the Yankees flail helplessly at Astro pitching and thinks they are on the same level as Houston is delusional. The Yankees are a good hitting team, but when pitted against a truly great opponent in this series, they’ve been extremely bad.

Part of that is due to fielding a lineup depleted by injuries, and most of the story here is about how ceaselessly good the Astros continue to be, but a large chunk of the blame has to go to the front office. Rolling with a stopgap shortstop all season — in a year where they were actively trying to win the World Series — finally blew up when Isiah Kiner-Falefa’s play left them no choice but to sit him in favor of two rookies.

Banking on Josh Donaldson to hold up over an entire season was a huge risk that has now proven to be a mistake. They also owe Donaldson a $21 million base salary next year, which may end up being for a bench ornament unless they can sucker another team into taking his salary as part of a larger trade. And for all the offseason chatter about overhauling their approach to become less reliant on slugging, the Yankees have still been doomed all week by an inability to put the ball in play. One particularly eloquent fan summarized the collective frustration by shouting their feelings into the air during the seventh inning, which was the Yankees’ twelfth in a row without scoring.

“Cashman, wherever you are, I hope you get fired!”

The anger is understandable. The Yankees had a pretty solid championship window open during Judge’s rookie season in 2017, which ended in a surprise run to Game 7 of the ALCS. Since then, they’ve brought in supportive stars like Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton and DJ LeMahieu, signed Gerrit Cole to be the nine-figure ace, and patched up the rest with some admittedly deft moves (turning Nestor Cortes’ career around, trading for Clay Holmes and Wandy Peralta, converting Michael King into an unhittable reliever, developing Jonathan Loaisiga, wringing great first halves out of Jose Trevino and Matt Carpenter in 2022, etc.)

Now that that six-year run is reaching its end, with no World Series appearances to show for it, nobody is left happy. That’s where the Yankees stand now, somewhere between wondering what went wrong and how it went right for so long without any real payoff. The answer, of course, is that Houston is the biggest and meanest bully the block has seen in a while.

Even worse, the Yankees might not have their best counter-puncher next year, as one more loss unofficially marks the beginning of Judge’s free agency. The market does not technically open until after the World Series, something the Yankees thought they’d be participating in, but now they can use those days in late October to create their pitch for Judge to stick around.

There’s also the damning realization that most of the young players that were supposed to help hoist Judge to a championship — Gary Sanchez, Miguel Andujar, Jackson Frazier, Jordan Montgomery, Domingo German and Albert Abreu, just to name a few — either never panned out the way the Yankees envisioned, play for another team now, or both. Because of that, an enormous burden sits on the shoulders of Oswald Peraza, Oswaldo Cabrera and Anthony Volpe to spearhead the next wave, and recent history doesn’t inspire much confidence.

If that next wave comes up dry, and Judge is wearing different colors next year, the giant wound left by three playoff losses to Houston will be hurting for years to come.

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