It’s Underdog Week at SB Nation! And, as it turns out, the Yankees could be classified as such in the last two series in which they were eliminated in the playoffs, both in 2018 against the Boston Red Sox and in 2019 versus the Houston Astros.
That speaks volumes about the top-heavy American League: the Yankees had amazing teams, yet they couldn’t match their rivals in those last two playoff series.
Yes, the 2018 Yankees were a 100-win team, and they featured stellar seasons from Miguel Andujar, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton. Gleyber Torres broke out with 24 dingers in 123 games, Luke Voit had a September to remember, and Luis Severino anchored a very good rotation that had four members with ERA under 4.00.
Yet, they ended up in second place in the American League East, eight games behind the Red Sox. That Boston team was a juggernaut, and they took the Divisional Series in the postseason three games to one.
The Sox battered the Bombers 16-1 in Game Three, and Mookie Betts, who had a Trout-like season in 2018, was somewhat cold in the series. Boston went on to win the World Series two years ago, unlike Houston in 2019.
The Astros topped the Yankees 4-2 in the 2019 American League Championship Series, and, as you can imagine, New York also entered the matchup as the underdog even after winning 103 games in the regular season. Houston won 107, and had Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole`and Zack Greinke in their rotation, not to mention Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel, Michael Brantley, Carlos Correa, and so on.
Houston has (and deservedly so) endured a lot of heat in the last few months because they put together a sign-stealing scheme in 2017 that helped them eliminate the Yankees and win the World Series. But there is no denying that they have a talented roster: the Astros should be competitive for years to come, even after Verlander and Greinke leave the organization or start to decline.
Better times are ahead
However, for the next few years, none of those two teams, or any club in the American League, appears to be in the same league as the Yankees. This is not to say that they aren’t capable of winning a playoff series against the Bombers, but they would enter any hypothetical matchup as underdogs.
The outlook of the American League, at least for the next season, was significantly affected by two things: Gerrit Cole signing for the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox trading away Mookie Betts and David Price. In addition, Houston also lost defensive wiz Jake Marisnick and dependable reliever Will Harris, while the Sox saw their ace, Chris Sale, go down with Tommy John surgery.
The Yankees also lost an ace to Tommy John surgery in Luis Severino, not to mention the questionable—to this point—health of Aaron Hicks and Judge, as well as the Domingo German suspension. However, they are better equipped to cope with those losses, as they have financial resources, a strong group of cost-controlled players and a good farm system.
Make no mistake: the Yankees have work to do. Free agency is very close for James Paxton, J.A. Happ, Masahiro Tanaka and DJ LeMahieu. But there are enough resources in the organization to have confidence that the team will either bring most of them back or find capable replacements when the time is due.
For the foreseeable future, if there is a postseason series in the AL and the Yankees are one of the ballclubs, they sure look like the team to beat as things stand right now.