New York Yankees

New York Yankees

Astros now trailing Yankees in ALCS, need 9th Verlander win

New York Yankees' Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro celebrate after Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in New York. The Yankees won 5-0 to take a 3-2 lead in the series. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Astros now trailing Yankees in ALCS, need 9th Verlander win

Houston Astros' Justin Verlander watches from the dugout during the eighth inning of Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Astros now trailing Yankees in ALCS, need 9th Verlander win

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa watch from the dugout during the seventh inning of Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at New York Yankees

Oct 18, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks (31) and right fielder Aaron Judge (99) celebrates after beating the Houston Astros in game five of the 2017 ALCS playoff baseball series at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at New York Yankees

Oct 18, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Hicks (31) and right fielder Aaron Judge (99) celebrates after beating the Houston Astros in game five of the 2017 ALCS playoff baseball series at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

MLB: ALCS-Houston Astros at New York Yankees

Oct 17, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (right) and second baseman Starlin Castro (14) celebrate after defeating the Houston Astros in game four of the 2017 ALCS playoff baseball series at Yankee Stadium. Yankees won 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Will ALCS off day zap Yankees momentum like it did Astros?

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi watches batting practice before Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Will ALCS off day zap Yankees momentum like it did Astros?

Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch watches as Jose Altuve waits to bat during the third inning of Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

De Blasio Says He'll Never Root For Yankees

Mayor Bill de Blasio says he will not support the New York Yankees, even as they inch closer to the World Series. CBS2's Hazel Sanchez has the story.

De Blasio Says He'll Never Root For Yankees

Mayor Bill de Blasio says he will not support the New York Yankees, even as they inch closer to the World Series. CBS2's Hazel Sanchez has the story.

De Blasio Says He'll Never Root For Yankees

Mayor Bill de Blasio says he will not support the New York Yankees, even as they inch closer to the World Series. CBS2's Hazel Sanchez has the story.

De Blasio Says He'll Never Root For Yankees

Mayor Bill de Blasio says he will not support the New York Yankees, even as they inch closer to the World Series. CBS2's Hazel Sanchez has the story.

If MLB Considers Expansion, What Would a 32-Team League Look Like?

Against the backdrop of the current postseason excitement, talk of the first Major League Baseball expansion since 1998 is in the air thanks to a recent Baseball America report. Written by Spink Award winner Tracy Ringolsby, the report describes "a building consensus" within the industry that a 32-team configuration is inevitable, with Portland likely to be one of the sites for a new team. In the report, Ringolsby presented his own proposal, one that includes a radical realignment, a longer postseason and a 156-game schedule. The schedule would be designed to "allow MLB to address the growing concerns of the union about travel demands and off days." If nothing else, it’s a provocative plan. The extent to which it would reshape the game, however, might be too extreme to happen in one fell swoop.

As was the case in both 2015 and '16, the latest talk of expansion was spurred by comments from commissioner Rob Manfred, who at the BBWAA All-Star Game press conference in Miami cited the city of Montreal as a frontrunner for a franchise and broached the topic again during a visit to the Mariners' Safeco Field in September. Questioned about expansion by reporters, Manfred underscored the need to include a team in the west and reiterated that "Portland would be on the list." Ringolsby reported that "a legitimate ownership group in Portland … has the necessary financing along with support for a stadium, which would be partially funded by a $150 million grant." That money is from a 2003 effort to woo the Expos to Portland; House Bill 3606 allocated the funds via a percentage of MLB players' income tax revenue. A report by The Oregonian identified former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett as part of the Portland group.

Manfred has mentioned other potential cities in his discussions—last year I examined half a dozen of them including both Montreal and Portland—but has said at every turn that resolutions to the ongoing stadium sagas in Oakland and Tampa Bay takes priority among the owners. The A's formally proposed a site in September, but that’s hardly a done deal, and the end of the Rays’ search is nowhere in sight. As a result, there's nothing imminent about expansion.

MLB is currently in its longest post-1960 stretch without expansion; the most recent round was in 1998, when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays joined the NL and AL, respectively, and the Milwaukee Brewers shifted to the National League to keep the leagues with even numbers of teams. For the 2013 season, the Houston Astros were moved from the NL Central to the AL West so that all six divisions would consist of five teams.

Ringolsby's proposal is a thoughtful one, but its most radical components—realignment, the shorter schedule and yet another enlargement of the postseason—may be tough to swallow, either for teams, fans, or both. A closer look at each of those topics reveals many of the obstacles that could derail any expansion plan, not just this one.

Realignment

On one level, the primary goal of realignment is laudable, in that it would lessen the amount that players travel. As it is, west coast teams face a much greater burden because they're so spread out, and this places them at a competitive disadvantage. In 2016, Baseball Savant calculated that the Mariners log roughly twice as many air miles as the Cubs (47,704 to 24,271), and all five AL West teams ranking among the top seven in mileage traveled. A study published in 2017, covering 20 years of data (1992–2011), showed that teams crossing two or three time zones without having the proper time to adjust their sleep schedules performed worse than average, and that teams traveling east were at a greater disadvantage, with the Washington Post's Ben Guarino concluding that upon returning home, "The effects are sufficiently large to erase the home field advantage.”

