The failure of the 2015 Wild Card Game put the New York Yankees on a path to beat the Houston Astros four years down the road.
The New York Yankees and Houston Astros seem destined to do this forever. The 2017 American League Championship is still fresh in everyone’s mind, but the postseason history between these two teams stretches back two years earlier.
The 2015 AL Wild Card Game included a star-studded Yankees lineup and a scrappy Astros lineup with the eventual Cy Young winner—Dallas Keuchel.
The Yankees threw out Masahiro Tanaka into the winner-take-all affair. In his first career MLB postseason game, the right-hander battled through five innings of two-run baseball. Unfortunately for the Yanks, solo home runs from Colby Rasmus and Carlos Gomez drained the life out of Yankee Stadium.
Keuchel and three Houston relievers combined for a three-hit shutout. The Yankees were bounced from the postseason before it really even started.
The Yankee lineup from 2015 to now is almost unrecognizable. Brett Gardner and Didi Gregorius are the only holdovers from the starting nine that then-manager Joe Girardi penciled into the lineup card.
The lineup was filled with forgotten Yankees like Chase Headley, Greg Bird, Rob Refsnyder, and Chris Young hitting in the two-hole. The loss was a signal that the Yankees needed to retool or risk becoming a middling team with no legitimate World Series expectations.
Selling at the Deadline
Instead of pushing for another spot in the postseason via the Wild Card Game in 2016, Cashman sold off some of his best players. But this was a calculated move. Sellers at the deadline, Cashman made two moves that could pay dividends in 2019.
He flipped Aroldis Chapman for ALDS hero Gleyber Torres—only to later re-sign Chapman after he won a World Series with the Cubs. The Yankees also sent reliever Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians for four prospects that would include Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield. In November of 2018, Cashman packaged Sheffield and other prospects to the Seattle Mariners for James Paxton, New York’s Game 2 starter.
Now in 2019, Torres and Paxton are two of the most important pieces for the Yankees. The middle infielder was a rock for the injury-riddled Yankees, flexing between second base and shortstop with ease.
Torres, 22, appears to be growing more comfortable under the bright lights of the postseason. His nine hits and four RBIs against the Minnesota Twins were key to the convincing sweep. Although he’s not a top-notch elite defender yet, he’s capable of making game-altering plays like he did in Game 3 of the ALDS.
WHAT. A. PLAY. ? pic.twitter.com/xFSIKsmpeG
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) October 8, 2019
Paxton, on the other hand, put up a pedestrian performance in his one ALDS appearance. The lefty allowed three runs in 4.2 innings of work. It wasn’t the ideal start most Yankee fans envisioned for Paxton, but he kept his team in the game. Eventually, the Yankee bats would inflict damage on Minnesota.
However, during Game 2 in Houston, he’ll need to be on top of his game. He’s matched up with future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, a pitcher the Yankees hate to see in the playoffs. In six career postseason starts against New York, Verlander’s team has won five times. The only loss came in a game where he was pulled after the first inning due to a rain delay.
Luckily, Paxton won’t be facing Verlander and the Astros all by himself. The Yankees boast the deepest lineup in baseball and a much stronger bullpen than Houston. Allowing three runs in four or five innings of work won’t be enough.
The team-building done after the loss in 2015 was about more than just Paxton and Torres. Ushering out Brian McCann for Gary Sanchez behind the plate signaled a changing of the guard. Carlos Beltran was also shipped out at the deadline to make room for Aaron Judge in right field.
The Yankees were given a rare opportunity in 2017. They had the chance to avenge the heartbreaking loss of 2015. Instead, the Bronx Bombers were handed an even more gut-wrenching defeat in Game 7 of the ALCS.
The Yankees made changes after the loss in 2017—most notably at manager—but the most drastic changes to the Yankees came in the wake of the 2015 Wild Card Game.
These two teams seem destined to meet in October every other year. Maybe 2019 is the year that the Yankees finally put it all together and slay the mighty Astros.