December 6, 2022
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The Yankees are once again being exposed by the Astros; here’s how organizational failures led them here

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NEW YORK — Barring a legendary, done-only-once-before-in-the-history-of-baseball kinda comeback, the New York Yankees will be sent home for the winter by the Houston Astros at some point in the next four days. The Astros won Game 3 of the ALCS Saturday night and hold a commanding 3-0 series lead. One more win and they’ll clinch their fourth AL pennant in the last six years.

“Yeah, I mean, we have to (turn it around),” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said following the Game 3 loss. “It starts with as simple as winning pitches, then start stacking together quality at-bats to put ourselves in a good situation. Whether it’s a big key hit, some slug, whatever. We just need to get a little bit of a spark and something to bounce our way and try and grab a lead and play with it a little bit.”

The Yankees have been held to four runs in the three ALCS games and, as a team, they’re hitting .128/.212/.223 with two home runs and 41 strikeouts in the series. The Astros haven’t exactly torn the cover off the ball either — Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, and Kyle Tucker are a combined 3 for 32 in the ALCS — but they’ve struck out half as often (19 times) while homering more than twice as much (5).

So barring a historic comeback from a 3-0 series deficit, the Astros will soon end New York’s season for the third time in six years. And for the Yankees, this is the kind of dismantling that sticks with you and should prompt organizational introspection, because not only have the Yankees been unable to beat the Astros, the gap between the two teams has never been wider.

The fact of the matter is the Astros are better than the Yankees at literally everything. Better offense, better pitching, better defense, better baserunning, better decision-making, better player development, better at identifying talent, they’re tougher, and they have a championship edge the Yankees so clearly lack. The Yankees are wilting as much as they are losing.    

In 2017, the Yankees pushed the Astros to Game 7 in the ALCS, and only four Astros players from that series are still with the team: Altuve, Alex Bregman, Lance McCullers Jr., and Justin Verlander. The Astros turned over their core — Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel, George Springer, and others were allowed to leave as free agents — and were seamlessly replaced. Game 1 hero Jeremy Peña replaced Correa, Game 2 hero Framber Valdez replaced Keuchel, and Game 3 hero Chas McCormick replaced Springer. On and on we could go.

The Yankees, meanwhile, have stagnated since that 2017 ALCS. Aaron Judge and Luis Severino are the only Yankees to appear in both the 2017 ALCS and 2022 ALCS, and the promising young players that were supposed to form the next core post-Core Four have all since stalled out (Gleyber Torres), gone backwards (Gary Sánchez), or flamed out (Greg Bird and Clint Frazier). When one or two prospects don’t work out, well that’s baseball. When this many don’t work out, there’s something rotten organizationally.

New York’s failure to develop players beyond Judge and Severino has led to a series of trade and free-agent missteps. Joey Gallo was acquired because Frazier busted. Josh Donaldson was imported to play third base because Miguel Andújar stalled out. The Yankees have used three different starting shortstops in three ALCS games because they don’t trust Isiah Kiner-Falefa, who was brought in to play the position when the Yankees determined Torres couldn’t handle it. It’s been mistake on top of mistake.

After the Yankees lost the AL Wild Card Game to the Boston Red Sox last year, Boone said the “league has closed the gap on us,” and with all due respect, that is delusional. It was delusional then and it looks more delusional now. You have to be on top for the league to close the gap on you, which the Yankees haven’t been. The reality is the gap was closed a few years ago and is now growing wider, with the Yankees on the wrong side of it. This year’s ALCS has made it abundantly clear.

Can the Yankees beat the Astros four straight games to complete a remarkable ALCS comeback? Sure. They’re a good team and good teams beat great teams four times all the time. But it is so very unlikely. New York’s body language in Game 3 was that of a defeated team, one that knows it is not on the same level as its opponent. The Astros are in the Yankees’ heads at this point. The Yankees will never admit it, but it is evident from their play and body language.

The Yankees are coming up on their most important offseason of the last 25 years or so. Judge is a free agent and so is GM Brian Cashman, who has been at the helm since 1998. The Yankees have averaged 99 wins in the last four 162-game seasons. They’re obviously not a bad team, but the Yankees are not judged on regular-season success, and when one team keeps bullying you the way the Astros have, the architect of the roster certainly deserves blame.

Re-signing Judge and bringing Cashman back, and making a few tweaks to the roster, would be justifiable. After all, the Yankees are really good and anything can happen in a short postseason series, right? The 111-win Los Angeles Dodgers and defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves were sent packing last week. At the same time, the Yankees looked poised to become a juggernaut after that ALCS trip in 2017 …

  • … because they had Bird, Judge, Sánchez, and Severino on the MLB roster, none of whom were older than 25.
  • … because they had a highly regarded farm system led by Andújar, Frazier, and Torres.
  • … because they had close to a clean slate financially with Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez off the books.

… and they’ve failed to play in the World Series these last six years, nevermind win one. These last six years, Judge’s six years of cheap team control, were a giant missed opportunity. Young players stagnated, bad trades were made, and free-agent opportunities were passed on (why is Bryce Harper not in pinstripes?). Eventually you need a new voice and a fresh set of eyes atop the baseball operations department. Running it back with the same personnel feels untenable.

Maybe the Yankees go down swinging and make the Astros sweat before the ALCS ends. Ultimately, it won’t matter. Unless they miraculously come back to win the series, the Yankees have again been exposed as a second-rate team in the American League. They’re looking up at the Astros yet again, and that shouldn’t sit well with anyone in the organization.





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