Yankees running out of time to find answers to their offensive woes in this ALCS vs. Astros – The Denver Post


The scoreboard has indicated that the first two games of the American League Championship were close. But, during these familiar autumn nights at Minute Maid Park, things have never truly felt that close from a competitive standpoint. Sure, the Yankees were in both games (which they lost 4-2 and 3-2) but their plate appearances have not looked like a team deserving of a World Series berth.

The Yankees have received a taste of their own medicine, losing to a team that’s gotten six of its seven runs on the long ball and otherwise has not come up with any clutch hits. Houston is an unsightly 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position, while their little brother is 1-for-8. The difference between the Astros and the Yankees — at least for the games in Houston — is that the home team has always felt one swing away from breaking things open, whereas the visiting team looks like they’re drowning at the plate. The Yankees have also missed a ton of candy-coated pitches, eliminating any slim chance of capitalizing on Houston’s rare mistakes.

Maybe that will change during the games at Yankee Stadium with a feverish crowd cheering the Bombers on. But on Wednesday and Thursday night, the juice box in southeast Texas turned the Yankees into pulp yet again. The Bombers don’t look like they’d be able to figure out Astro pitching even if they used some of their rival’s old trash can tricks.

If not for Framber Valdez gift-wrapping them a pair of runners in scoring position with his stumbling defensive error, the Yankees might not have scored at all in Game 2. Valdez spun the first no-earned run, no-walk start of his career and once again, the Yankees took turns whiffing all night. Valdez generated 25 laborious swings and misses from the Yankees, setting a career high.

A truly hard-to-believe 44% of Valdez’s 101 pitches went for a called strike or whiff, which is also the most from any outing of his ascending career. The 2022 league average for that metric was 27.5%. So, the Yankees can take a grain of solace in the fact that it took a pitcher’s best day ever to beat them, but also, they let a pitcher have his best day ever.

Valdez’s curveball — which was responsible for 16 whiffs on 24 swings — will be the lasting image from Game 2. Several Yankees looked like they had never seen a breaking pitch before, and even when they began to sit on it, they weren’t able to do anything of substance against it. Credit Valdez for having a weapons-grade left arm right now, which will earn him a top three spot in the Cy Young voting, but also bemoan the Yankees’ lineup for coming up short. Facing a starting lineup with just one lefty, Valdez was still on top of his game, despite owning a career opponents’ batting average that’s 30 points higher against righties than it is against lefties.

The saving grace has been Harrison Bader, unquestionably the Yankees’ best player during the postseason. Here’s the thing, though. It’s pretty bad for Bader (targeted at the trade deadline because of his defense) to be the best postseason hitter on a team that has Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Anthony Rizzo and Gleyber Torres. In an optimal world for the Yankees, Bader would be supporting them from the bottom of the order, not hitting leadoff and watching his high-profile teammates fail to knock him in. Judge tried with all his might in the top of the eighth, but when his opposite-field fly ball disappeared into Kyle Tucker’s leaping grasp instead of over the wall, the baseball world was given a perfect look at how things are going for these teams right now.

Houston has all the mojo, and they’re not sharing.

Take Alex Bregman’s three-run home run that ended up being the difference maker. The Yankees hit 14 balls harder than that — Bregman’s tater went 360 feet but moved at a very un-homer-like 91.6 mph — and ended with basically nothing to show for it. There was also the generous call that Astros’ reliever Bryan Abreu received on his 3-0 pitch to Stanton in the eighth inning, the game’s biggest at-bat. Had that pitch been correctly called a ball, Stanton takes first and likely gets replaced by Tim Locastro and his 99th percentile sprint speed, representing the go-ahead run. Instead, Abreu came back with two big boy pitches to strike Stanton out, again demonstrating that just about everything is going right for the Astros during these playoffs.

The list of things going wrong for the Yankees is both very concentrated and also not showing any signs of improvement. Their pitching has been outstanding throughout the Cleveland and Houston showdowns. There’s nothing to worry about on that side of the clubhouse. Their teammates holding the bats are getting flattened.

Some of the at-bats from the bottom of the order have been embarrassing. Josh Donaldson looks lost, and the problem is there’s nobody better on the bench. Matt Carpenter cannot be realistically asked to play third base — where Donaldson’s defense is a true strength — and the Astros have found the hole in Carpenter’s swing anyway, holding him down for five strikeouts in five tries.

The catchers are free outs. Oswaldo Cabrera and Oswald Peraza, like Clarke Schmidt, have been put in an unfair situation. The kiddos have played hard and shown signs of why the Yankees are so enamored with them, but they should be gearing up for next year right now. Instead, because the front office passed on every shortstop on the free agent market and the one they traded for has been benched, Peraza is the best guy for the job right now. That’s a pretty clear organizational failure, made even worse by the fact that the Astros’ rookie shortstop is absolutely torching them.

Peraza has looked great defensively, but he needs more seasoning before becoming a main dish. Cabrera has definite value and a barrel of upside, but that stuff rarely becomes evident for a young guy in the small sample size of the postseason. They both need more reps in the regular season. Having to go to war in the playoffs is probably a little overwhelming for the two under-25 players, and it’s not much easier for the fans that would rather be watching veterans in those spots.

Staring at the herculean task of having to beat the Astros four times in five games, the biggest “what if” for the Yankees (outside of what it’d be like to have a proven shortstop) is what this series would look like if DJ LeMahieu and Andrew Benintendi were involved. The lineup would not only have real length, but decorated All-Stars with oodles of postseason experience are exactly the type of players that would make beating Houston seem less impossible.

Nobody wearing a Yankee uniform, obviously, views this series as impossible to win. What they should realize is that nothing has really worked so far, and given the current constraints of the roster, they’re also kind of out of ideas.



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