HOUSTON -- The Yankees didn't listen this spring, when most of the so-called experts said this was supposed to be a rebuilding season and pegged them for a win total in the mid-80s. They didn't listen last week, when hardly anyone predicted they'd be able to win three straight against
HOUSTON -- The Yankees didn't listen this spring, when most of the so-called experts said this was supposed to be a rebuilding season and pegged them for a win total in the mid-80s. They didn't listen last week, when hardly anyone predicted they'd be able to win three straight against the same Indians club that reeled off a 22-game regular-season winning streak.
So why change now? As the Yankees prepare for the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World, they are aware that they will have their work cut out for them against the Astros, a team that won 101 games during the regular season and handled the Red Sox in four games in the ALDS presented by Doosan. But consider this fair warning: Count the Yanks out at your own risk.
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"Why not? We moved on for a reason, because we played better than they did," Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said, reflecting upon the ALDS victory over the Tribe. "Obviously they had a better team than we did over the course of 162 games, but I said all the time in September, it's not about how good of a season you had. It's about playing the best at the right time."
The Yanks aren't in the business of raising championship banners for ALDS victories, but regardless of what happens in this series, their battle back from an 0-2 deficit in the best-of-five series against Cleveland deserves a cozy place in the club's postseason lore.
With that in their back pockets, the fresh knowledge of having twice knocked around probable AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber makes the prospect of going up against Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander in Games 1 and 2 just a little less intimidating for the Yankees.
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"We're excited with what we did, but right now it's in the past," Todd Frazier said. "For a lot of the guys here, including myself, it's my first time in a seven-game series. We don't want to go down three games and then have to come back, so we have to jump on them early and often."
Keuchel, of course, was on the other end of the Yanks' most recent postseason experience -- an all-too-short nine-inning affair in the 2015 AL Wild Card Game, best remembered for Keuchel's six scoreless innings and Colby Rasmus' shirtless sprint around the Yankee Stadium infield following the final out.
It's a completely different Yankees team now, though. Only Gardner, Chase Headley, Greg Bird and Didi Gregorius remain from the lineup that manager Joe Girardi sent out that night, and the Yanks' No. 3 and No. 5 hitters from that game -- Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann -- will be wearing Astros orange when the first pitch of Friday's Game 1 is thrown.
"They're a great all-around club, obviously," Headley said. "Their offense is as good as there's been in the Major Leagues, but their pitching staff is really good, too. It's going to be a battle. We're going to have to go out there and execute in all phases of the game just to have a chance."
That includes the Yankees' power bullpen, which is rested and ready to provide an advantage in the series.
"I think it's really important, but that's kind of been our formula for a good portion of the year anyway," Girardi said. "Our bullpen's been extremely important to us. And our starters really have done a lot better than people give them credit, when you look at their numbers and how well they have thrown. This is a very dangerous lineup. We didn't have a lot of success against Cleveland during the regular season, but we pitched better during the playoffs, and you hope that holds true here."
And the Yankees are secure in the knowledge that they will have at least two raucous sellout crowds waiting for them in New York, where the building shook like the Scott Brosius and Tino Martinez days for the Wild Card Game and two of the Yanks' victories over the Indians.
"I've never been a part of something like that," Judge said. "I heard stories about the old Yankee Stadium, what it was like during the playoff runs then. What I've experienced in the couple of home games in the playoffs is out of this world. It's a jungle out there. They're behind us every pitch. It's a real home-field advantage."
The most important difference, for a team that has played and won four elimination games in the span of eight days, is that its next nine innings cannot end the season. A best-of-seven series holds plenty of appeal for the Yankees, who believe they are right where they should be.
"I'm just enjoying being here," Gardner said. "I don't think that many people expected us to make it to the postseason, much less to knock off the Indians and make it to the ALCS. We're happy with where we're at, but we know we've got a lot more work to do. So far, it's been a pretty good year."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.