Contextualizing 5 Games with the Astros

So the Yankees have two wins and three losses vs. the Astros this year - so far. What, practically speaking, does that mean?

To answer this question, let's consider all of the things that might be affecting how we think of games vs. the Astros:

1) The Astros beat the Yankees in the ALCS twice. Yes the two series were extremely close. But the fact is that two games the Yankees and Astros met and two times the Yankees lost. Rightly or wrongly, Yankees fans are on edge when we play the Astros now and fans of the sport at large - who traditionally hate the Yankees, as per law and custom - gleefully point out how the Astros have "Had the Yankees' number".

Is this true? Not really, but emotionally it's a hard feeling to shake.

2) The Yankees have been incredible this year. This changes the way we look at wins and losses. I'm happy to admit that I was starting to dream of a 110+ win year en route to us being an all-time great team, and I still think such a thing is possible. But this also brings added pressure. If we were "only" trying to win the division or even "only" get the number one seed, it would be absurd to get disappointed at ANY losses at this point, because while the number one seed isn't quite locked up, we're in an outstanding spot right now, and I'm willing to tempt fate and say the division IS all but locked up. This isn't 1978, and no team is good enough to make a run at us in the AL East.

But us fans are only human, and speaking for me personally...I'm greedy. I want to hit that 110 win plateau, so that if we win the World Series, we can say we didn't just watch a good team - we watched one of the best teams ever. It's obviously not going to ruin the season or anything if this doesn't happen, and if we win the World Series this will be a great year regardless. But the Yankees are set up and I want more.

Why does this matter with the Astros? I'm going to make this point 2A instead of point 3:

2A) The Astros are the clear second best team in the AL. I know the trendy thing is to say that they're actually the best team, and we'll discuss that, but the fact is that right now the Yankees have better numbers in basically every facet of the game and a not-insignificantly larger amount of wins. With that said, the Astros are good - really good. And this leads to point 3:

3) When the Yankees and the Astros have played head to head, the Yankees have looked like the second best team. People will try to deny this I'm sure, and the games have all been very close. But that's actually kind of the problem - the Yankees over the course of the year have been fairly significantly better than the Astros, but have not looked significantly better when actually playing the Astros. Yes, the Astros are only up one game in the season series, and yes, the Astros wins have not exactly been blowouts. But the Astros have looked in control nearly the entire season series, punctuated by the fact that the Yankees have only held two leads in the five games they've played - and those leads didn't come until literally the last possible batter.

This was not how it was supposed to go based on their records and what the Yankees are trying to accomplish. It's the Astros who should be playing the Yankees tough and the Yankees trying to hold them off, but instead it's been the other way around the entire time.

So with all of that context in mind, what do these five games ultimately tell us about these two teams?

I know people will be tempted to say "Nothing - it's just five games". After all, weren't the Yankees once swept in a doubleheader by the White Sox?

While this is true, I think the difference is that unlike the Astros, there's nobody who seriously thinks the White Sox are really on the Yankees' level. It's much easier to brush those games off as a weird fluke. It's not so easy to do that with an Astros team that has not just beaten us, but has had a very good season so far themselves.

So here are the conclusions I think are worth drawing from these five games:

1) As great as our starting pitching is, we need more. Obviously we weren't going to keep up what we did earlier this season all year. With that said, it's a hole literally every game with the Astros. I'm not going to cast blame, the starting staff has been incredible, but people are starting to hit innings limits and it looks as if it's catching up to them. Montas would be a VERY nice get, as would a solid journeyman.

2) Our bullpen is insane. That's all. No notes. Keep it up.

3) The bottom of the lineup has too many automatic outs. Kiner-Falefa and Joey Gallo are terrible, and the only reason Falefa isn't getting criticized even more than he is is that nobody expected better. Hicks has had an odd season with more bad than good in it. We need at least one more bat. It doesn't even need to be a great bat; a league average player at this point would be a massive upgrade over Gallo. But it's getting to the point where in close games with a good team those guys might well be costing us wins.

So with all of that said, who between the Astros and the Yankees is the best team in the American League?

This is where we need to strip away the emotion and look at it objectively. As of right now, and I know I'm contradicting my emotional, annoyed, game-thread self here, it's the Yankees. We play in the best division in baseball and the Astros very much do not, and we are still in first place.

Five games is five games. We won two of them, and every game easily could have gone the other way. If the Astros want to be better than us, you can't just count what will ultimately be a seven game sample size in a 162 game season. That's just too small.

And no, I don't think this means anything at all when it comes to the playoffs. Not only will the teams be very different, there are simply too many examples of teams losing a season series and winning a playoff series for me to be convinced that maybe losing a seven game season series or maybe winning a seven game season series is indicative of the future in any way. It's not as if the Astros have dominated the Yankees in the postseason a la Yankees-Twins. Both series came down to razor thin margins.

So yes, ultimately, we need to take a deep breath and acknowledge it's been an amazing year and the Yankees are an amazing team. That doesn't mean it's not easy to understand the frustration; I get it. I'm just going to throw out there, and I include me in this, that we save this energy for the playoffs, because our year has been too good to let five close games with the Astros ruin it for me.

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