The two highest scoring offenses in baseball are meeting in the ALCS this year and, naturally, the first two games have been close low-scoring affairs. The Astros won both Game 1 and Game 2 by identical 2-1 scores. Game 2 was a walk-off win in which the runner, Jose Altuve, had the catcher, Gary Sanchez, handled the throw.
Here is the video of Carlos Correa's walk-off hit in Game 2, which gave the Astros a 2-0 series lead:
Historically, teams that go up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series have gone on to win the series 83.8 percent of the time. The Yankees, however, just showed that an 0-2 deficit is not insurmountable. The rallied from down 0-2 in the ALDS to beat the 102-win Indians just last week, and that was a best-of-five series, not a best-of-seven.
The Yankees came back against the Indians thanks to dynamite pitching and timely hitting, which, obviously, is a good recipe to win all types of games, especially postseason games. They'll have to follow a similar blueprint to come back in the ALCS. Here are five things the Yankees must do to have a shot to come back in the series against the Astros.
Use their home-field advantage
After two games at Minute Maid Paid, the ALCS now shifts to Yankee Stadium for Games 3 and 4 and, if necessary, Game 5 as well. The Yankees, like just about every team in baseball, performed better at home this season. They build their roster around their home ballpark and players are simply more comfortable at home, sleeping in their own beds.
Here are New York's regular season home/road splits:
- Home: 51-30 (+106 run differential)
- Road: 40-41 (+62 run differential)
One game below .500 on the road while outscoring the opponent by 62 runs? That's hard to do.
Anyway, so far this postseason the Yankees are 3-0 at home and 1-4 on the road. Their lone road win was Game 5 of the ALDS. Winning two of three at Yankee Stadium is the bare minimum required to send the series back to Houston. Realistically, the Yankees probably need a clean sweep at home in Games 3-5 to have a shot at winning this division.
Of course, it must be noted the Astros had a better record on the road (53-28) than at home (48-33) during the regular season, so these next three home games won't be a walk in the park for the Yankees.
Continue the great pitching
Obvious statement is obvious. It's easy to overlook given how the first two games of the series played out, but the Yankees have gotten phenomenal work from their pitchers so far in the ALCS. They've held the high-powered Astros offense to four runs and 11 total hits through two games. If you're the Yankees, allowing four total runs in two games in Minute Maid Park and leaving down 0-2 in the series must be awfully frustrating.
"It's a tough loss," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi following Game 2. "It's not like we haven't been here before though. And my message to our team is, Hey, let's go home, win one at home and let's see what happens. But these are two tough losses, we lose two games 2-1 in this series and, you know, let's get prepared for Monday and here we go."
Everything the Yankees are doing on the mound is working so far. They've kept the Astros in check and given the offense a chance to win both Games 1 and 2. Now, it's easier to do that when you have Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino on the mound in Games 1 and 2 like the Yankees did, but now that both teams are getting into their third and fourth starters, the bullpen becomes a bigger factor, and Girardi has used his bullpen expertly this postseason.
The Yankees are not going to come back in the ALCS by winning four high-scoring shootouts. The pitching staff did a fine job in Games 1 and 2 and they're going to have to continue keeping the Astros at bay -- allowing only a two runs a game the rest of the series isn't very realistic, but you know what I mean -- to have any shot at winning the series. Pretty much every great postseason comeback started on the mound and this one would be no different.
Get Judge and Sanchez going
This is imperative. There is basically no path to winning the ALCS if the Yankees don't get Sanchez and Aaron Judge, their two young middle of the order sluggers, back on track. Their ALCS so far:
- Judge: 1 for 7 with one walk and three strikeouts
- Sanchez: 0 for 7 with one walk and five strikeouts
Judge had a brutal ALDS as well, going 1 for 20 with 16 strikeouts, though Sanchez did damage against the Indians, including hitting two home runs. His ALCS has been ugly, however. The Yankees managed to escape the ALDS despite getting nothing from Judge. Winning the ALCS while getting nothing from Judge and Sanchez, their two best hitters, is damn near impossible.
"I'm going to stick with the same lineup because things can turn really quickly," said Girardi, who regularly hits Judge second and Sanchez either third or fourth. "There's a lot of guys that struggle in the postseason. That's just what it is. If you just start moving people around trying to play a hot hand, it doesn't necessarily work. They will have a day off tomorrow and they will get back on track. "
The Yankees need Judge and Sanchez to start hitting right now, as in Game 3, to have a shot to make this series interesting. Even after finishing second in runs scored (to the Astros) during the regular season, there's not enough offense here to get through the series without those two contributing.
Clean up mistakes
Brett Gardner out at third on a would-be triple while the Yankees botched the relay play on the walk-off hit. This deep in the postseason, the talent gap between the remaining teams is very small. The team that executes the best often wins -- that means execute everything (pitches, baserunning, defense, etc.) -- and so far in the ALCS, that team has been the Astros. The Yankees have played some sloppy baseball in Games 1 and 2 and that's no way to beat the Astros. They have to be sharper, particularly in the field and on the bases.. In Game 2, the Astros executed a perfect set of relays to throw
Take advantage of Houston's third and fourth starters
With all due respect to Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock, there is quite a drop off going from Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander to Morton and Peacock in Houston's rotation. Peacock couldn't complete three innings in his ALDS Game 3 start and Morton allowed nine baserunners in 4 1/3 innings in his ALDS Game 4 start, and that doesn't include several rockets that found gloves behind him.
Keuchel and Verlander thoroughly dominated the Yankees in Games 1 and 2, and now the Yankees don't have to worry about facing either guy until at least Game 5. Astros manager A.J. Hinch pretty much shot down the possibility of using Keuchel on short rest in Game 4 -- "Unlikely. Unlikely. I guess you never say never but very unlikely," he said -- and right now the plan is Morton in Game 3 and either Peacock or Lance McCullers Jr. in Game 4.
Peacock and Morton are quality pitchers! They combined for 3.33 ERA in 278 2/3 regular season innings. They're not Keuchel and Verlander, however. For the Yankees to come back in the ALCS, it has to start by scoring runs and creating some breathing room against the back of Houston's rotation, especially at home in Yankee Stadium.