Ringolsby's proposal, which includes franchises in Montreal and Portland, addresses that, calling for four eight-team geographic divisions in which play would be concentrated via an unbalanced schedule (I’ll get to that) and doing away with the separation of American and National Leagues that has been in place since the former was founded in 1901 (implicitly, this would resolve the designated hitter question, but we’ll set that aside). For emphasis, I've italicized the AL teams to offset them from the NL ones:

East: Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Washington

North: Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota, Montreal, New York Yankees, New York Mets, Toronto

Midwest: Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Colorado, Houston, Kansas City, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Texas

West: Anaheim, Arizona, Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle

That's quite a shakeup, one that would dilute several longstanding rivalries. The separation of the Orioles from the Yankees and Red Sox would demolish rivalries that predate the division play era, while that of the White Sox and Tigers goes all the way back to the league’s inception. The “rivalries” of the Mets and Braves, as well as Nationals and Phillies would upset the status quo as well, though their fans could probably stand fewer reminders of heartbreak from the past two decades. Recall that Mets-Braves didn't really become a thing until the three-division era that began in 1994, since Atlanta was inexplicably assigned to the NL West in 1969 (the Cardinals remained in the East to preserve their rivalry with the Cubs).

Beyond the rivalries are the financial implications and a built-in tension: the highest-revenue teams, which generally have the largest payrolls, also draw the best on the road. On the one hand, keeping up with the monetary might of the Yankees and Red Sox—who ranked first and third in the majors in revenue last year according to Forbes—presents a challenge for, say, the Orioles, but so would losing the 19 home dates per year that they provide. Since baseball is an inherently conservative industry when it comes to change, it’s entirely possible that preserving the status quo would have an advantage in most cases. The AL East teams whose attendance gets goosed by Yanks/Sox might prefer things that way, and likewise for the NL West opponents of the Dodgers and Giants.

Based on Forbes' figures, the AL East produced 29% more revenue than the AL Central in 2016 (the most recent year for which data is available) even with the 30th-ranked Rays as part of the equation. Their stadium and media rights situations are major parts of that ranking, and both will presumably improve in the coming years. A revenue-boosting new ballpark is apparently a necessary precursor to expansion and the Rays' current TV deal, which is tied for the lowest in the game at $20 million per year according to FanGraphs, expires in 2018.

Given the financial woes of the late Expos, it’s not a given that a new Montreal team be competitive within the same division with the Yankees and Red Sox, and smaller market teams such as the Twins (22nd in revenue last year according to Forbes) and Indians (27th) may not be keen on competing with the big-spending behemoths as well. Likewise for the Rockies and Royals (23rd and 24th) in the same division with the Cubs (fourth).

This isn't the first time the concept of realignment has been floated; it reared its head in 1997 and again in 2010. Amid those discussions, the MLB Players Association was said to oppose seven-or eight-team divisions due to the stigma of finishing so low in the standings, and teams in two-team cities voiced concerns. In the Ringolsby scenario, would the tight-fisted Mets and White Sox want to compete in the same markets with the free-spending Yankees and Cubs?

As with the fault lines that led to the 1994 players’ strike, it’s not hard to see a band of smaller-market teams blocking this whole proposition, and no, there's no way in hell the players will accept a salary cap to place teams on a more equal footing in exchange for the introduction of 50 or so new major league jobs. Teams might find it more palatable to go to eight four-team divisions that more closely preserve the current AL/NL split.

Shorter schedule

In the 1980s, owners decided that single-admission doubleheaders were wasteful in the face of escalating salaries and rising attendance. Via the New York Times, a June 10, 2017 twin bill between the Rays and A's was just the second time since 2004 that teams have elected to schedule such games (as opposed to cobbling them together to make up postponed games). Without doubleheaders, the number of off days during the regular season has dwindled, placing further stresses on players already frazzled by travel. Teams play their 162 games within a 183-day span, which comes out to one off day for every 8.7 games.

Shortening the schedule was a topic of discussion during the negotiations for the Collective Bargaining Agreement unveiled last December, but the schedule remained unchanged. The union had proposed reverting to a 154 game schedule, akin to the one in place until the leagues first expanded in 1961 and '62, but was unwilling to roll back salaries, believing that with a bit more rest, players would be more consistently available and the overall product would improve. Manfred and the owners weren’t buying, with the commissioner saying, “You want to work less, usually you get paid less.”

Ringolsby's proposal calls for a 156-game schedule that would include 12 games (six home and six road) against teams within the same divisions, down from 19 in the current format, and then three games against each of the 24 others. Implicitly, that would mean each team plays a three-game series in those cities just once every two years, which might be more often than some of the current, far-flung interleague matchups, but again, that would explode longstanding ties in existing divisions. To stick with the Orioles as an example, would they willingly surrender 16 games a year hosting either the Red Sox or Yankees, going from 19 all the way down to three? That may be a tough sell.

