Scott Thompson, SNY.tv | Twitter |
After a washout on Wednesday night, the Yankees and Astros return to the field for Game 4 of the ALCS. And even though the series is only at 2-1 in favor of Houston, the Yankees find themselves with their backs up against the wall.
Because Thursday night in the Bronx is a must-win for this Yankees club.
No, this isn't fatalistic thinking. And yes, of course every game in the playoffs has a must-win aura surrounding it. But the rainout has caused things to shift in the Astros favor even more, which makes winning this contest imperative.
Zack Greinke will be getting the ball for the Astros, whom the Yankees took care of in their Game 1 victory. And it will be the same as Game 1 for the Yankees with Masahiro Tanaka on the mound as well. It's the most favorable matchup for the Yankees, given the past two contests that saw Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole have success against their powerful lineup.
The Yankees would love to repeat that series opener and tie things up at two games apiece. But this game holds much more weight than Game 1, and here's why a win matters so much to the Bombers...
1) Verlander awaits in Game 5
The rainout couldn't have worked in the Astros' favor any better. The extra day off allowed the series' Game 2 starter in Verlander an extra day to rest. That's why manager A.J. Hinch made the no-brainer call to name Verlander the Game 5 starter on Friday night.
The Astros would be in a great position to clinch the series with Verlander on the bump if they were to come away with a victory in Game 4. Only Aaron Judge got to Verlander, with his two-run homer down in Houston. Overall, he allowed five hits and those two runs while striking out seven and walking two over 6.2 innings of work.
Verlander will know full well that he sets the tone in a series-clinching game, and that could bring out those couple extra notches of heat and accuracy he can generate under pressure. Not ideal for the Yankees there.
2) Cole is somewhere in Game 6 or 7
Here's the scenario: Let's say the Yankees do lose in Game 4, but come away with an upset over Verlander in Game 5 to push the series back to Houston. They would mean the need to win two straight games to overcome the 3-1 deficit, and though it isn't impossible, the man who just dominated them on their home turf in Game 3 will be on the mound in one of those Houston games.
Cole was stellar in his seven-inning performance on Tuesday, pitching to the tune of no runs allowed on four hits with seven strikeouts over seven innings. The Yankees did manage five walks off him -- the most he's allowed all season long -- but had nothing to show for it as Cole worked his way out of jams.
One hit or two in that Game 3 and it could've changed that narrative. But five walks from Cole just doesn't happen, and with home field advantage on his side if the series goes this far, it would be an even tougher matchup for the Yankees hitters. Hinch hasn't said if Cole would pitch on short rest in a potential Game 6 or not. If Hinch decides not to, Cole is at full rest in Game 7.
The Yankees would rather face him with some momentum.
3) History doesn't favor the 3-1 underdogs
Throughout sports -- not just the MLB -- teams that are down 3-1 in a series don't normally move on. Though not impossible, it's a hard feat to accomplish.
Only 13 teams in the MLB postseason dating back to the 1925 Pirates, who defeated the Washington Senators to win the World Series, have overcome that deficit. In fact, the last five teams to do that in the postseason have gone on to win the World Series, with the most recent being the Cubs against the Indians in 2016.
But do we really want to test that theory? Rather not.
4) Momentum in the postseason is crucial
It's not hard to tell where the momentum is shifting at the moment. The Astros have won the last two games, and are taking advantage of Yankee mistakes as good playoff teams do.
The Yankees did that in Game 1, though, and the momentum scale could easily shift their way once again with a win. Think about what that momentum could do in a tied-up series, at home, and with Verlander listening to 54,000+ screaming in Yankee Stadium for Game 5.
Taking that momentum from Thursday night to a crucial Game 5 in the Bronx is what the Yankees want to do. Plain and simple.
5) It's called home field advantage for a reason
Yankees fans, flashback to the ALDS with the Red Sox last season. Now think about how that felt to see Boston celebrating on the Yankee Stadium infield after winning their second game in the Bronx to clinch the series.
You're probably a little nauseous, right?
Watching the opposing team win in Yankee Stadium at this point in the season is a gut-wrenching feeling, one that doesn't sit well for some time. And if the Astros do it again on Thursday night, then what do you think that environment will feel like on Friday night down 3-1?
The Yankees need to take advantage of these home games. They did so in 2017 when they went up 3-2 on these same Astros in the same ALCS. Dropping their second straight at home would be extremely deflating, and could stomp out the entire home field advantage card in Game 5.
Protect your house, Yankees.