It will take 2 games for the Yankees to understand the trade desperation
Imagine the potential big moments left in this Yankees regular season.
When, and if, Luis Severino and Zack Britton (remember him?) pitch will be vital to how they look and what they might bring in the playoffs.
The two-game Subway Series pairing is still theater, especially if Jacob deGrom can ever regain his health and perhaps line up in one of those series with Max Scherzer to face the Yankees.
If Aaron Judge were approaching 60 or 61 home runs, it would add daily drama in the final days of the season, much like the Yankees approaching their team record 114 wins or the Mariners’ MLB record of 116 wins from 2001.
But without at least the start of a historic slump, in which they blow their 13-game lead over AL East in the last 70 games, the Yankees are going to have plenty of days deprived of meaning. And it’s going to be tough to blow that lead for the most obvious reasons — these Yankees are really good, the lead is huge, and there’s only 43 percent of the competition left in the schedule to catch them.
It is not impossible. But that’s unlikely, especially considering the division’s ability. All five AL East teams begin the second half with at least .500 records and packed schedules of games against each other. It’s going to be tough to put together the kind of record needed to catch the Yankees. For example, via Tankathon, the three toughest remaining schedules for AL teams belong to the Red Sox (0.530 winning percentage), Rays (0.524), and Orioles (0.520). The Blue Jays’ remaining opponents are a combined .515; the Yankees’ enemies are at .510.
And the Yankees will get the better of those opponents on Day 1 of the second half. Twice. That’s why it’s safe to say that Thursday will be the most important day on the Yankees’ regular season schedule.
That’s when they’ll play a doubleheader at Minute Maid Park against – sorry, the Red Sox – their current most hated rival, the Astros. And it is not difficult to unearth its meaning.
Unlike the lack of stress in the AL East, the Yankees lead the Astros by 4 ¹/₂ games for the best record in the American League. The better record will get home court advantage if the two end up in the ALCS. In 2017 and 2019, the Astros had home-court advantage and ended the Yankees’ season at Minute Maid. This year, the Yankees need to do as much damage as possible because the AL West isn’t deep and Houston’s remaining schedule has a .474 winning percentage — seventh easiest for the rest.
But it goes beyond that for the series of the season.
The Astros have won three of five so far — enough, say, to win a five-game AL Division series. And the dominant force in those games was Houston’s starting pitch. In the two games the Yankees won, they didn’t lead until Judge hit against the Houston bullpen.
The Astros’ rotation has kept the Yankees averaging .093 and .393 OPS over the five games — and Lance McCullers Jr., who has yet to start this year, is just beginning a rehab mission that could further deepen Houston’s starting group.
Matt Carpenter hasn’t started in any of the Yankees’ five games. Manager Aaron Boone is expected to change that in both games on Thursday. Houston’s rotation (aside from Framber Valdez) and the bullpen are heavily right-handed. The Yankees need to see if Carpenter’s revitalization will continue and what that will look like against the Astros. This will provide even more insight into whether the Yankees need to find another hitter before the Aug. 2 trade deadline, preferably left-handed (Juan Soto?) to better face any opponent, including Houston.
It’s a small sample, but that’s all the Yankees have right now. So if they’re concerned about starting games after another 24 hours in the Astro world, will that be an impetus to push more for a starter, with Cincinnati All-Star Luis Castillo currently the best available on the market? .
Namely, the Yankees have another day on the schedule — the last of this regular season — to combat the idea that the Astros have a residence in their psyche. The Astros clearly don’t flinch when it comes to facing the Yankees. Houston’s malfeasance in sign-stealing is on par with selling Babe Ruth to the rivalry with the Yankees, the genesis of increased competition and hostility. And like that Yankees-Red Sox rivalry up until 2004, this one has been one-sided — big advantage, Astros.
There aren’t many days left in the regular season and they have that big division lead, so Thursday will give the Yankees their last chance before October to judge their skill and willpower against their most despised foe. That makes it quite an important day.