Game 4 of the American League Championship Series saw what was already a difficult task for the New York Yankees and their quest for the 2019 World Series turn into an almost impossible one. In the game, the Yankees squandered an ideal opportunity to crack the Houston Astros’ starter Zack Greinke in the first inning and turn the game into a rout. Instead, they allowed the pitcher to settle in as Houston got what they could off Yankees’ starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka before taking advantage of the bullpen to put the game out of reach.
Now the Yankees are facing the prospect of being eliminated in their home stadium while being tasked with facing the Astros’ Justin Verlander, Major League Baseball’s 2019 leader in wins with 21, as reported by MLB.com. It was in Verlander’s last appearance this series, when he started against New York in Game 2, that the Yankees’ offensive woes began to arise. After taking command of the series in a 7-0 Game 1 rout, the Yankees were held to two runs over 6 2/3 innings by Verlander. Since that game, which saw the Astros pull off a win after an 11th inning home run, the Yankees have yet to assert any type of command of the series. This was summed up no clearer than the two bases-loaded opportunities, which saw chances squandered and the formerly dependable New York lineup go quiet. After failing to capitalize on a game that was considered their opportunity to get back into the series, the Yankees will have to display a mental resolve they have yet to show this postseason to take the championship series back to Houston.
Meanwhile, the Astros couldn’t be set up much better. After the Washington Nationals swept the St. Louis Cardinals, avoiding a sprawling seven-game series with the Yankees and ensuring rest for their pitchers has been the primary goal. Greinke has been far from a sure thing this postseason and his 4 1/3 innings in Game 4 showed exactly that, but he held it together and pitched himself out of a jam, doing just enough to allow the Astros to get ahead. Now after winning a game that on paper favored the Yankees, the Astros roll out the big guns in their rotation in Verlander and his fellow Cy Young candidate Gerrit Cole, who hasn’t lost a game since May. Verlander can pitch without the pressure a 2-2 series would have brought, but if the veteran pitcher lives up to his postseason reputation, the Yankees are in for a long night.
James Paxton returns to the mound for the Yankees after his 2 1/3 inning appearance against the Astros in Game 2. His brief appearance was marked by allowing four hits and two walks while allowing the Astros to score their first run of the game, causing enough concern by Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone to pull the plug early and send the Yankees into an odyssey of eight additional pitchers before surrendering the loss. Paxton isn’t the ideal pitcher in an elimination game, particularly with the Yankees offense in such a slump, but this is far from an ideal situation in general for New York. The team will have to dig deep to pull this game out, but with Cole lurking in a potential Game 6 in Houston, it may not even matter.