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Lessons the Yankees can learn from the 2017 ALCS

The Yankees can look back and learn a lot from their last postseason matchup with the Astros.

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at New York Yankees Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Just like in 2017, the New York Yankees and Houston Astros will face off in the American League Championship Series. The winner gets a trip to the World Series, something the Yankees haven’t secured since 2009. Although New York couldn’t come away victorious two years ago, there’s plenty they could take from that series.

Take advantage of the Houston bullpen

We all know how dangerous that Astros starting rotation is. With Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke leading the charge, the Yankees will be fighting an uphill battle as long as the Houston starters are in the game. The good news is that they (probably) can’t all pitch all nine innings. The Astros will have to use their bullpen, which, while still quite solid, is not nearly as imposing as Houston’s rotation. The Bombers need to either get their bats going early to knock the starters out, or work their pitch counts to get to the bullpen. The less Verlander, Cole and Greinke throw, the better chance the Yankees have to win.

Let’s throw it back to Game Four of the 2017 ALCS for the perfect example of this. Lance McCullers Jr. was dealing on the mound for Houston. He hurled six innings, allowing just one run on two hits. When the Astros’ bullpen took over in the seventh, the Yankees were able to get two runners home. In the eighth, they scored four more runs, quickly leaving the ‘Stros down to their final three outs. New York won that game by a score of 6-4, scoring five of those six runs off of their ‘pen. If the Bombers can do the same this time around, look for similar results. If they can’t get to the relievers fairly quickly, they’ll have trouble scoring.

Don’t give away outs

The Bombers were considered an above average team on the basepaths during the 2019 regular season. Coincidentally, the Yankees and Astros both finished with 46 outs on base, compared to the major league average of 49. If the Astros starters do pitch lights-out, every baserunner will count. Just one ill-advised decision on the bases could cost the game, and mistakes such as those cannot be made against a team of this caliber. The Yankees have to approach every facet of the game as if they have no margin for error.

In the first game of the 2017 ALCS, Aaron Judge stepped to the plate with runners on first and second. He laced an off-speed pitch into left field, and third base coach Joe Espada waved Greg Bird home. Marwin Gonzales threw a dart to the plate that nailed Bird at home. If he scored, it would’ve made the score 2-1 Astros in the fifth with runners in scoring position. If Bird was held up at third, it would’ve loaded the bases for Gary Sanchez. Instead, it ended the inning and kept the Yankees off the board.

In Game Seven, with runners on the corners and the Astros leading 1-0, Todd Frazier chopped one to Alex Bregman at third who threw a laser home, once again cutting Bird down at the plate.

It’s fair to argue that both of these plays were just spectacular defense by Houston, but getting nabbed at home not once but twice in a big spot is a great way to lose close games. These just can’t happen, and proved to be momentum killers for the Yankees two years ago.

Win on the road

The 2017 ALCS was dominated by the home team. The Yankees won their three games in the Bronx and the Astros won their four games in Houston. Since the Astros have home-field advantage again this year, the Yankees will need to steal a game on the road if they want to advance to the World Series. Two years ago, New York was a young, “retooling” team with little experience. Perhaps the moment was too big for them at times. After this injury-riddled season, this team has been through it all and no moment is too big for them. They need to protect their house and raid Minute-Maid Park.