Yankees can make a comeback in ALCS

Gerrit Cole of Yankees
Sara Molnick
Saturday October 22, 2022

Table of Contents

The Yankees are down but not out. There are many reasons that stop analysts and fans to write them off though they trail 2-0 in the American League Championship Series.

The Astros are the better team based on their performance in the first two games, and the numbers show that teams that are down 2-0 in a best-of-7 series only win about 15% of the time. Based on the specific players on each team, FanGraphs gives the Yankees a 19% chance of winning the series.

Obviously, 15% or 19% isn’t 0%, right? Even as recently as the 2020 NLCS, when the Dodgers came back from being down 2-0 to the Braves and went on to win the World Series. Yankee fans may have to remember the 2004 ALCS when the Yankees were up 3-0 against Boston but lost the next four. In the history of seven-game series, 14 comebacks from a 2-0 deficit have happened.

It will be hard, but not impossible, to win four of the next five games. According to the numbers, the Yankees only have a one-in-five chance of coming back. They just need to find the right mix of things to make this timeline one where they come out on top.

Vote in the PinstripeNation comeback poll below.

Belittling all odds, the Yankees still have a chance to make a comeback and win the ALCS. How? Let’s find it out.

Cole, Cortes to take the mound

Game 3 is the first where the Yankees are going to field their best starters. The Astros lead the series 2-0, but the Yankees didn’t field Gerrit Cole or Nestor Cortes in those games. Houston just used their two best starting pitchers, and the Yankees are about to use theirs.

Two of Houston’s All-Stars, Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez, will be unavailable in Games 3 and 4. Cole and Cortes, two New York All-Stars, are scheduled to play in those games. It’s not that Jameson Taillon and Luis Severino (who started the first two games for New York) pitched poorly, or that Cristian Javier and Lance McCullers Jr. (who are to start Astros Games 3 and 4) aren’t talented pitchers. Houston had a clear starter advantage in the previous two games, and New York will most likely have one in the next two.

This year, when Cole and Cortes started for the Yankees, the team had a record of 43-22, including the postseason. That’s a winning percentage of .661, which works out to 107 victories over the course of a regular season.

Cole said:

“If it’s 2-0 or if it’s 1-1 or it’s 0-2, it can’t affect the way I go about my business. We all have a job to do. We play each and every game in and of itself, play each and every pitch within each and every game until there’s no more pitches to play, win or lose.”

Now, this has some turns and twists. Most likely, the same teams will play in Games 5 and 6 as they did in Games 1 and 2. This means that the Yankees almost have to win the next two games. But if the Yankees can get through that and make it to Game 7, Cole could have three days off. The Astros wouldn’t have the same choice with Verlander and Valdez, and using Javier on short rest seems unlikely. The pitcher has not started a postseason game before or on three days’ rest.

Houston may bring in Jose Urquidy or Luis Garcia in Game 7. But neither of them is Cole. The key to a possible Yankee comeback is that they can use him twice more, while Houston can’t use Verlander or Valdez twice more.

The Yankee Stadium advantage

The Yankees have the home-field advantage for the next three games. They were much better at home (.704, tied for best in baseball) than on the road (.519) this year. At home, they have a better average in run-per-game and more run-stopping. Houston is much better at home (.679) than on the road (.630).

For instance, Alex Bregman has .972 OPS at home compared to .673 OPS on the road. Even though he’s a power hitter, he doesn’t hit the ball very hard. This year, he’s only in the 36th percentile in terms of how hard he hits the ball. This season, he has hit 25 home runs, including the two he hit in the playoffs. Of those 25, 18 have come in Houston, and 16 of those went to the short porch in left field. This will not help him in New York.

It puts the Yankees in a better position against any team when they play at Yankee Stadium.

The Astros are not runaway winners

This year, the Yankees and Astros have played nine games against each other. The Astros have scored eight more runs than the Yankees. In baseball, it doesn’t matter if you win by one run or 20 runs as long as you have more, so the Astros have won seven of those nine games.

The important thing to note here is that they’ve played close games throughout the entire season. This isn’t the Astros beating the A’s by 37 runs, or the Angels beating the Red Sox by 30, or the Yankees beating the Red Sox by 33 runs.

It is, on average, less than one run per game, which is close enough that a single break in the action, such as a fly ball to right field traveling three extra feet, or a controversial strike call going the other way, could be the difference between a win and a loss.

The Judge factor

The Yankees beat the Astros twice and each time it was Aaron Judge who steered them to victory.

On June 23 in the Bronx, Taillon gave up six runs in 5 2/3 innings and the Yankees were losing 6-3 in the bottom of the 9th. After a very rare comeback against one of baseball’s best relievers, Ryan Pressly, tied the game with a home run by Aaron Hicks, Ryne Stanek came in and Judge was up to the mark.

On June 26, Urquidy threw seven innings and restricted New York to one run over. Then, a homer by LeMahieu leveled the game. That’s where it stayed until the 10th inning when Judge came in and hit the winner.

Kyle Higashioka, Oswaldo Cabrera, or Isiah Kiner-Falefa can also hit big. But no other star is as big as Aaron Judge.

If Judge doesn’t bring it? So, it looks like the Yankees were never going to win that ring. Even though it seems bad right now, and it always does when you’re down 2-0, two games are almost nothing in baseball. Seattle had the greatest comeback of all time in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series and then blew a 7-3 lead in Game 1 of the ALDS against Houston.

It is not time to write off the Yankees.

What do you think? Can Judge make another winning hit against the Astros and guide the Yankees to the championship?

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