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Are the Yankees “the most lovable” team left in the playoffs?

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I am not lover of the New York Yankees. I don’t hate them or anything — baseball is way too benign a human pursuit for me to muster hatred for any team — but they’re not a team I’m likely to support in most contexts.

Part of this is because of my natural disinclination to throw my support behind powerful and successful people or institutions without a really good reason. The Yankees are baseball’s most successful franchise by a long shot, they know it, and they don’t need or want my support. I respect their success and there’s something I respect about that “we don’t care what you think” mentality, so I think we’re all OK with this arrangement. It’s an arrangement I think most non-Yankees fans have with that franchise. No one really bandwagons with the Yankees.

The 2017 Yankees have tested that stance far harder than any other Yankees team I can recall. They’re, for the most part, a super likable team. Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius and young players like Aaron Hicks, Luis Severino and Greg Bird are a ton of fun to watch. CC Sabathia is authoring a pretty enjoyable third act to his career. There are far fewer big name, high-priced free agents on this club than on Yankees clubs past, and the ones who are there aren’t super critical to the team’s success. There’s just a lot more to like about this Yankees club than almost any other Yankees club. Indeed, it may be the most likable Yankees team in my lifetime.

But are they the most lovable team left standing in the playoffs? That’s the idea that Bill Madden of the Daily News advances today:

They are not overwhelmed by the moment. Rather, they are embracing it, and having fun, which brings up something else, another intangible that could play in their favor from here on out: America is watching and finding them…well…kind of lovable, an adjective never before associated with the Yankees outside of the Bronx . . . [The Astros] will have to understand the Baby Bombers are not awed by this experience — while also accepting the fact that this is one Yankee team the folks in the hinterlands can find themselves rooting for.

Anyone else buying that?

We have to rule the Cubs out, right? Nothing personal against them, but the defending champs are usually, by definition, not the most lovable team left. The only people hoping they repeat are Cubs fans. Everyone else without a direct rooting interest wants to see new blood, don’t they? I tend to think so anyway, but maybe I’m wrong about that.

The Dodgers are a tough choice because, while they too have a lot of good home grown talent, they are also a historically excellent franchise, even if they haven’t won a World Series in 29 years, limiting the bandwagoning. They are also perceived as a bought-and-paid for team in much the same way the Yankees traditionally have been. They likewise have a few players that a lot of people just sort of don’t like in Yasiel Puig, Chase Utley and some turgid-paced relievers people don’t tend to enjoy. Personally speaking there are a lot more Dodgers players I like and enjoy than not, but I don’t presume that most baseball fans will come around to that notion.

That leaves the Astros. This particular club can’t be considered underdogs given that they won 101 games, but they are still pretty new to this whole winning thing. They lost 111 games just four years ago. Some of their most important players — Jose Altuve, Dallas Keuchel and Brad Peacock — were on that team, so there is definitely some uplifting narrative drama there not unlike what we saw with the 2015-16 Cubs. They don’t strike out much which is refreshing in this age, aesthetically speaking. If you’re into larger storylines you can bring in Hurricane Harvey stuff to color the whole Houston experience, even if I’m usually not a fan of mixing up civic strife and professional sports success to create uplifting storylines.

I dunno. Maybe it’s dumb to try to cast any assemblage of professional athletes under a corporate banner as “lovable.” They’re entertainers whose skills and showmanship we can appreciate and enjoy without having to bring love into it, aren’t they?

But if we are going to ascribe “lovability” to these guys, though . . . who ya got?

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).