Yankees have to be perfect to beat Astros in ALCS

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You might not see a better all-around defensive play than what the Yankees pulled off to finish the seventh inning Thursday night.

Jose Altuve smoked a 106.7-mph dart that short-hopped and knocked down Gleyber Torres, but the second baseman’s glove vacuumed up the ball, which he flipped – from his back – to Oswald Peraza. The shortstop, in his first postseason start, had to reach behind him for the ball. He tapped second base with his back to first base before twirling and throwing. The ball bounced several feet before it reached Anthony Rizzo, but the first baseman – hours after he was named a finalist for the Gold Glove – picked it with his backhand and allowed a small fist pump after completing the double play.

This was the type of defense the Yankees played throughout Game 2. Luis Severino was mostly excellent, as were the relievers who followed. The Yankees’ bats were better than they had been against Justin Verlander on Wednesday.

But the Yankees were not perfect in each facet, which led to a 3-2 loss at Minute Maid Park and an 0-2 ALCS hole before the series shifts to The Bronx on Saturday. The Yankees can clearly play with an Astros team that looks to be MLB’s best, but merely playing very well does not suffice. If the Yankees slip, the Yankees lose.

Luis Severino #40 of the New York Yankees reacts as Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros rounds the bases on his three-run home run during Game 2 of the ALCS.
A 97-mph fastball on the inside corner from Luis Severino to Alex Bregman was the difference in the Yankees’ ALCS Game 2 loss.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The slip arrived in the third inning, and without a piece of All-Star hitting, it would have been imperceptible. Severino used two fastballs and a changeup to get ahead, 1-2, on Alex Bregman with two Astros on base. The slugger sat on an inside fastball, and perhaps Severino should have elevated the heater more. Severino threw 97 mph on the inside corner, and Bregman zoomed his hands through the zone and slammed a home run to left.

Severino was dominant otherwise through 5 ⅓ innings. But Bregman beat him once, and thus the Astros beat the Yankees for a second time.

The Yankees scored twice in the fourth inning on a gift from Framber Valdez, who could not field a bouncer from Giancarlo Stanton and then threw the would-be out into right field. The Yankees used smallball to get a couple runners in, and they tried to use bigger ball to complete a comeback.

Aaron Judge’s deep drive in the eighth died in the glove of right fielder Kyle Tucker, who leapt against the wall for the catch. A couple more pushups from Judge, and the Yankees would have gone from one run down to one run up on a two-run home run.

According to Statcast, the ball was hit 29 feet farther than Bregman’s home run. The Yankees slugged the two deepest shots of the game: Torres nearly homered to right, too, in the second inning. Despite Valdez’s brilliance – and he was brilliant through seven innings in which he seemed to get stronger – there were moments when the Yankees seemed close to breaking through.

New York Yankees shortstop Oswald Peraza reaches for a ground ball hit by Yuli Gurriel #10 of the Houston Astros during Game 2 of the ALCS.
Oswald Peraza sparkled with his defense at shortstop in his first career postseason start.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

The Yankees hit 10 balls against Valdez at 95 mph or greater (after hitting just five against Verlander). Their top three hardest-hit balls of the night were a lineout from Judge, a groundout from Harrison Bader and Judge’s near homer. They could not make their connections matter, which they will have to when they strike out 13 times (including one more from Matt Carpenter, whose seventh strikeout in as many postseason at-bats ended the game).

Peraza dazzled several times defensively. Severino seems stronger now than he was in June. Jonathan Loaisiga and Wandy Peralta combined for three shutdown innings out of the bullpen. That kind of nice all-around recipe was good enough to beat the Guardians, and probably would do the job against 28 teams.

But it is not working against a 106-win Astros club that is built for both the regular season and the postseason. Their hitters make consistent contact and consistently hit home runs; their rotation is the envy of the sport.

Perhaps the task will get easier in The Bronx, where the Yankees will turn to a rested Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes to save the season. But a literal perfect game would not be enough for the Yankees, who need to find a way to score runs, too.

To stun the Astros, they need to put together an all-around perfect game.

Today’s back page

The back cover of the New York Post on October 21, 2022.
New York Post

Welcome to the NFL’s new QB world?

We are not about to announce that Tom Brady is finished because those predictions have never been right. They were wrong when Brady came back from a torn ACL and MCL in 2008; wrong when Brady aged into his upper-30s, and many (most?) assumed he could not play forever; wrong when, as a 42-year-old, he leapt from the Patriots to the Bucs, and doubters could not imagine the greatest quarterback ever emulating his success.

Brady always has thrived. And yet, as a 45-year-old, he is sinking within a Bucs offense that does not offer him nearly enough help. In six games, he has thrown for multiple touchdowns only once.

We are not about to announce that Aaron Rodgers is finished because those predictions have never been right. He was not given much of a chance until he emerged from Brett Favre’s shadow as a superstar. As his play slipped on so-so Packers teams in the late 2010s, even his own team began plotting its non-Rodgers future, drafting a potential heir in Jordan Love in the first round in 2020. But the 38-year-old Rodgers has proven, again and again, he is the solution and not the Packers’ problem.

Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers reacts to a fumble in the third quarter of a game against the New York Jets at Lambeau Field on October 16, 2022 in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Aaron Rodgers has his lowest quarterback rating since 2015 while posting a 3-3 record throwing to an unseasoned group of Packers receivers.
Getty Images

And yet, through six games, Rodgers has his lowest quarterback rating (94.2) since 2015 for a Packers team that is 3-3.

Other QB luminaries are facing similar struggles.

Russell Wilson’s QB rating is the lowest of his career. So is Matt Ryan’s. Matthew Stafford’s hasn’t plunged this low since 2013.

New York and much of the football world have waited literal decades for Brady to fall. If this indeed is his end, are multiple eras of quarterbacks going down with him?

Only two Super Bowls since 2013 have not featured at least one QB from that Brady-Rodgers-Wilson-Ryan-Stafford group: in 2015 (when the remains of Peyton Manning beat Cam Newton, who was in the upper echelon until his own fall) and in 2019 (when Patrick Mahomes announced himself and beat Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers’ defense).

The past decade has been dominated by Brady and Rodgers and, to a lesser extent, has seen significant moments from Wilson, Ryan and Stafford that have vaunted them into the Hall of Fame discussion. Through six weeks of football in 2022, only Ryan — and just barely — has a winning record.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady aims to keep Tampa Bay in first place in the NFC South.
Tom Brady has just eight passing touchdowns and several tantrums in six games for the Buccaneers.
USA TODAY Sports

The best teams in the NFL thus far are led by:

1. Jalen Hurts, Eagles (6-0)
2. Josh Allen, Bills (5-1)
3. Kirk Cousins, Vikings (5-1)
4. Daniel Jones, Giants (5-1)
5. Dak Prescott/Cooper Rush, Cowboys (4-2)
6. Patrick Mahomes, Chiefs (4-2)
7. Justin Herbert, Chargers (4-2)
8. Zach Wilson, Jets (4-2)
9. Ryan Tannehill, Titans (3-2)
10. Matt Ryan, Colts (3-2-1)

Hurts is 24. Allen is 26, and already has formed the best rivalry in football with the 27-year-old Mahomes. Joe Burrow will rise again, as will Lamar Jackson. Kyler Murray and Trevor Lawrence are filled with promise. Tua Tagovailoa and Zach Wilson have shown glimpses. Deshaun Watson will be back.

Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs shakes hands with Josh Allen #17 of the Buffalo Bills after the game at Arrowhead Stadium on October 16, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. Buffalo defeated Kansas City 24-20.
Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen have the makings of a new-age quarterback rivalry that could endure for years.
Getty Images

The world has waited for more than 20 years for Brady to go away. If this is it for the superstar, it might also prove to be the finale for his contemporaries.

Career move

From aging quarterbacks to disgruntled wide receivers.

The Jets cannot be happy with Elijah Moore, who on Thursday became the second Jets wideout this year to request a trade. Moore, the 2021 second-round pick, has hauled in just 16 catches in six games and did not have an official target in Sunday’s win in Green Bay.

After the game, Moore tweeted that he didn’t understand his lack of action, and the Jets excused the 22-year-old from practice Thursday. It is difficult to envision the former Mississippi star dressing Sunday in Denver — perhaps Denzel Mims, still on the team, will dress instead.

Elijah Moore #8 of the New York Jets looks on against the Philadelphia Eagles during the preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field on August 12, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Jets defeated the Eagles 24-21.
Elijah Moore is the second Jets receiver to ask for a trade in three months, though the Jets seem disinclined to honor his request.
Getty Images

Mims requested a trade in late August. Though there likely was interest in the tall, speedy, underused 2020 second-rounder, GM Joe Douglas would not have wanted to sell so low on a player who can be salvaged. If Mims plays Sunday and performs, the Jets and their fans would embrace him. Perhaps Mims can return to good graces and become a part of the offense.

When you are on a team that does not feature you as much as you think it should, the pros  of requesting a trade generally far outweigh the cons. Maybe, like Mims, you sense you won’t get many snaps anyway, so you try to force the team’s hand. If it does not work, a second chance likely will crop up at some point.

If it does work? Then, like former Jet Robbie Anderson, you can force yourself out of a situation you do not want to be in. Anderson was thrown out of Sunday’s Panthers game by interim head coach Steve Wilks after feuding with receivers coach Joe Dailey. It is unclear if Anderson officially requested a trade or the Panthers simply knew they had no other options, so Anderson was dealt to Arizona.

Anderson left a 1-5 Panthers team that recently had fired Matt Rhule, who also coached Anderson at Temple, and lacked a franchise quarterback. He forced his way to the Cardinals, and had debuted in Thursday night’s 42-34 win over the Saints.

Requesting trades is ugly business, and fans can turn on you. But if the request is not met, your talent can serve as an apology to the team. And if the request is met, you can find the right landing spot in a league in which contracts are not guaranteed and players are incentivized to find the right landing spot quickly.

Moore’s unhappiness is not good for the Jets, but it can be good for Moore.

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