A better proposal is a move away from the 162-game schedule. There's nothing sacrosanct about that number, even if it's been significant for more than half a century. Some single-season records date back to the 154-game era and speak to dramatically different conditions than those today, particularly when it comes to pitching. As we saw this year with the case of Giancarlo Stanton, schedule length is no longer the primary issue when it comes to debating the validity of the single-season home run record. Given time, baseball fans could grasp the nuances of the 154-, 162- and 156-game eras just as easily they do those of the pre-division, two-division and three-division eras when it comes to postseason formats (more on which momentarily). And as for career totals, it's possible that the slightly shorter schedules, theoretically designed to save a bit of wear and tear, keep players around a bit longer to offset the loss of games.

The upside of the 156-game schedule is that each team gets one off day every week within a schedule that fits into the same footprint as the existing one. Ringolsby’s plan would further limit each road trip to two cities. His belief is that the total savings on travel costs from the less frequent travel outside each division would more than offset the revenue lost from wiping three home games from each team's schedule.

Expanded postseason

Via this plan, the postseason—which grew to four team in 1969 with the advent of division play, eight teams in 1995 via the three divisions and wild card in each league, and 10 teams via the addition of a second wild card in each league in 2012—would grow to 12 teams. Each of the four division winners would advance to the Division Series, and the other eight teams would play four (!) wild card games to determine their opponents. That's double the sudden-death drama from the current format.

That said, the current format isn't universally loved. While it does a better job of penalizing its participants for not winning their divisions—it generally requires teams to call upon their ace, who are subsequently limited to one Division Series start and creates a ripple effect on bullpens—it shifts the focus of the regular season races away from the best teams and towards the middle of the pack. Under the current format, the fourth- and fifth-best teams in each 15-team league make the cut and the sixth, seventh and do not. In this year's AL wild card race, that meant sub-.500 teams battling for playoff spots, a situation that invited ridicule.

As for the wild card games themselves, baseball is a sport where on any given day, even the worst team can beat the best team. It's entirely possible, but hardly fair, that one bad day can undo even a 98-win season, as was the case for the 2015 NL Wild Card-losing Pirates.

Ringolsby's proposal doesn't take advantage of the call from some quarters to expand the wild card format to a best-of-three; the drawbacks of keeping the division winners waiting around for a few days remain. And with the 156-game schedule occupying the same footprint as the 162-game one, the proposal does nothing to prevent the postseason from creeping into November, where the risk of chilly weather having a greater impact on the outcome looms.

As the Bud Selig era showed, MLB can thrive even with significant changes. The sport's revenues have more than quintupled since 1993, from $1.9 billion to over $10 billion annually (per Forbes) while the industry and its audience has coped with the implementation of the wild card, three divisions and interleague play. Further changes are inevitable, as is expansion, but to these eyes, it would seem not only that a shorter season that improves rest and travel conditions for players should also wrap up before Halloween, but that the addition of two teams can be done without ripping apart so many of the rivalries, and so much of the history, that make up the sport's fabric.

New York Yankees: Ex-Trainer Gene Monahan Says He Knows How to Win

Yankees fans already know this....

But, for those of you who are more interested in Wall Street than sports, here's an update. The New York Yankees head to game 3, against the Houston Astro's. Tonight, it's a must-win scenario. Deep breath. A bit of hopeful news, the Yankees have home-field advantage where they are undefeated in the 2017 post-season.

TheStreet sat down with ex-trainer Gene Monahan. After forty-nine years with the team, he says he is convinced of one thing.

"They [the Yankees] are a wild bunch," Monahan told TheStreet on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at an event for Conair, of which he is a spokesman. "What makes them great is they are a wild bunch of young people."

"I think they are going to do very well," added Monahan, who has seven World Series rings, a testament to the powerhouse that is the Yankees. He was wearing one of the diamond-encrusted rings on Tuesday.

"It's a young team. They have their veterans, which are great," he said.

Monahan also spoke to us about starting his second career with Nascar.

"I loved racing all my life, even as I loved baseball when I was a kid. They [racing reps] came a-calling on my door."

"I go, 'What do you want with me?' They said very, very nicely. 'We'd like you to come and help our kids out.' "

 

The game will take place at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and it will be broadcast on FS1 the sports affiliate of Fox News, a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox (FOXA - Get Report) .

Watch More with TheStreet :

Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 12.

New York Yankees: Ex-Trainer Gene Monahan Says He Knows How to Win

Yankees fans already know this....

But, for those of you who are more interested in Wall Street than sports, here's an update. The New York Yankees head to game 3, against the Houston Astro's. Tonight, it's a must-win scenario. Deep breath. A bit of hopeful news, the Yankees have home-field advantage where they are undefeated in the 2017 post-season.

TheStreet sat down with ex-trainer Gene Monahan. After forty-nine years with the team, he says he is convinced of one thing.

