The most difficult part of the playoffs from a fan’s perspective is that the narratives are crafted so quickly that they become fact before anyone has a chance to question them. After two games in Houston most people have decided that these Astros are simply too good for the Yankees, that their dominant pitching staff is untouchable, that the Yankee bullpen is a dumpster fire, that this team from the Bronx simply isn’t very good.
Perhaps it’s time to back away from the ledge and remember that we’re talking about two games, and those two games weren’t all bad. Consider, for example, that the mighty Astros only scored seven runs in those two games, and that the three runs they scored on Thursday night came courtesy of one mistake — a two-out, two-strike fastball that Luís Severino wasn’t able to get up in the zone. There’s also the fact that Aaron Judge nearly grabbed Game Two right back with a laser that might’ve been a home run were it not for the winds that were whipping through Minute Maid Park.
A quick note about those two balls, Alex Bregman’s towering fly ball that landed in the seats for a three-run home run and Judge’s line drive that was caught at the wall by Kyle Tucker. Those two balls determined the game, so the postgame analysis naturally focused on the differences between the two, and the Yankees came out looking a bit petulant as one after another they stood in line to tell us that they thought Judge’s ball was going out. (In their defense, they had to answer the questions.) Severino even went so far as to say the Astros had been lucky because Bregman’s ball had been only 91 MPH off the bat while Judge’s had been 106. (Ever the diplomat, Judge said he never thought it was going out. He had hit it to the wrong part of the yard.)
Alex Eisert at Fangraphs provides some quick analysis on the data behind those two balls:
After the game, Severino expressed surprise that Bregman’s looping 91.8 mph fly left the park and Aaron Judge’s 106.3 mph shot to right didn’t. He mentioned the wind as a factor; the roof was open at Minute Maid, and the swirling air currents may have brought balls back into the park in right field but lifted out those hit to left. Yet, it’s hard to discern the ultimate impact environmental factors had on the game’s outcome; there were plenty of Astros who flied out to deep right as well, notably Peña, who hit a 99.2-mph, 22-degree drive that stayed in the yard. Besides the wind, batted ball spin may have caused Judge’s knock to fall short.
The whole discussion was interesting because it pointed out how exit velocity and launch angle haven’t just changed the way the game is played but the way it’s perceived. When you’re sitting in ballpark, every ball hit in the air looks like it’s going to be a home run, so we’ve all quickly learned to watch the outfielders, not the ball. Knowledgeable fans have been doing that for generations, but the players don’t do that anymore. With stadium scoreboards posting exit velocity and launch angle the instant a ball is struck, all eyes in the dugout immediately look to those magic numbers. It’s no longer the crack of the bat but the flash of the scoreboard that triggers celebration in one dugout and despair in the other. The game has changed.
Today will determine whether or not this series changes. If I’m being honest, I’ll admit that the narrative being written right now actually isn’t based on just games one and two. We all know that Houston beat the Yankees five out of seven games this season, without Yankee pitchers throwing a single pitch while holding the lead, and we all bear the scars of 2017 and 2019. These Astros, whether cheating or not, have ripped our hearts out of our collective chests over and over.
Ah, but this is baseball, and sometimes the action doesn’t follow the script — just ask the Dodgers and Mets. Gerrit Cole pitched and won the biggest game of his Yankee career six days ago in Cleveland, and today he takes the mound for a game that’s probably even bigger. (No, it’s not an elimination game, but to my knowledge no team has ever come back to win an ALCS after being down 0-3, right?)
I have faith in Cole because I have to. There is no other choice.
There are a few tweaks to the lineup — Rizzo moving into the leadoff spot, Carpenter back at DH, and Cabrera at short. I’ve gotten used to Boone’s constant shuffling of the batting order, so I have no thoughts on that, but I wonder about playing Matt Carpenter. He looks hopelessly lost, bringing to mind the days of Gary Sánchez. The only hope is that he might run into one and accidentally put a ball into the seats. Here’s hoping. Anyway…
- Rizzo, 1B
- Judge, RF
- Stanton, LF
- Torres, 2B
- Carpenter, DH
- Bader, CF
- Donaldson, 3B
- Cabrera, SS
- Trevino, C