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Time is running out: Astros squeeze every Yankee weakness

The Astros are up 2-1 in the 2019 ALCS against the Yankees, having just won two straight after dropping the opening game. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, the Astros erstwhile aces, among the best combination of elite hurlers seen in some time, did their job. The Yanks beat Zack Greinke — no slouch himself — but fell to JV and Cole.

To be clear, the Yankee offense showed some fight. This isn’t a 2012 ALCS situation, where a Yankee team (and entire era) was collapsing, finally having reached its end. No, the 2019 Yankees are doing everything they can. This team has plenty of heart and even more talent, but standing across the ring this time isn’t the Minnesota Twins. It’s Houston, and Houston is a different level.

The Yankees are a great team. The Astros are transcendent. The Astros are able to do something that arguably no other team — including the NL pennant-winning Washington Nationals — can do, which is force the Yankees into compromising situations. The Astros can bob and weave through Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and Luis Severino to find the one Yankee reliever struggling (Adam Ottavino) and strike. The Astros can weather Gleyber Torres’ excellent postseason, DJ Lehamieu’s consistency and Aaron Judge’s power to find the struggling Edwin Encarnacion and Gary Sanchez.

It doesn’t help that MLB went and changed the ball without a word of warning — big credit to Fox for not having the cajones to mention that on the Didi Gregorius flyout, even after Cardinals manager Mike Shildt mentioned it — thus modifying the landscape of the game mid-season. Cool move, MLB. Bravo. This is the story of the postseason.

Despite my tone, this series isn’t over. The Yankees are a powerhouse; this lineup can wreck anyone, no matter what shape the ball is in. The better team — and I believe that is Houston — doesn’t always win in baseball. That said, for the Yankees to have a chance, things need to change.

First, Aaron Boone needs to rethink his lineup and stack the guys who are hitting up top — DJ, Gleyber, Judge, maybe Didi — and push the slumping bats down the order. Don’t snuff out potential rallies by having Encarnacion batting fourth. The top three should be DJ, Judge and Gleyber. Period. (Probably next year, too.) I like how Boone has managed this series by and large, but Gleyber not batting third is inexcusable. Along the same token, Ottavino is out of high usage situations. Sorry.

It’s nitty-gritty time, and Boone knows it. He managed that way in Game 2, not waiting around for Paxton to allow four runs. Bravo.

Alas, the sun’s getting real low. With Game 4 rained out, the path to the World Series grows even narrower, what with the Astros likely stacking Greinke and Verlander while the Yanks lose precious days off to keep the bullpen rested. So be it.

Hey, 2019 Yankees. Wanna be a team of destiny? Win these games. This isn’t 2009 or 1998. The Yankees aren’t the best team. Time to win a hand against someone who holds the cards.