"They [the Yankees] are a wild bunch," Monahan told TheStreet on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at an event for Conair, of which he is a spokesman. "What makes them great is they are a wild bunch of young people."

"I think they are going to do very well," added Monahan, who has seven World Series rings, a testament to the powerhouse that is the Yankees. He was wearing one of the diamond-encrusted rings on Tuesday.

"It's a young team. They have their veterans, which are great," he said.

Monahan also spoke to us about starting his second career with Nascar.

"I loved racing all my life, even as I loved baseball when I was a kid. They [racing reps] came a-calling on my door."

"I go, 'What do you want with me?' They said very, very nicely. 'We'd like you to come and help our kids out.' "

 

The game will take place at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and it will be broadcast on FS1 the sports affiliate of Fox News, a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox (FOXA - Get Report) .

Watch More with TheStreet :

Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 12.

New York Yankees: Ex-Trainer Gene Monahan Says He Knows How to Win

Yankees fans already know this....

But, for those of you who are more interested in Wall Street than sports, here's an update. The New York Yankees head to game 3, against the Houston Astro's. Tonight, it's a must-win scenario. Deep breath. A bit of hopeful news, the Yankees have home-field advantage where they are undefeated in the 2017 post-season.

TheStreet sat down with ex-trainer Gene Monahan. After forty-nine years with the team, he says he is convinced of one thing.

"They [the Yankees] are a wild bunch," Monahan told TheStreet on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at an event for Conair, of which he is a spokesman. "What makes them great is they are a wild bunch of young people."

"I think they are going to do very well," added Monahan, who has seven World Series rings, a testament to the powerhouse that is the Yankees. He was wearing one of the diamond-encrusted rings on Tuesday.

"It's a young team. They have their veterans, which are great," he said.

Monahan also spoke to us about starting his second career with Nascar.

"I loved racing all my life, even as I loved baseball when I was a kid. They [racing reps] came a-calling on my door."

"I go, 'What do you want with me?' They said very, very nicely. 'We'd like you to come and help our kids out.' "

 

The game will take place at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and it will be broadcast on FS1 the sports affiliate of Fox News, a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox (FOXA - Get Report) .

Watch More with TheStreet :

Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 12.

New York Yankees: Ex-Trainer Gene Monahan Says He Knows How to Win

Yankees fans already know this....

But, for those of you who are more interested in Wall Street than sports, here's an update. The New York Yankees head to game 3, against the Houston Astro's. Tonight, it's a must-win scenario. Deep breath. A bit of hopeful news, the Yankees have home-field advantage where they are undefeated in the 2017 post-season.

TheStreet sat down with ex-trainer Gene Monahan. After forty-nine years with the team, he says he is convinced of one thing.

"They [the Yankees] are a wild bunch," Monahan told TheStreet on Tuesday, Sept. 26, at an event for Conair, of which he is a spokesman. "What makes them great is they are a wild bunch of young people."

"I think they are going to do very well," added Monahan, who has seven World Series rings, a testament to the powerhouse that is the Yankees. He was wearing one of the diamond-encrusted rings on Tuesday.

"It's a young team. They have their veterans, which are great," he said.

Monahan also spoke to us about starting his second career with Nascar.

"I loved racing all my life, even as I loved baseball when I was a kid. They [racing reps] came a-calling on my door."

"I go, 'What do you want with me?' They said very, very nicely. 'We'd like you to come and help our kids out.' "

 

The game will take place at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and it will be broadcast on FS1 the sports affiliate of Fox News, a subsidiary of 21st Century Fox (FOXA - Get Report) .

Watch More with TheStreet :

Editors' pick: Originally published Oct. 12.

ALCS Game 5: What the heck happened to the Astros offense?

The Houston Astros were shut out 5-0 by the New York Yankees, falling behind 3-2 in the ALCS.

ALCS Game 5: What the heck happened to the Astros offense?

The Houston Astros were shut out 5-0 by the New York Yankees, falling behind 3-2 in the ALCS.

How the Yankees' Advanced Youth Development Keyed Their ALCS Game 5 Win Over Astros

NEW YORK — The idea that the New York Yankees are a “year ahead of schedule” is based on the quaint, if erroneous notion that ballplayers, like Swiss trains, solar eclipses and Gregorian calendars, actually keep to a reliable schedule of development. You understand this fallacy if you watched Game 5 of the American League Championship Series Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.

While the Houston Astros, famously scheduled to “arrive” this year, mailed in too many non-competitive at-bats against the well-prepared, cold-eyed New York pitching staff, the young, homegrown hitters of the Yankees outfoxed one of the great surgical pitchers of the game, Dallas Keuchel.

Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird were born eight months apart in the same year, 1992. Two years ago they were playing Double-A baseball in Trenton, N.J. Friday night they will play for the American League pennant and a trip to the World Series, thanks to a stepping on the necks of a down Houston team, 5–0.

“All of a sudden,” Bird said, “you look up and you’re in the playoffs. It’s very cool.”

