This is the night and weekend series that has the potential to change everything and put the Yankees back together. In a six-month regular season, you can say that about any night and any series. Nobody knows what it will take to turn a mediocre baseball team into a championship contender, or even if it will happen at all.
But a 4-0 shutout of baseball’s best offense, and possibly the best team, on Friday night is a great place to start. Remember, the Astros have denied the Yankees a World Series appearance twice in the last four years. They were excellent cheaters, and they are excellent cheaters now that their trash cans and surveillance equipment have been loaded into storage.
On their first trip to Houston since Jose Altuve walked them off with his Game 6 home run off Aroldis Chapman in the 2019 ALCS, the Yankees silenced the Astros’ bats and their fans. At the plate, there were three hits, no runs, and no dogpiles. Before the bullpen got it to the house, Nestor Cortes, who has surrendered three earned runs in 25 2/3 innings this year and has a lower ERA than Jacob deGrom (1.05 to 1.08 if you’re scoring at home), was the living, breathing definition of crafty and deceptive.
Brett Gardner said of Cortes, “No moment is too big for him.”
Gardner had a two-run double in the fourth, and DJ LeMahieu had a two-run double in the seventh after a 10-pitch battle with Bryan Abreu. The Yankees won a small series in Seattle after losing two of three to the Mets, but this was no small victory.
The Astros finished 20 games above.500, leading the majors in runs, hits, RBI, total bases, batting average, on-base percentage, on-base percentage, and runs per game. The Yankees, on the other hand, were not among the top 20 teams in MLB in terms of hits, runs, total bases, RBI, and runs per game, and were dead last in doubles and triples.
That’s why they need to make a few dents in the Houston machine this weekend. It’s pretty obvious what the Yankees need to do to become legitimate playoff contenders: they need to start swinging the bats like the Astros do.
Start making the kind of contact that they did on Friday night, when they had 12 hits.
The Yankees acknowledged before the game that this wasn’t just another July road trip leading up to the All-Star break. Manager Aaron Boone hoped aloud that a successful series “would galvanize us heading into the second half.” After the opening victory, Gardner said it is “imperative to win the series.”
Beating the Astros in their own stadium would be significant. It would make the Yankees feel better about themselves going into the break and returning from it. Now, more than ever, they require a boost of confidence. The Red Sox are the opponents in eight of their first ten post-All-Star games, followed by three games in Tampa Bay. Good luck with that, as they say in the big leagues.
The $324 million man in the middle, Saturday night starter Gerrit Cole, will face former Astros teammate Zack Greinke in this series. Cole’s return comes at a critical juncture in his life. Cole needs to rediscover or reinvent himself, and he needs to do so quickly. He admitted that defeating the Astros would not be about avenging his former team.
“Obviously we have a good team that we’re playing against, somebody that the American League measures themselves against as the top of the league,” Cole said. “And ultimately, a team that if they continue to play well, we’ll have to overcome them in the postseason.”
We’ll have to beat them in the playoffs. Sounds like a man predicting that the Yankees will be in the playoffs, despite the fact that they were nine games out of first place in the division and four and a half games out of first place in the wild card.