There are many ways you could envision the Astros losing this series to the Yankees.
A complete undoing from a historically-great Astros offense, up there with the 1927 Yankees and the Big Red Machine for the best single-season statistical offenses in league history, was probably not one of those.
But through five games, that's exactly what's happening. The Astros won low-scoring one-run games to open the series in Houston, then got rocked by the Yankees in the Bronx - some shaky bullpen performances have assisted New York, but the Astros' offensive collapse was the most notable story of the ugly three game outing where the Yankees outscored the Astros 19-5.
The Astros' lineup depth, highlighted by players with OPS numbers over .800 in the bottom third of the lineup, has gone quiet - Josh Reddick is 0 for 19, Brian McCann is 0 for 8, Marwin Gonzalez is 1 for 15, Alex Bregman is 2 for 13. Carlos Beltran started two games for...some reason. The whole offense has four hits with runners in scoring position in 25 chances. They haven't homered in over one hundred at-bats. They have two multi-hit innings. Their hit totals per game (6, 5, 4, 3, 4) are a NASA countdown launch that suddenly got stuck (again, those are hit totals). I'm too upset to source all of these facts about how offensively inept the Astros have been, so you'll just have to trust me that all of those are true- after all, this site is run by Vox, where fact-checking is optional anyway.
But here's my "favorite" depressing fact about this offensive collapse (I'll fact check this one).
worst-ever batting average in a best-of-seven series is .142, by the 1966 Dodgers in the World Series. Astros now batting .147 in the ALCS— Jeff Sullivan (@based_ball) October 19, 2017
I wouldn't blame you if you, a fan, panicked - this is a power outage that we haven't seen at any point in 2017, and it's coming at obviously the most critical time. Pressure, and most of all, stupid narratives are exacerbated in the postseason - but "the Astros offense is bad" isn't a narrative, because it hasn't happened. The Astros offense has been so good that no one has complained about it with any evidence, even during mini-slumps. The offense was too deep to really go into an offensive depression that single-handedly lost them multiple games in a row.
So, nothing about this slump makes sense. The Astros didn't beat any good pitchers in 2017" is one of those bad narratives that isn't true anyway - to get to this point in the season, you have to beat good pitchers, and the Astros did that just a week and a half ago, sending Chris Sale to an early offseason doing whatever in Florida with two losses, one of which came in the same game that they hit Craig Kimbrel around - who was the best pitcher in the A.L. this season on a rate basis.
This is where we (maybe begrudgingly, because we're mad) give some credit to the Yankees starters - which I certainly didn't expect to show up like this.
Masahiro Tanaka has looked like his 2014, 138 ERA+ form in two starts this series. Maybe we should've expected this Tanaka to show up anyway, after he struck out 15 Toronto hitters in his last start of the season and turned in a terrific ALDS start against Cleveland. CC Sabathia has experienced some kind of wild contract-year, age-37 renaissance, turning in his best season since 2012 as a 300 lb. version of Dallas Keuchel with his mixing of offspeed pitches and location.
Both of those guys forced Houston's offense into their worst games statistically and aesthetically - blowout losses that had Houston's hitters off balance, looking for the wrong pitches, swinging at junk and generating weak contact.
It hasn't been pretty, and the offensive outage now occurred for five games in the series. You can't predict slumps like this - especially for this team. But maybe that rarity is a good thing. Fortunately, the RISP monster comes for us all - a team that's been this good across an entire 162-game season should expect positive regression of some kind in slumps like this. The Astros' BABIP is .185 for the series - and some of the contact into outs (especially in Game 3) has been brutally unlucky.
Baseball is weird - if the Astros bullpen finished off that Game 4 win, I'm probably not writing this article, and very few people would make a 3-2 series lead about the offense. Getting back in this series can still happen, but facing elimination makes Thursday, October 19th the most important off day in team history. I have no inclinations on how a team spends an off day in the playoffs, but certainly a recharge day will do this lineup some good. There will be pressure, but playing Games 6 (and hopefully 7) at home should help the offense, as will Verlander, who could take some pressure off the offense if they don't have to play catch-up early in the game.
Make no mistake - this has been a complete disaster of an offensive series, and there are very few signs of life from the hitters on this team. As a fan, if you've made it this far through the past postseason heartache, you get to handle this however you want - push those panic buttons, be calm, or just enjoy another Verlander start and see what happens. But the offense holds the key to extending and winning this series, and it will be up to them to bring the Astros back from the brink.