They got here—the majors, the playoffs and the brink of the World Series “ahead of schedule”—because they have learned an advanced approach and keen plate discipline to complement generational kind of power. In Game 5, Judge (the oldest of the bunch at 25 years and 175 days), Sanchez and Bird combined for five hits, four runs batted in and three walks.

Judge, Sanchez and Bird each had a run-scoring hit. Only twice before in the franchise’s epic postseason history have three players this young had run-scoring hits in the same game, and the names reverberate with gravitas: Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon and Charlie Keller in Game 4 of the 1939 World Series, and Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin and Gil McDougald in Game 5 of the 1953 World Series.

“The key is I feel like we all like each other and pull for each other,” Bird said. “When you build a good clubhouse and you combine it with talent, I think you’ve got something.”

“Bird,” said hitting coach Alan Cockrell, “has the best eye of all. If he doesn’t swing and the umpire calls it a strike, every time we check the video he’s right—it was a ball. We don’t even have to check any more.”

Judge and Sanchez have crazy power. Judge homered in Game 4 and Sanchez in Game 5, running their 2017 combined total to 91. If you check all the players in history to see who hit the most home runs in their first 182 regular season games (Sanchez’s total of games; Judge isn’t quite there yet), you will find that this Yankees team has two of the top five home run hitters at such a start to their careers: Judge, with 56 homers, trails only Rudy York, and by one, and Sanchez, with 53, is fifth, just behind Mark McGwire and Ryan Braun.

Watching how they hit, however, brings a deeper appreciation, not just for their work, but also for the player development system of the Yankees, including general manager Brian Cashman, outgoing farm director Gary Denbo, scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, and the many coaches, scouts and advisers with dirt on their loafers. None were held in higher esteem than the wise and wily Gene “Stick” Michael, who passed away this year.

Before Game 5, I told Judge how impressed I was that in Game 4 the 282-pound rightfielder tagged out a Houston runner headed to third base, a short cab ride away from his position as he alertly hustled to involve himself in a rundown play.

“Brainwashing,” Judge said. “The player development system.”

Judge’s home run in Game 4 off Lance McCullers, the one that triggered the comeback from a 4–0 deficit, as well as Houston manager A.J. Hinch’s quick hook of his effective starting pitcher, was another example of the advanced development of these young New York hitters.

Major league hitters rarely swing at first-pitch curveballs. They don’t normally sit on them because if the pitcher throws a cookie of a fastball—the pitch every hitter yearns for—the hitter can’t pull the trigger and feels awful for the missed opportunity. Pitchers threw 22,441 first-pitch curveballs this year. Hitters swung only 19% of the time at them. And of those 4,288 swings, they hit a home run only 80 times.

That’s 80 home runs out of 22,441 pitches, or 0.3% of the time. You’re six times more likely to win a prize in the New York lottery (1 in 46) than you are to a home run on a first-pitch curveball (1 in 281).

So when Judge stepped in against McCullers in Game 4, the odds were against him hitting a first-pitch hook for a home run. Moreover, Judge had seen 81 first-pitch curveballs in his career and had only one hit, a single. The pitch to McCullers represented a free strike to start the at-bat.

But Judge was having none of it.

“He’s a good hitter with a good game plan who pays attention,” Cockrell said.

Judge knew McCullers had been throwing curveballs on about half his pitches, including 66% to Judge (six out of nine). McCullers threw a get-me-over curve, and Judge smashed it off the batter’s eye in centerfield. It was the swing that turned the series, the Yankees having outscored Houston starting with that swing, 11–0.

Judge was back to his observant ways against Keuchel in Game 5. The crafty Houston lefthander whiffed him his first time up by slipping a cutter past his hands after throwing five straight fastballs. The next time they met, in the third, the count was 1–1 when Keuchel went back to the cutter on his hands. This time Judge was ready, clearing his hips early to bring his barrel around in time, and sending a hard grounder down the third-base line for an RBI double.

So detailed is Judge that he will subtly adjust his feet in the batter’s box. Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes to say the toughest thing to get a young hitter to do is move his back foot in the box; most of them fall on the habit of routine. Not Judge. Against Keuchel in Game 1 he moved four inches closer to the mound to protect against his sinker. And as Cockrell said, “If he feels like he needs more room to work his hands he’ll move back [from the plate]. He’s got a pretty good feel.”

Said Judge, “Depends how I feel. It’s based more on how I feel than anything the pitcher is doing.”

The double put the Yankees ahead, 2–0, with Bird having posted the first run with smart hitting of his own against Keuchel. With Starlin Castro at second and two outs, Keuchel fell behind Bird 2–0 by missing low and inside with fastballs. Incredibly, in a fastball count, Keuchel tried another one, and in the same spot. Trained on that speed and spot, Bird turned on it for a hard single to drive in Castro.

Sanchez had been 1-for-16 in the ALCS, mostly because Houston pitchers kept spinning breaking balls away from him. But in the fifth, when Keuchel tried an 0–1 slider, he left it on the plate and Sanchez pounced on it for an RBI single. Two innings later, he walloped a hanging 0–2 slider from reliever Brad Peacock for a home run.

