For the second straight year, the Yankees are overachieving

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Katie Sharp at the Yankees blog IATM notes that, for the second straight year, the Yankees are poised to do something historic. Not, like, gloriously historic, but historic nonetheless:

If the Yankees maintain their current season pace, they would become the first team in major-league history to post back-to-back winning seasons while being outscored by at least 20 runs in each year.

Last season the Yankees went 85-77 despite a run differential of -21, their worst mark since 1991 (-103). Based on the amount of runs scored and allowed, the team was expected to win just 79 games.

This year they could easily end up with an even lower run differential and still produce a winning record – they currently have been outscored by 27 runs and are five games over .500.

Katie analyzes why this may be and chalks it up to good hitting in close-and-late situations. Whether that’s a skill or not is often debated. I’ve not seen a lot of great evidence that convinces me that it’s a skill, so it may be luck.

But you can’t just say the Yankees have been lucky, either. They’ve had a good back end of their bullpen, and good bullpens help in close games (losing the blowouts + winning the close ones often = outperformance of run differential). Another constant: Joe Girardi. I don’t think anyone has the market cornered on managerial analysis any more than we have it cornered on close-and-late hitting being a skill, but managers doing harm often lead to a run being blown or forgone here or there. Girardi never seems to mess up like that. And maybe he’s doing some good things too in that dark area of managerial unknowns.

Not that any of this will make Yankees fans feel a lot better if their guys don’t make the playoffs for the second straight year. But it’s probably worth noting that it could’ve — and maybe should’ve — been way worse for them than it has been.

Astros advance to the World Series with 4-0 finale against Yankees

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The Astros punched their ticket to the World Series on Saturday, shutting out the Yankees 4-0 to take their first Game 7 victory at home. Charlie Morton was nearly untouchable on the mound, holding the Yankees to two hits, a walk and five strikeouts en route to his first career postseason win.

Morton and Sabathia carried their duel through three solid innings. Morton struck out three batters and allowed just one baserunner. Sabathia worked in and out of jams in the second and third innings, supplying and stranding two runners in scoring position.

Evan Gattis was the first to strike. In the fourth inning, he punched a 2-2 slider from Sabathia into the left field wall, where it registered a projected 405 feet and broke a homer-less streak of 115 at-bats by designated hitters in the 2017 postseason. The home run signaled the beginning of the end for the Yankees’ starter. He induced a groundout from Marwin Gonzalez, then walked Brian McCann on six pitches and allowed Josh Reddick his first base hit of the playoffs. That was enough for Joe Girardi, who pulled Sabathia for righty Tommy Kahnle and an inning-ending double play to close out the fourth.

Even with Sabathia gone, there was still some hope that the middle of the order could bail the Yankees out. Greg Bird led off the fifth with a first pitch double and Aaron Hicks took a four-pitch walk. A wild pitch from Morton allowed Bird to reach third base, but Alex Bregman and Brian McCann weren’t about to let the Yankees spoil their starter’s shutout. Todd Frazier bounced a ball toward third base, where Bregman grabbed and fired it to home plate, catching Bird just as McCann put his glove down.

The bottom of the inning wasn’t any easier for Sabathia’s successors. Jose Altuve went oppo-taco on a 1-1 changeup from Kahnle, postmarking it 364 feet into the right field stands. Kahnle labored through the next four at-bats, handing out a pair of singles to Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel before sending Gattis down swinging. The next at-bat was even more troublesome. McCann roped a two-out, two-RBI double to the warning track in right field, clearing the bases and boosting the Astros’ to a cushy 4-0 lead.

The excitement fizzled a little over the next few innings. Brett Gardner muscled a leadoff single off of Lance McCullers, but was later caught at second on a force play to end the sixth. McCullers didn’t let go of the ball again. He was lights-out through the end of the game, scattering a walk and six strikeouts over four innings and clinching the pennant with a 1-2-3 performance in the ninth.

Whatever confidence the Astros had coming off of their three-game sweep in the Division Series was tested and tested again in their pennant run. They battled through three tough losses in Games 3 through 5, staved off elimination with a gem from Justin Verlander in Game 6, and finally emerged victorious tonight. Three days from now, when they enter Dodger Stadium for Game 1 of the World Series, they’ll have the chance to do it all again.