Ah, the innocence of youth.
The Yankees are not the best team in this baseball postseason. Not even close to it. In fact, you can make the case the Dodgers, Cubs, Nationals, Astros and Indians, each with at least one and in some cases two or three established superstars, are all (on paper anyway) far superior teams. Man-for-man, with the possible exception of the bullpen, the Indians were deeper in talent just about everywhere. But it didn’t show up in the ALDS.
What did show up, time and again, was an obliviousness to pressure on the part of the Baby Bombers, perhaps best exemplified by the perpetual smile on Aaron Judge’s face in spite of a horrific five games in which he went 1-for-20 with a postseason series record 16 strikeouts.
The big guy whiffed again? No matter. Blow an 8-3 lead to go down 0-2? What us, worry? Joe Girardi screws up by not challenging? Hey, stuff happens. We move on.
It’s like they don’t realize where they are, and that’s why, whether the Astros know it or not, these Yankees are a very dangerous team. They are not overwhelmed by the moment. Rather, they are embracing it, and having fun, which brings up something else, another intangible that could play in their favor from here on out: America is watching and finding them…well…kind of loveable, an adjective never before associated with the Yankees outside of the Bronx.
Yankees vs. Indians 2017 American League Division Series
They may not have the most talent, but they play the game with a certain verve — in direct contrast to the Red Sox, who beat them for the division title in the regular season but never looked like they were finding any joy in their work. Once again, the Yankees will be the underdogs in the ALCS, but the Astros are going to find them a very different animal from the Red Sox.
Because it was such a collective effort, you’d have to say the MVP of the ALDS was David Robertson, who pitched 4.2 innings of sterling relief in the series, including 2.2 in Game 5 when he pitched out of the one-out, two-on jam CC Sabathia left him in the fifth inning. But if you ask me, the unsung MVP of this Yankee postseason is the general manager, Brian Cashman. He’s the guy who put this team together, oversaw the drafting of all the kids and made the trades for Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro to give the Yankees one of the best middle infields in baseball, along with the trading deadline deal that netted two critical bullpen pieces in Robertson and Tommy Kahnle and shored up third base with another power bat in Todd Frazier.
What’s not to love about Didi, who oozes an infectious enthusiasm every time he makes a big play in the field or delivers a clutch hit at bat? And even before the Yankees let him go to the White Sox as a free agent, Robertson was one of the most popular Yankees with his gritty relief work and High Socks for Hope foundation. Ever the little guy with big b—s, and what’s not to love about that either? And though Frazier still strikes out way too much, his clubhouse presence and leadership qualities have made him the symbol of what this Yankee team has been all about.
On the surface, it’s hard to pick against the Astros — with no fewer than 10 players with double-figure home run totals, two bona fide MVP candidates, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa, up the middle and a pair of Cy Young caliber 1-2 starters in Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander. But as we saw with the Indians and their equally formidable lineup and, quality-wise, much deeper rotation and bullpen, it can often be problematic going up against a team playing with house’s money.
They will have to understand the Baby Bombers are not awed by this experience — while also accepting the fact that this is one Yankee team the folks in the hinterlands can find themselves rooting for.