Keuchel began the night with a career 1.09 ERA against the Yankees, the best ever against the franchise. In Game 1, in classic Keuchel subterfuge, the lefty threw 60% of his pitches out of the strike zone and beat the Yankees by getting them to chase pitches that slipped just off the inside, outside and bottom edges of the plate. The Yankees swung at 20 of the 66 pitches out of the zone, and hit .100 in their chase effort (1-for-10).

Cockrell knew that Keuchel’s magic trick is to stretch the plate horizontally in a hitter’s eyes, not vertically. He turns the 17-inch plate into a 21-inch plate, and those extra two inches on each side are sirens that lure wayward hitters into the rocks.

So before Game 5, Cockrell told his hitters about this trick. There was no way, he told them, that they could cover both sides of the plate. So he gave them this order: simply look for balls over the plate. Instead of worrying about the boilerplate mantra of “make him get the ball up,” (Keuchel almost never elevates the ball anyway) Cockrell told them simply to look for balls that cut the 17-inch wide airspace over the plate, even if it was down. Forget about covering in and out.

It worked. The Yankees hit .333 against Keuchel (7-for-21).

“You can’t miss mistakes,” Judge said about facing Keuchel. “He’s so good that when you have a pitch on the plate you have to take advantage of it. That’s what we were able to do.”

Judge is not a rash person. He is a thoughtful sort, and you can often tell this by the way he answers a question: as if he’s in the on-deck circle preparing for an at-bat. When a reporter finishes a question, Judge sometimes will bow his head as if in serious thought, allow a beat or two to pass, then launch into his carefully considered answer. He reacted exactly that way when somebody asked him how it felt to be one win from the World Series.

After the pause to consider, he softly exhaled, “Whew!” He took another beat, then said, “It’s great. But we’re not done. We can’t get ahead of ourselves.”

The Astros, even those with far more years than the Baby Bombers, swung the bat as if they were tightly wound. In the fifth inning, for instance, when they had two runners and one out and chance to climb back into contention in the game, their 1-2 hitters, George Springer and Josh Reddick, took awful at-bats. Between them they fouled back three eminently hittable pitches, one of which had New York starter Masahiro Tanaka screaming at himself for a mistake he somehow survived. And then both Springer (looking) and Reddick (chasing a terribly wide and low pitch) whiffed. Combined they are 2-for-35 in the series, and forcing Hinch to rethink the top of the lineup for Game 6.

The young ones on the other side continued to grind out their at-bats.

“They’ll give you a good at-bat every time,” Cockrell said. “If it’s late in the game and we’re up by three or down by three, like the other night, it doesn’t matter. You can’t tell. They grind no matter what.”

Judge was a strikeout machine last year in a 27-game cameo. He went home and re-tooled his setup and swing for a more consistent approach, so much so that as he likes to say, “I’ve been doing the same thing since February.” His one-year leap in improvement—from a guy who went to spring training fighting for an outfield spot to the most impactful slugger in the league and, based on jersey sales and All-Star votes, its most popular player—is the greatest reason why the Yankees, after winning 84 games last year, are on the brink of a pennant this year. He is a franchise-changing player. He also happens to have Sanchez and Bird right there next to him, the way they were in places like Trenton and Scranton-Wilkes Barre, learning their craft.

“People are making the most of the moment,” Judge said. “But also a lot of hard work is showing up right now.”

It’s a credit to their work, but it’s also a credit to the Yankees’ player development system, to the people who don’t operate under a schedule, but put in the time to maximize a player’s potential, however long or short it takes.

Just before Game 5, one of the many Yankees advisors in that effort, Lee Mazzilli, was in the dugout, joking with Bird about how Yankee Stadium had come alive with passion and euphoria in that Game 4 comeback, almost like the way it was in the old stadium.

“The ghosts,” Bird told him.

“Ah, they’re not here,” Mazzilli said. “That was the old place.”

“No, they moved over here,” Bird said. “And we’ve got one more.”

Bird smiled and said only, “Stick,” and turned to run on to the field, right on time.

How the Yankees' Advanced Youth Development Keyed Their ALCS Game 5 Win Over Astros

NEW YORK — The idea that the New York Yankees are a “year ahead of schedule” is based on the quaint, if erroneous notion that ballplayers, like Swiss trains, solar eclipses and Gregorian calendars, actually keep to a reliable schedule of development. You understand this fallacy if you watched Game 5 of the American League Championship Series Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.

While the Houston Astros, famously scheduled to “arrive” this year, mailed in too many non-competitive at-bats against the well-prepared, cold-eyed New York pitching staff, the young, homegrown hitters of the Yankees outfoxed one of the great surgical pitchers of the game, Dallas Keuchel.

Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird were born eight months apart in the same year, 1992. Two years ago they were playing Double-A baseball in Trenton, N.J. Friday night they will play for the American League pennant and a trip to the World Series, thanks to a stepping on the necks of a down Houston team, 5–0.

