Masahiro Tanaka, Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

Though the New York Yankees lost two in a row, they remain alive in a quest for their 28th World Series title.

Bryan Pol

Blame the 4:08 p.m. ET start.

Blame the lack of energy in the Stadium crowd.

Blame MLB’s decision to revert to the “unjuiced” ball.

Blame Eric “Hubbs” and his Yankees “watch party” mates for leaving the Barstool Sports headquarters in a state of complete disarray after Game 2.

Blame Adam Ottavino.

Blame Giancarlo Stanton’s quad.

Blame the sheer will and drive of Gerrit Cole.

Blame the Bleacher Creatures “disrespecting” Josh Reddick.

Blame the bats (not you, Gleyber Torres) failing in big moments with runners on.

No matter who you foist culpability upon, it does not alter the fact that the New York Yankees find themselves in a 2-1 deficit in the American League Championship Series.  In light of Game 4’s postponement, Aaron Boone avoided a “bullpen day” in a must-win game, allowing him to deploy postseason dynamo Masahiro Tanaka in Game 4 on Thursday and James Paxton, who fares better at home, for Game 5 on Friday night, putting the Bombers in a prime position to head back to Houston with a 3-2 series lead, even if it means having to beat Cy Young hopeful Justin Verlander in the process.

Where the Yankees meander beyond that point is a grave uncertainty.

Do they start Luis Severino on three-days’ rest in Game 6?

Do they concoct something exotic for Game 7, placing the onus on CC Sabathia, J.A. Happ, and whichever bullets are in reserve from the bullpen to advance in a potential Game 7?

The task ahead remains murky, bleak, even improbable.

The Yankees will have to best Justin Verlander (thankfully, they will have home-field advantage to do so) and Gerrit Cole, arms that stand in their way in much the same fashion Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson did in the 2001 World Series.

Ponder, for a moment, the hypotheticals.

What if, instead of acquiring Sonny Gray at the trade deadline in 2017, they landed the bigger catch in Verlander, whose time in Houston revived his career?

What if Brian Cashman was willing to part with Miguel Andujar, Clint Frazier, and other prospects to yield a return of Gerrit Cole from Pittsburgh?

Without question, the Yankees would be in a far better place heading into Game 4 with two aces in support of Tanaka and Severino, precluding any need for acquiring Paxton.  Alas, Jeff Luhnow outwitted Cashman the past two seasons by mustering a trio of Verlander, Cole, and even Zack Greinke, allowing the Houston general manager to pass on re-signing Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton, both presently out of contention despite their best efforts to helm Atlanta and Tampa Bay’s runs at a title.

For what it may be worth, Greinke’s place on the mound in Game 4 works to New York’s advantage as they strive to even up the ALCS, for the former small market hurler has been dreadful pitching in the postseason and at Yankee Stadium, where he is 0-3 in five starts, managing an unsightly 10.19 ERA and 2.03 WHIP.  As of now, Greinke, even in spite of his Hall of Fame-worthy resume, is 3-6 in 13 postseason starts, to the tune of a 4.58 ERA that spiked as a result of his lone ALDS appearance against Tampa last week and his Game 1 ALCS start in Houston, through which he coughed up five homers in only 9 2/3 innings.  To a point, without his Dodger tenure, Greinke is a less than desirable option in October, even if, on paper, he made the Astros stronger at this year’s trade deadline.

Though the Yankees can rest their laurels on power and lineup depth, Giancarlo Stanton‘s absence is a hindrance, with Didi Gregorious, a hero in the ALDS, flailing and Gary Sanchez, hitting .176 all-time in the postseason, harming New York’s potential to face the Washington Nationals, heading to their first Fall Classic in 82 years, next week.

Consider, though, what New York accomplished in spite of two consecutive losses:

  • Collectively, the Yankee pitching staff is posting a 2.17 ERA in the ALCS despite Adam Ottavino‘s 12.89 ERA this October.  What the bullpen had accomplished to close Game 1 and enter the eleventh inning in Game 2 with a chance to win is nothing short of magnificent.
  • The Yankee defense is much improved, as evidenced by the absolute clinic they showcased in Game 1, with Judge pronouncing a legitimate bid for a Gold Glove, Gio Urshela performing admirably, even exceptionally, in Andujar’s absence, Gleyber Torres proving he is a two-way star and franchise cornerstone, and DJ LeMahieu capably fielding three infield positions, dazzling mostly at first base of late.
  • Although much of the action was with two outs in Game 3, the Yankees worked counts against Cole, who walked five batters—a figure he had not posted since a June 18 start in 2018—making him work for his seven scoreless innings.
  • Severino found a groove in spite of his early struggles, through which he punched out six batters and worked a 1-2-3 inning in the third against MVP hopeful Alex Bregman, slugger Yuli Gurriel, and Rookie of the Year candidate Yordan Alvarez on six pitches.  Alas, the momentum stalled when umpire Kerwin Danley had to step behind the plate to start a delayed fifth inning, when Severino faced three batters and allowed Michael Brantley and Bregman to reach base on a single and a walk respectively.  As he always does, though, Chad Green bailed out Severino to close the frame, retiring the only two batters he faced.
  • Though they did not add too much to his astonishing home run total from the regular season (36), the Yankees blasted three shots (from Didi, Gio Urshela, and Judge, which would have been his second of the game) to the warning track in Game 2 against Justin Verlander, who was fortunate enough to exit before the eighth after George Springer tied the game off Ottavino.
  • Faced with well over thirty separate injuries over the course of the season, Aaron Boone has pushed all the right buttons for the duration of 2019, putting his 2018 woes well behind him.  His players believe in him and fans have every right to hold up a man who is likely to be named the American League Manager of the Year.  Undoubtedly, Boone is equaling A.J. Hinch’s efforts this October and then some.
  • Gleyber Torres, the latest postseason hero-in-the-making (boasting a 1.439 OPS with three homers and ten RBI in six postseason starts), DJ LeMahieu (hitting .385 in the ALCS), and Aaron Judge (hitting .321 while getting on-base at an astounding .448 clip this postseason) remain formidable in this postseason.  It is merely a matter of time before their teammates channel the collective efforts they managed in the first four games of this present postseason run with two more contests looming in the Bronx.
  • Speaking of which, the Yankees won twenty series in 2019 at the Stadium, splitting three others, not having lost a set since April.  Having two more games this series at the Stadium can and should equal success.

Consider, too, what the Yankees were ultimately expected to do:  split the first two games in Houston and force Cole to battle in a spot where even Murderers’ Row would be bound to flounder.  In essence, the Bombers have accomplished precisely what they have been called to do, even in spite of Game 2’s heart-rending, 11th inning loss and a litany of missed opportunities in Game 3.

New York is very much alive in pursuit of another storied October, one that could end in glory and champagne, so long as the bats awaken to meet the gargantuan efforts of the pitching staff.

I am an English teacher, music and film aficionado, husband, father of two delightful boys, writer, sports fanatic, former Long Islander, and follower of Christ. Based on my Long Island upbringing, I was groomed as a Yankees, Giants, Rangers, and Knicks fan, and picked up Duke basketball, Notre Dame football, and Tottenham Hotspur football fandom along the way.