After battling for the top spot in the American League East all season, the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees find themselves in the exact same position. Two games into their respective American League Division Series against the Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians, both teams are down 0-2 and on the verge of being eliminated.
The longtime rivals are in deep, deep trouble, and that’s putting it mildly. They’ll not only have to win three straight games to survive and advance, they’ll each have to beat an opponent that topped 100 wins during the regular season. And beyond that, beat two teams that might be playing their best baseball of the entire season.
That’s not ideal. Nor is it fun or anything else that creates reason for optimism.
The Red Sox were non-competitive in Houston, losing the first two games at Minute Maid Park by identical 8-2 scores. That was with Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz, their two best pitchers this season, on the hill. It set a tone that no team in their exact position has been able to reverse.
Red Sox are 8th team to allow at least 8 runs in back-to-back Division Series games. How many of the previous 7 won the series? Yep. None
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) October 6, 2017
The Yankees were blanked by Trevor Bauer and the Indians bullpen 4-0 in Game 1. They should have won Game 2, but blew an 8-3 lead after Joe Girardi elected not to challenge Lonnie Chisenhall’s controversial hit by pitch. That’s more of a gut punch than a true pummeling, but that might actually hurt more.
Their paths to this point were different, but the fact is they’re both here. What they face now is an Aaron Judge sized task. It’s tall. It’s daunting. Fortunately though, it’s not insurmountable. At least not based on the all-encompassing data pertaining to their circumstances.
In MLB postseason history, 75 teams have faced an 0-2 deficit in a best-of-five series. Of those teams, 30 have given themselves a fighting chance by winning Game 3. Another 15 forced a decisive Game 5. And what Red Sox and Yankees fans care about most, nine of those teams have come back to win the series.
Won 1st 2 Games of Best-of-5 MLB Postseason Series
Won 3-0 45
Won 3-1 15
Won 3-2 6
Lost 3-2 9
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 6, 2017
The odds aren’t great, but they’re better than zero. And they’re certainly better than the odds the Red Sox faced in 2004, when they rallied from an 0-3 deficit in the ALCS to stun the Yankees. Both teams know it came be done, and that’s what matters most heading into Game 3.
As for what they need to do on the field to have a chance? We don’t have all of the answers. We do, however, have a few suggestions.
Score first: You can’t win if you never lead. Through two games, the Red Sox have been fighting from behind the entire time, which is not something they’re equipped to handle as well as previous seasons. Beyond that, the Astros lineup is relentless. They never feel like they’re out of it when they fall behind. When they jump ahead, it’s lights out because you know they’re going to keep scoring.
Rediscover the long ball: This goes hand-in-hand with the first point. The Red Sox won the AL East despite hitting 168 home runs as a team, which was the fourth lowest total in MLB. Even with the series headed back to Fenway Park, the Red Sox are not likely to silence Houston’s bats. So theirs will have to muster some power if they have any hope of getting back to Houston or even getting the ball to closer Craig Kimbrel.
Dealin’ Doug: The pressure in Game 3 will fall on Doug Fister. If he doesn’t set a positive tone, look out. The veteran right-hander is familiar with the Astros lineup after spending the 2016 season in Houston, but that probably won’t be much help to him. He took the loss against Houston on Sept. 29, allowing three runs over 5 1/3 innings. Unfortunately, that qualified as the best of his final four starts, as he allowed 17 ER over just 16 2/3 innings during that stretch. He’s not in a great place right now, but Fister’s a crafty veteran with over 1,300 innings and 82 wins under his belt. He’ll need to put that experience to good use.
Be relentless: With their backs against the wall, the New York Yankees came out fighting in Game 2. A matchup against Indians ace Corey Kluber seemed especially daunting after they were aced by surprise Game 1 starter Trevor Bauer. They were not deterred, and instead looked fiercely focused, tagging Kluber for six runs in less than three innings. Of course, we know how that ended, but the start was good and they’ll really need that focus in Game 3 against Carlos Carrasco.
Take the pressure off Joe Girardi: Everyone is coming down hard on the Yankees skipper for not challenging the controversial hit by pitch in Game 2, and even more so for his inexplicable explanation. Rightfully so, too. There’s no defending either, but the Yankees could have changed the narrative several times, beginning with retiring Francisco Lindor and continuing with their many other chances to win the game. This is no endorsement of Girardi. In fact, it’s probably the opposite, as the Yankees just to take care of business on the field so Girardi is less of a factor.
Clean up the defense: The Yankees were error free in Game 1, but made three errors in Game 2. The first of which led directly to Cleveland’s first run after New York scored two runs. The second nearly turned the game in Cleveland’s favor in the second inning, and the third put the winning run in scoring position in the tenth inning. Obviously, there’s never a good time to commit an error. But when those errors are giving the Indians scoring chances, it’s a recipe for disappointment.
The fun thing about the playoffs is that the narrative can change in an instant. By Monday, optimism could be flowing through Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. We just don’t know what the next game will bring, which is why we’ll still be watching intently.
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