“All of a sudden,” Bird said, “you look up and you’re in the playoffs. It’s very cool.”

They got here—the majors, the playoffs and the brink of the World Series “ahead of schedule”—because they have learned an advanced approach and keen plate discipline to complement generational kind of power. In Game 5, Judge (the oldest of the bunch at 25 years and 175 days), Sanchez and Bird combined for five hits, four runs batted in and three walks.

Judge, Sanchez and Bird each had a run-scoring hit. Only twice before in the franchise’s epic postseason history have three players this young had run-scoring hits in the same game, and the names reverberate with gravitas: Joe DiMaggio, Joe Gordon and Charlie Keller in Game 4 of the 1939 World Series, and Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin and Gil McDougald in Game 5 of the 1953 World Series.

“The key is I feel like we all like each other and pull for each other,” Bird said. “When you build a good clubhouse and you combine it with talent, I think you’ve got something.”

“Bird,” said hitting coach Alan Cockrell, “has the best eye of all. If he doesn’t swing and the umpire calls it a strike, every time we check the video he’s right—it was a ball. We don’t even have to check any more.”

Judge and Sanchez have crazy power. Judge homered in Game 4 and Sanchez in Game 5, running their 2017 combined total to 91. If you check all the players in history to see who hit the most home runs in their first 182 regular season games (Sanchez’s total of games; Judge isn’t quite there yet), you will find that this Yankees team has two of the top five home run hitters at such a start to their careers: Judge, with 56 homers, trails only Rudy York, and by one, and Sanchez, with 53, is fifth, just behind Mark McGwire and Ryan Braun.

Watching how they hit, however, brings a deeper appreciation, not just for their work, but also for the player development system of the Yankees, including general manager Brian Cashman, outgoing farm director Gary Denbo, scouting director Damon Oppenheimer, and the many coaches, scouts and advisers with dirt on their loafers. None were held in higher esteem than the wise and wily Gene “Stick” Michael, who passed away this year.

Before Game 5, I told Judge how impressed I was that in Game 4 the 282-pound rightfielder tagged out a Houston runner headed to third base, a short cab ride away from his position as he alertly hustled to involve himself in a rundown play.

“Brainwashing,” Judge said. “The player development system.”

Judge’s home run in Game 4 off Lance McCullers, the one that triggered the comeback from a 4–0 deficit, as well as Houston manager A.J. Hinch’s quick hook of his effective starting pitcher, was another example of the advanced development of these young New York hitters.

Major league hitters rarely swing at first-pitch curveballs. They don’t normally sit on them because if the pitcher throws a cookie of a fastball—the pitch every hitter yearns for—the hitter can’t pull the trigger and feels awful for the missed opportunity. Pitchers threw 22,441 first-pitch curveballs this year. Hitters swung only 19% of the time at them. And of those 4,288 swings, they hit a home run only 80 times.

That’s 80 home runs out of 22,441 pitches, or 0.3% of the time. You’re six times more likely to win a prize in the New York lottery (1 in 46) than you are to a home run on a first-pitch curveball (1 in 281).

So when Judge stepped in against McCullers in Game 4, the odds were against him hitting a first-pitch hook for a home run. Moreover, Judge had seen 81 first-pitch curveballs in his career and had only one hit, a single. The pitch to McCullers represented a free strike to start the at-bat.

But Judge was having none of it.

“He’s a good hitter with a good game plan who pays attention,” Cockrell said.

Judge knew McCullers had been throwing curveballs on about half his pitches, including 66% to Judge (six out of nine). McCullers threw a get-me-over curve, and Judge smashed it off the batter’s eye in centerfield. It was the swing that turned the series, the Yankees having outscored Houston starting with that swing, 11–0.

Judge was back to his observant ways against Keuchel in Game 5. The crafty Houston lefthander whiffed him his first time up by slipping a cutter past his hands after throwing five straight fastballs. The next time they met, in the third, the count was 1–1 when Keuchel went back to the cutter on his hands. This time Judge was ready, clearing his hips early to bring his barrel around in time, and sending a hard grounder down the third-base line for an RBI double.

So detailed is Judge that he will subtly adjust his feet in the batter’s box. Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes to say the toughest thing to get a young hitter to do is move his back foot in the box; most of them fall on the habit of routine. Not Judge. Against Keuchel in Game 1 he moved four inches closer to the mound to protect against his sinker. And as Cockrell said, “If he feels like he needs more room to work his hands he’ll move back [from the plate]. He’s got a pretty good feel.”

Said Judge, “Depends how I feel. It’s based more on how I feel than anything the pitcher is doing.”

The double put the Yankees ahead, 2–0, with Bird having posted the first run with smart hitting of his own against Keuchel. With Starlin Castro at second and two outs, Keuchel fell behind Bird 2–0 by missing low and inside with fastballs. Incredibly, in a fastball count, Keuchel tried another one, and in the same spot. Trained on that speed and spot, Bird turned on it for a hard single to drive in Castro.

