Concern is in a true baseball fan’s blood. Below a layer of brashness, any fan on either side of a rivalry will remain cautiously optimistic with a big lead and neurotically negative with any sort of deficit, large or small. Even if a Yankees fan publicly wants to declare the AL East to be fairly settled, they’ll never really believe it until the moment it becomes officially stamped.
In other words, you don’t have to tell this fan base to be concerned about the surging Houston Astros, too, a newly-minted rivalry just as intense as anything brewing between New York and Boston/Toronto/Tampa.
Though the Yankees still hold the best record in baseball and remain on an historic win pace, the Astros aren’t far behind, and their second-half road is far easier. While nearly a quarter of the Yanks’ remaining schedule comes against Boston, games that always look the same no matter either team’s record, Houston will get to feast on the weakened AL West for a large portion of the second half. That means recurring waves of the A’s and Angels as the Yankees attempt to batten down the hatches against a trio of potential playoff teams.
It’s far too soon to be concerned with playing Games 6 and 7 of a hypothetical ALCS on the road in Houston, considering how many hurdles still stand between the Yankees and that future. But the Astros are certainly putting the clamps on from across the country, and can further announce themselves in a doubleheader immediately following the All-Star break.
Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner admitted that concerns him this week, and in the back of any fan’s mind, you’ll probably find a similar level of unspoken concern.
Yankees’ Hal Steinbrenner is concerned about the Astros’ push in the second half
As Steinbrenner put it, when confronted about the Astros’ inability to disappear:
"“We all need to be concerned about Houston,” Steinbrenner told the New York Post Wednesday. “They’re a very good team. The games we’ve played so far have been close, for the most part. It’s gonna be a challenge, but it’s gonna be a challenge for them, too, make no mistake.”"
However, he was purposefully mum when asked to comment on the back-and-forth cheating allegations lobbed between Brian Cashman and Astros president Jim Crane:
"Steinbrenner has done just that, avoiding any real response to Crane’s criticism, both when the news broke and now as he continued to duck questions on the topic Wednesday.“I did not respond. This is history, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not gonna relive history,” Steinbrenner told the Post. “I’m looking forward, not backward. And I’m gonna be looking at the Astros. As has been pointed out, we’re probably gonna be playing them in some pretty big games.”"
Whether the history of the rivalry remains unspoken by the parties involved or shouted loudly, it’ll still be what consumes fans on the verge of any postseason matchup between the two teams.
The Yankees have a long way to go before seeing the Astros in October — as do the Astros, to be honest, who will likely have to deal with a first-round matchup against either Carlos Correa in a grudge match or an AL East titan.
But when New York arrives in that theoretical series, the energy in the Twitterverse and beyond will be expecting them to fail and hoping for a feast on the carcass, rather than gunning for their success. That’s what every post-2017 season-ender has wrought, and that’s the reason Steinbrenner is “concerned” about a faraway team outside his division in the middle of an historic stretch.