The Yankees have been down 0-2 in seven-game playoff series a bunch of times. Heck, on four of those occasions they won the dang World Series. If Yankees fans are despairing on this Monday, they just need to think back to 1996, 1978, 1958 or 1956 and realize that all is not yet lost.
Going down 0-3, though? That can’t happen.
To be sure, it’s not completely unheard of for a team to come back from an 0-3 deficit in a seven-game playoff series. The Yankees bore witness to that when the 2004 Boston Red Sox did it. The other 34 teams that have found themselves in that position, however, have all gone on to lose. As such, it’s not crazy to say that, if the Yankees lose to the Houston Astros tonight and fall to 0-3 in the ALCS, their season is basically over.
Lucky for them they have their stopper on the mound.
It’s been a few years since CC Sabathia has been thought of as an ace, but he has been a stopper. As Christian Red of the New York Daily News noted yesterday, Sabathia took the hill ten times following a Yankees loss in 2017. In those starts he went 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA. I don’t think certain pitchers have some supernatural ability to be better after their team loses — Sabathia himself is on record saying that he doesn’t approach such starts any differently — but there certainly has to be value in having been around enough and in enough big situations that they don’t faze you. Sabathia may or may not win, but he isn’t gonna be fazed tonight.
Sabathia is not a horse anymore, and Joe Girardi has been relatively quick to pull him. Sometimes too quick, arguably, as was the case in Game 2 of the ALDS when he was cruising against the Indians before the team’s wheels fell off. But he’s been effective for the Yankees, pitching into the sixth inning of that start and allowing two runs in four and a third innings in Game 5. Again, not acelike stuff, but in an era where quick hooks are the norm in postseason play rather than the exception, it’s good enough. Especially when with the strong Yankees bullpen.
Run prevention isn’t exactly the Yankees biggest problem, though. The powerful Astros offense has come up big in a couple of key spots, obviously, but they’ve only scored four runs in their two wins. That’s been enough given the dominant starts from Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander. What the Yankees really need their moribund bats to wake up. So far in this series New York is hitting a meager .159 (10-for-63) with 27 strikeouts, four walks and 16 total bases. Aaron Judge is 1-for-7 with three strikeouts in the ALCS and 2-for-27 with 19 strikeouts in the ALDS and ALCS combined. Gary Sanchez is 0-for-7 in this series and 4-for-30 since the wild-card game, going hitless in his last 12 at-bats.
Luckily for them they face Charlie Morton tonight and not a Cy Young-caliber starter. Morton started Game 4 of ALDS, allowing two runs on seven hits in four and a third innings. The Red Sox made him work in that game, seeing 83-pitches. The Yankees will want to be patient against him too so that they can get into the Astros’ little-used bullpen. For what it’s worth, Morton has seen the Yankees twice this year, going 1-1 with a 5.68 ERA.
Whether it’s a big game from Sabathia or a big game from their offense, the Yankees need something to go right for them tonight. Only elimination games are literally must-win games, but if they lose tonight they’ll be staring a virtually insurmountable 0-3 deficit in the face. As such tonight is, for all practical purposes, a must-win affair.