Sanchez had been 1-for-16 in the ALCS, mostly because Houston pitchers kept spinning breaking balls away from him. But in the fifth, when Keuchel tried an 0–1 slider, he left it on the plate and Sanchez pounced on it for an RBI single. Two innings later, he walloped a hanging 0–2 slider from reliever Brad Peacock for a home run.

Keuchel began the night with a career 1.09 ERA against the Yankees, the best ever against the franchise. In Game 1, in classic Keuchel subterfuge, the lefty threw 60% of his pitches out of the strike zone and beat the Yankees by getting them to chase pitches that slipped just off the inside, outside and bottom edges of the plate. The Yankees swung at 20 of the 66 pitches out of the zone, and hit .100 in their chase effort (1-for-10).

Cockrell knew that Keuchel’s magic trick is to stretch the plate horizontally in a hitter’s eyes, not vertically. He turns the 17-inch plate into a 21-inch plate, and those extra two inches on each side are sirens that lure wayward hitters into the rocks.

So before Game 5, Cockrell told his hitters about this trick. There was no way, he told them, that they could cover both sides of the plate. So he gave them this order: simply look for balls over the plate. Instead of worrying about the boilerplate mantra of “make him get the ball up,” (Keuchel almost never elevates the ball anyway) Cockrell told them simply to look for balls that cut the 17-inch wide airspace over the plate, even if it was down. Forget about covering in and out.

It worked. The Yankees hit .333 against Keuchel (7-for-21).

“You can’t miss mistakes,” Judge said about facing Keuchel. “He’s so good that when you have a pitch on the plate you have to take advantage of it. That’s what we were able to do.”

Judge is not a rash person. He is a thoughtful sort, and you can often tell this by the way he answers a question: as if he’s in the on-deck circle preparing for an at-bat. When a reporter finishes a question, Judge sometimes will bow his head as if in serious thought, allow a beat or two to pass, then launch into his carefully considered answer. He reacted exactly that way when somebody asked him how it felt to be one win from the World Series.

After the pause to consider, he softly exhaled, “Whew!” He took another beat, then said, “It’s great. But we’re not done. We can’t get ahead of ourselves.”

The Astros, even those with far more years than the Baby Bombers, swung the bat as if they were tightly wound. In the fifth inning, for instance, when they had two runners and one out and chance to climb back into contention in the game, their 1-2 hitters, George Springer and Josh Reddick, took awful at-bats. Between them they fouled back three eminently hittable pitches, one of which had New York starter Masahiro Tanaka screaming at himself for a mistake he somehow survived. And then both Springer (looking) and Reddick (chasing a terribly wide and low pitch) whiffed. Combined they are 2-for-35 in the series, and forcing Hinch to rethink the top of the lineup for Game 6.

The young ones on the other side continued to grind out their at-bats.

“They’ll give you a good at-bat every time,” Cockrell said. “If it’s late in the game and we’re up by three or down by three, like the other night, it doesn’t matter. You can’t tell. They grind no matter what.”

Judge was a strikeout machine last year in a 27-game cameo. He went home and re-tooled his setup and swing for a more consistent approach, so much so that as he likes to say, “I’ve been doing the same thing since February.” His one-year leap in improvement—from a guy who went to spring training fighting for an outfield spot to the most impactful slugger in the league and, based on jersey sales and All-Star votes, its most popular player—is the greatest reason why the Yankees, after winning 84 games last year, are on the brink of a pennant this year. He is a franchise-changing player. He also happens to have Sanchez and Bird right there next to him, the way they were in places like Trenton and Scranton-Wilkes Barre, learning their craft.

“People are making the most of the moment,” Judge said. “But also a lot of hard work is showing up right now.”

It’s a credit to their work, but it’s also a credit to the Yankees’ player development system, to the people who don’t operate under a schedule, but put in the time to maximize a player’s potential, however long or short it takes.

Just before Game 5, one of the many Yankees advisors in that effort, Lee Mazzilli, was in the dugout, joking with Bird about how Yankee Stadium had come alive with passion and euphoria in that Game 4 comeback, almost like the way it was in the old stadium.

“The ghosts,” Bird told him.

“Ah, they’re not here,” Mazzilli said. “That was the old place.”

“No, they moved over here,” Bird said. “And we’ve got one more.”

Bird smiled and said only, “Stick,” and turned to run on to the field, right on time.

LEADING OFF: Cubs face Dodgers' Kershaw trailing 3-1 in NLCS

New York Yankees' Gary Sanchez hits a home run during the seventh inning of Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

LEADING OFF: Cubs face Dodgers' Kershaw trailing 3-1 in NLCS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve sits near the dugout during the ninth inning of Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the New York Yankees Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Yankee Greeter: Judge always the last man off for NY

New York Yankees' Aaron Judge hits an RBI double during the third inning of Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankee Greeter: Judge always the last man off for NY

New York Yankees' Aaron Judge walks during the fifth inning of Game 5 of baseball's American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)