Maybe this is where playoff experience before 2017 - even just a handful of games - would have paid off?
The Yankees employed pure grit and guile to force themselves back into two separate postseason series. The Yankees relied on the belief that they could overcome any deficit, and that's a fine trait for a ball club. But when the chance to land the finishing blow was before them, they shrunk into the underdog they were when they entered the season and the playoffs.
The Yankees were able to use momentum to steal Game 5 from the Indians in the ALDS, but they were completely overmatched when they arrived back in Houston with a 3-2 series lead, just a day after rattling off three straight wins in the Bronx.
The difference? There were a few.
No gas in the tank
If anything, it seemed the Yankees - both at the plate and on the mound - simply got tired. The energy expended in rallying against Cleveland and then toiling to do so against the Astros became overwhelming for them. Winning while in front takes a different power, one that the Yankees may find next season and beyond.
The Yankees might have felt that they belonged in the ALCS, but it also seemed that they were fighting to stay close to their opponents throughout. When the Yanks managed to grab the series lead, they didn't know what to do with it. Their tired bodies and mental fortitude collapsed under the weight of the pressure.
In Houston, the Yankees not only failed to hit, their once reliable pitchers were unable to contain the Astros. Even in Game 1 and 2 losses, the Yankees played to within one run of a tie. In Games 6 and 7, it was evident that the tanks had been emptied in New York and couldn't be refilled in Houston.
Late bullpen moves
This is not to lay blame on Joe Girardi. In the end, it's the players responsibility to do their part and they clearly came up short in Games 6 and 7. However, Girardi played a part in the series' final two games when he failed to maneuver quickly enough on his pitchers' inability to find the plate or have effective stuff.
In Game 6, the Yankees were down just one run, but left Chad Green in the bullpen after Luis Severino loaded the bases with Jose Altuve, by far the Astros best hitter, coming to the plate. The result was a two-run single and then in came Green. Later in the game, Girardi allowed David Robertson to stick around after a leadoff home run to Altuve, finally pulling the plug after the fourth straight hit and four runs.
In Game 7, Girardi allowed CC Sabathia to start the fourth inning despite watching the veteran slog through the first three innings. While not optimal, Girardi should have gone to the bullpen to start the fourth inning. He did not, and the Astros got on the board. From that moment, it was clear that it was going to be a long night for the Yankees, as the last gasp of wind was finally sucked out of them.
Girardi had shown some improvement in using his gut this postseason, but he's still a bit of a hopeful thinker, relying too much on history versus paying attention to the present directly in front of him. This was not the overriding factor to the series loss, but it certainly played a part in the final two games.
Houston was the better team
When all is said and done, the Yankees played a better team and couldn't finish off what would have been a clear upset.
The Astros seemed to make all the plays. Houston's relays were all perfect. The jumps against the outfield wall were perfectly timed. If a tough play presented itself, the Astros converted it, including two at the plate. In the meantime, the Yankees ran into outs, they were unable to come up with some of the outstanding efforts they made in the field, and they could not move runners when it mattered in Games 6 and 7.
The Astros did not strikeout out a lot (40 times) and the Yankees did (75 times). This of course means much fewer balls in play for the Yankees, and over the course of seven games, that's difficult for a team to overcome.
The Astros can hit home runs, but they are not built around waiting for it. On the other hand, the Yankees are. This is something that could change down the road with more experience and potentially some new faces, but that's the style they won 91 games with and the one they went down with in the ALCS.
The Yankees may be frustrated by the result, however they gained invaluable experience well before many believed it would come. The players are now aware of what it takes to survive a seven-game series and understand that when the opportunity to finish off their opponent arises, they have to immediately seize it.
The organization has a good deal of decisions to make during the offseason, but one thing is clear. The New York Yankees are no longer in a rebuild. They never were. Since July of last season, the Yankees entered into an on-the-fly revamp that reaped an unexpectedly tremendous 2017 season.
As such, lofty predictions will be placed firmly on the Yankees by insiders and outsiders alike for 2018 and beyond. The Yankees have the talent to live up to those expectations and now they have the experience to make it count.