NEW YORK — That’s why the Yankees wanted, and needed, the AL East so badly.
At times, home plate umpire Eric Cooper’s strike zone was forgiving to Dallas Keuchel. Other times, the Astros’ defense was menacing; in the fourth, George Springer ranged to his left to rob Alex Rodriguez of a double, and in the sixth, Carlos Correa’s diving play prevented the Yankees from collecting back-to-back hits.
With that in mind, the Yankees walked into nothing short of a predictable vanquish.
Their offense, though encouraging at times, was the same as it’s been for the past few months. They struggled against a left-hander once again, and they failed to string together hits when they needed them most.
“We’re either going to put runs up on the board or we’re not,” said general manager Brian Cashman. “We’re going to swing the bats better than we have recently or we’re not. Tonight was more reflective of what our team has looked like especially in September, from mid-August on.”
And yet, as has been the case all season, the Yankees had a chance. They weren’t expected to have a chance, but they had a chance. And, as Joe Girardi said just a few short weeks ago, “You want a chance.”
Keuchel and Alex Rodriguez dueled with two on, and two out, in the bottom of the sixth. The previous time these two met, Rodriguez was served a two-seam fastball, tailing away. So, he eyed a fastball up and in, and he got one. He swung.
It cut inside.
“I was playing blackjack there, and it paid off,” Keuchel said.
The Yankees didn’t look like a playoff team for the better part of two months, yet found themselves with a shot at the ALDS.
Did the Yankees end up on the wrong end of blackjack?
It’s hard to say whether or not that was the case. The Yankees’ bullpen ERA, once near the top tier of the league, slipped to 17th in all of baseball. The outfield, once a strength of the club, slipped in production when Ellsbury and Gardner dropped off considerably in the second half.
They tried to prevent a decline, but it wasn’t happening. They kicked tires around the league, and there were limited possibilities.
“I didn’t have any place to put anybody,” Cashman said. “We tried making certain deals but I had Beltran in right, Ells in center, Gardy in left. The only second baseman we explored on was Zobrist and he got traded to Kansas City. It was going to cost me Warren and Refsnyder combination. I was like, I’m not going to do that for a three month rental.
“We tried to improve the bullpen, made some significant offers to guys out there that were turned down. So no, I don’t have any regrets. There was nothing that presented itself after the fact that I said, ‘I could have done it.’”
Cashman was stuck between trying to capitalize on great years from Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Carlos Beltran, and thinking about the team’s future, and keeping them strong for years to come. Perhaps, the Yankees could have gone all-out for a win. Not without serious future consequences.
Cashman rattled off almost every name imaginable during his postgame meeting with the media—everyone from Rob Refsnyder, to Mason Williams, to Gary Sanchez. From the sound of it, he’d like to have his whole team back next season.
So, the question becomes: would a healthy club have been enough to win a World Series?
In short—no. For one, the Toronto Blue Jays are just too good. Beyond that, the Yankees simply had too many question marks during the second half of the year, the biggest ones coming at the top of the batting order with Gardner and Ellsbury.
They, like much of the team, crashed and burned.
“I think as a team maybe we hit a little bit of a wall, collectively,” said Rodriguez. “That’s rare, because usually you have some guys get hot, some guys get cold. It seems like all of us hit the wall at the same time.”
The Yankees will not enjoy a different outcome next season if they decide to bring everyone back, hope for the same performances from some of their key veterans, and stash their youth in AAA for another year. They need to add a right-handed power bat, another bullpen arm, and potentially scour the trade market for a young starter similar to Nathan Eovaldi.
Without a change, the Yankees are destined for the same fate as Tuesday. It doesn’t sound like many changes are coming, either.
(Photo: Adam Hunger-USA Today Sports)