Blame it on whatever you want. The Houston Astros play in an easier division. The Houston Astros have much less of a spotlight than the New York Yankees. Teams have gifted the Houston Astros players in trades. It doesn’t matter what’s made the Astros so good. It’s just been that way since 2015 pretty much, and the Yankees haven’t done a single thing about it.
Look at this year, too. The Astros already clinched the AL West and will surely win 100 games this season to give them home field advantage throughout the playoffs — something that the Yankees should’ve easily locked up after their historic first-half start.
Houston’s managed to do this without Carlos Correa (departed in free agency), Michael Brantley (injured after just 64 games), Lance McCullers Jr. (only recently returned from Tommy John surgery), Kendall Graveman (departed in free agency), Zack Greinke (departed in free agency) and WITH some substandard performances from guys like Martin Maldonado, Yuli Gurriel, Jeremy Peña (Remember when he was the ROY?) and Chas McCormick.
What would’ve happened if the Yankees had lost that many players and absorbed that much below-average production in their lineup? How much worse could the month of August really gotten?
The fact of the matter is that the Astros continuously prove they can deal with departures, losses, curveballs, unforeseen circumstances — whatever you want to call it — and remain a juggernaut. The Yankees can’t even prove to be a juggernaut when they’re at full force.
Astros’ surge shows Yankees still have a ton to prove
So there you have it. The “special year” that was supposed to see the AL competition come through the Bronx will now be an underwhelming year that will see the AL competition going through Houston yet again.
The Yankees are typically characterized as a team that cannot succeed without every last piece of general manager Brian Cashman’s puzzle. Luis Severino injuries? Rotation derailed. Aroldis Chapman meltdowns? Bullpen’s a disaster. Giancarlo Stanton injury? Entire lineup sans Aaron Judge can’t produce. Every trade acquisition meant to make any sort of impact? Ultimate dud that sets the team back a year.
Meanwhile, the Astros won the AL last year without Verlander and McCullers. This year, they’re the second-best team in baseball after having to replace an All-Star talent like Correa and losing one of the league’s best contact hitters in Brantley, all the while working with a largely pedestrian rotation and bullpen (sorry, we’re just not going to gas up Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia, Rafael Montero, Hector Neris and Phil Maton). But manager Dusty Baker has made it work!
The biggest thing with the Astros, however, is that they don’t play down to their competition and they take care of business more times than not when the spotlight is on. The Yankees, on the other hand, famously play down to their competition and manage to choke more often than not in key moments. Houston smushed the Yankees five out of seven times this year. They went 51-25 in their division. They went 26-8 against the AL Central.
While the road might’ve been a bit easier for the Astros, the difference is they never let up. From July-Sept. 20, they’ve gone 48-24 while the Yankees, who couldn’t deal with injuries or show any sort of ability to shake out of a slump, went 32-37. The Astros also win on the road (46-28) and the Yankees do not (38-36).
Both of these clubs have their star players, their key contributors, and their supporting cast members. In theory, the Yankees, on paper, have a superior bunch, but have let the narrative get away from them time and time again. New York’s 64 first-half wins had them six up on Houston with a fairly favorable schedule on deck.
The second half has been the difference, though, because the Yankees hadn’t dealt with any adversity in the first half. When the punches started to come, the Yankees failed to dip and got hit with every single fist thrown their way. The Astros, for the past few years, have been taking punches left and right, eating them and responding. Maybe it’s time to stop chanting “Cheaters!” in road ballparks? They seem to enjoy that quite a bit, actually.
That’ll be the only way the Yankees can flip the script now, because they won’t have the comfort of home field advantage, despite it being right there for the taking just two short months ago.