In the regular season, Houston and New York scored the most runs in the entire league. The Astros’ offense scored 896, almost 40 more than the Yankees with their 858 runs in second place. The Yankees were themselves over 30 runs over the Rockies, in third place.
So with the Yankees and the Astros playing each other in the ALCS, it would be reasonable to expect runs. Some kind of offense. Any kind of offense, really. Instead, in the first two games, both teams put six runs combined on the board in two one-run wins by Houston.
In the third game, the Yankees’ bats finally came alive and they gave us a glimpse of what the series could have, and possibly should have been like, all along.
Of course, runs scored aren’t the only metric of a team’s presumed success or failure on offense in the postseason. The Yankees’ pitching staff had the fifth-best ERA in the league in the regular season at 3.72, and the Astros were worse at 4.12 but were still only 11th out of all teams before the postseason.
When you consider the pitching talent each team has (and factor in Justin Verlander’s talents with the rest of Houston’s regular season rotation) the two teams facing each other might not have been a one-way street to Run Town. Yet it was fair to expect more than six runs combined in two games — especially knowing what we know about the lack of longevity by starters in this postseason. Where were the runs?
The Yankees batted .262 in the regular season, good enough for seventh in the league. Before Monday, in the ALCS they batted just .158. In the Astros’ case, they led the league with a team batting average of .282, and in Games 1 and 2 their usually formidable lineup hit almost a full point lower than that at .189.
Definitely not the expected performance on either side.
In Game 3, the Astros didn’t do much better going just 4-for-31 and plating one run, but the Yankees’ lineup woke up at long last and went 7-for-30 to score eight runs.
This — THIS — was the series promised. Even if the Astros aren’t holding up their end of the bargain just yet.
It’s not just that the Yankees scored runs either, it’s that they scored them in a very “regular season Yankees” way.
Aaron Judge hit a three-run shot off of a 93-mph fastball on a 2-2 count, right after he fouled off another 93-mph fastball that he really wanted to be a home run. Todd Frazier, at this point the king of the unexpected RBI on the Yankees’ roster, hit the first postseason home run of his career in the second inning to break a scoreless tie.
It’s the kind of offense that the Yankees used to achieve their surprise victory against the Indians in the ALDS. Gaining momentum once they scored early runs, taking advantage of the men they had on base, jumping on opportunities to score when pitchers gave them openings with wild pitches or passed balls.
When we all collectively asked the universe “where is the Yankees’ offense?” in Games 1 and 2, this was exactly the outcome that people were imagining. Maybe not the Yankees winning the game, because to each their own when it comes to rooting interests, but ...
That’s not to say nobody should be thankful for the Verlander game, which was a marvel, or that pitchers’ duels are inherently bad (they’re sometimes a slog, but not bad!). But looking at the landscape of the playoffs and going “oh, there should totally be runs there” and then not getting many runs is a natural path to disappointment.
It’s the human condition. Give us the runs that you are so clearly hiding from us out of spite, baseball gods!
If the series goes back to being a low-scoring, knock-down, drag-out fight between these two teams and there aren’t more than five runs scored for the rest of the series, that could be fine too. Low-scoring games and exciting games aren’t mutually exclusive events.
But one of the probable paths this series could have taken was that of a high-scoring and bullpen-centric set of games. It could keep going down this other path — starting pitchers doing well and teams having to take their runs where they can get them — but the Yankees scored a lot of runs and opened up a portal to another world of the ALCS.
The world where runs come easy for both sides, dingers are a main course, and players rounding the bases with a smile are a pleasant side dish.