The New York Yankees are playing the Houston Astros in a four-game set at Yankee Stadium, and you can feel the playoff-esque atmosphere in the stadium, in the players and their reactions — in everything.
These two ballclubs have built a rivalry over the last few years, having played each other in two of the previous five American League Championship Series. The Astros were victorious in both 2017 and ‘19 (not to mention the 2015 AL Wild Card Game), and can probably be seen as the biggest thorn in the Yankees’ side in recent memory. One can easily recognize by the boos that follow Jose Altuve every time he steps up to the plate that many feelings still linger from the sign-stealing scandal. Overall, there’s a definite level of animosity between the two teams.
It is common in these regular-season series between top contenders to use each game as a measuring stick from where you are to where you need to be. To look at what flaws the opposition explores, and what strengths translate into a real advantage in the game.
However, looking back at the first few of games and also ahead at the finale, more than understanding what the Yankees are exploring against the Astros and vice-versa, the primary feeling is that we’re seeing an October series in late June.
There’s little doubt that both of these teams will be playing in October. If they will run into each other it is impossible to know, but moreso than just the battle between two ballclubs, the games are genuinely providing that October baseball feeling, and are being played as such.
Starting pitching ruling the day
In the opening act of this series, Yankee fans saw something that’s become a rarity in the 2022 season: a blow-up start. Jameson Taillon went 5.2 innings while allowing 10 hits and 6 earned runs in what ultimately was his worst start of the year. In a season in which all five starters are hitting on all cylinders, a start like that has been less than infrequent.
However, despite how well Taillon is pitching in 2022, it’s unclear if he starts a postseason game since Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Luis Severino, and Jordan Montgomery are all arguably better candidates. Every other starter who took the ball for these first three games did his job admirably, albeit to different degrees. From Framber Valdez and Severino’s six innings of three-run ball to the seven hitless from Christian Javier with 13 punchouts, the men on the mound were in control.
Much like you see in postseason play, in this series, the starting pitching has dominated and in every single loss, the losing team can’t really look at their starter has a focus to blame. Valdez and Severino didn’t lead their teams to wins despite quality starts on Thursday and Friday, and Gerrit Cole quite literally needed to be perfect yesterday. Seven innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts didn’t quite cut it.
Is any lead ever truly safe?
The Yankees faced a dire situation in the opener of this series, down by three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, with All-Star closer Ryan Pressly coming in to shut the door.
Pressly would go on to allow a game-tying three-run homer to Aaron Hicks and ultimately leave the ballgame with the winning run on base, a run that would eventually score on an Aaron Judge walk-off single.
Clay Holmes has yet to pitch in the series, as the Yankees didn’t have a save situation in each of the three games so Aaron Boone passed on using him. But the next-best thing in the ‘pen has also been touched up by the Astros. Altuve took Michael King deep in the top of the eighth inning in the third game, doubling Houston’s lead.
Much like in the postseason, no lead is ever truly safe, even with the best relievers on the mound.
The long ball rules
Over the course of these three games, there have been 20 runs scored. Out of those 20 runs, a total of 18 have came via the home run. The only two times an offense has scored without hitting a homer were in Judge’s walk-off single on Thursday, and Yuli Gurriel’s RBI single in the top of the ninth on Saturday.
Every star player from Altuve to Judge, from Yordan Alvarez to Giancarlo Stanton, all homered in this series, and these long balls have come against the best each team has to offer, from Cole to Justin Verlander, and from Severino to Valdez.
Regardless of which angle you look at it, and any conclusions that may be drawn from it (as Peter will explore tomorrow), this series has all the marks of a postseason series, the feeling, and atmosphere of one. Three games between the best of the best that remained undecided until the very end.
Even in the combined no-hitter on Saturday, the Yankees had the tying run up to bat twice in the eighth inning, and it’s not every day that you see back-to-back batted balls over 112 mph turn into outs.