The State of the Races

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I think the photo just about sums it up.  Anyway, because I want there to be a record of all of this after my death (which should occur sometime on Monday or Tuesday at this rate), here’s where we stand:

AL Wild Card: Boston is like that kindly uncle holding out a dollar bill for little Jimmy to take. Except little Jimmy won’t take it for some reason, so the uncle gives it to Bobby instead.  The Rays are Jimmy and the Angels are Bobby.  Both are two and a half games back.  Tune in to HBT Daily later today as Tiffany mocks me about all of this. Because she’s about the only person I know who picked the Angels to go to the playoffs.

NL Wild Card: Boston’s collapse has gotten way more press because they’re Boston, but they friggin’ gained ground on their nearest pursuer yesterday. The Braves, in contrast, are going into their collapse with full gusto.  But let’s be clear about something: we do the Cardinals a great disservice when we make this all about the Braves’ collapse. Yes, that’s real and I’m not trying to minimize it at all, but let’s not forget that the Cardinals have won 12 of 14, including a sweep of the Braves not too long ago. A collapse can’t happen in a vacuum. Someone has to capitalize, and the Cardinals are doing just that. San Francisco is still lurking at 3.5 back.

As for the rest:

AL East: Signed, sealed and delivered to the Yankees.
AL Central: The Tigers are busy setting up their playoff roation.
AL West: The Rangers’ magic number is three. But even if they clinch, they have meaningful games against the Angels next week.
NL East: Philly has nothing left to accomplish in the regular season, but arresting that five-game skid would be nice.
NL Central: Brewers’ magic number is three.
NL West: Diamondbacks’ magic number is two.

The Astros gave the Yankees an opening. Keuchel and Verlander will try to close the door.

Associated Press
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If Game 4 of the ALCS had been even remotely conventional, it’d stand at 3-1 in favor of Houston right now. The Yankees’ starter pitched well but got no run support. A mighty Astros team with an ordinarily good closer in Ken Giles had a 4-0 lead in the late innings. As the Yankees set out to mount a comeback, a base runner fell down in between first and second and should’ve been dead to rights. This is playoff baseball, however, so stuff, as they say, happens. The runner was safe, the closer struggled, the Yankees rallied and now we’re tied 2-2.

But are we even at 2-2?

On paper, no, because the Astros now will send Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander out in Games 5 and 6, and that gives them a clear advantage. Keuchel dominated the Yankees in Game 1, tossing seven scoreless innings and striking out ten batters. Verlander struck out 13 batters in a 124-pitch complete game in which he allowed only a single run. Beyond the mere facts of the box scores, however, the Yankees have looked profoundly overmatched by both of the Astros’ aces, in this postseason and on other occasions on which they’ve faced off against them. Most notably in the 2015 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium when Keuchel pitched six scoreless innings in the 3-0 victory.

But remember: stuff happens.

Stuff like Aaron Judge‘s and Gary Sanchez‘s bats waking up. The two most important sluggers in the Bombers lineup combined to go 3-for-6 with two doubles, a homer, a walk and five RBI in last night’s victory. Each of them had been silent for the first three games of the series but if they’re heating up, the Yankees will be a lot harder to pitch to.

Stuff like Masahiro Tanaka showing that he can tame the Astros’ lineup. Which he did pretty well in Game 1, giving up only two runs on four hits in six innings. He was overshadowed by Keuchel in that game, but it was a good performance against a strong lineup in a hostile environment. Tanaka pitches much better at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road, so don’t for a second think that the Astros bats will have an easy time of it today.

Stuff like the Yankees bullpen still being the Yankees bullpen. Yes, the Astros got to David Robertson yesterday, but it’s still a strong, strong group that gives the Yankees a clear advantage if the game is close late or if they hold a lead.

All of which is to say that we have ourselves a series, friends. While, 48 hours ago, it seemed like we were on our way to an Astros coronation, the Yankees have shown up in a major way in Games 3 and 4. If you’re an Astros fan you should feel pretty confident with Keuchel and Verlander heading into action over the next two games, but we have learned that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.