Hefty challenge stands between Yankees and playoff game changer

The luxury of nestling within the friendly confines of The Bronx are all but over following the Yankees’ 8-4 defeat to the Indians on Sunday.

For not only does the team with the AL’s best record face a daunting nine-game trip to the West Coast that features three in Oakland, a headline weekend series at Dodger Stadium and then three in Seattle, there are only 12 home games remaining of the 36 still to be played.

And sadly, none in Baltimore.

The Yankees left New York one game ahead of the Dodgers in the overall MLB standings and 4 ¹/₂ on the Astros (four in the loss column) for the best record in the AL. If they are going to advance to the World Series for the first time since annexing championship No. 27 in 2009, they are advised to maintain their standing as the 2019 king of the hill, top of the list, a number one team.

For while a quite creditable 34-23 on the road, the Yankees are a beastly 49-20 at The Bronx Bandbox.

“That’s the biggest thing,” Aaron Judge said when asked about the importance of securing home-field advantage. “Even though we’re going down the stretch and we’ve got a [9 ¹/₂- game] lead in our division, we’re not going to stop. We’re not going to stop until the last game, 162.

“We want to keep winning. That’s big, especially now. We know how rowdy this place gets in the postseason and how crazy these fans are, and we love it. We feed off that energy. So we’ve got to keep winning and make sure we keep that home-field advantage for the postseason.”

Judge crushed a ninth-inning line drive one hop off the left-field wall to complete a 2-for-5 afternoon that included a pair of strikeouts after a day off Saturday that followed Friday night’s 2-for-3. So maybe, as No. 99 has confidently insisted, it is just a matter of time before he becomes his whole self in the box again.

Still, the feared slugger who hit one home run for every 10.4 at-bats in 2017, when he smacked a league-leading 52, and one every 15.3 last year while hitting 27 in an injury-truncated season, has not hit one out in 51 at-bats since July 19 and has hit exactly one out in 108 ups since July 19. He has hit 12 homers in 253 at-bats this year, one every 21.1.

Maybe the power surge will return on this trip, one that Aaron Boone seems to relish.

“Every major league season is filled with different challenges,” the manager said following the split of the four-game series against a potential playoff opponent. “We just [finished] a stretch of 19 games in 17 days where until today we had four healthy starting pitchers. That’s a challenge.

Travel at times — going to London — can be a challenge.

“Going on the road, these are different challenges that are inevitable during the major league season. But you kind of look forward to them. We go out on the West Coast, and play a couple of really good teams, obviously, but we’re looking forward to going out there.”

CC Sabathia became the fifth healthy starter, returning to extremely mixed results from the injured list for his first outing since July 27 when the lefty went on the IL with right knee issues. He allowed four runs in three innings, but pitched a scoreless first and third sandwiched around a second in which he surrendered a three-run homer and walked three consecutive batters while throwing 12 straight balls after an initial strike.

It could have been worse, much worse, and indeed Sabathia struck out the side in the third, but the fact is that he has allowed 21 earned runs on 30 hits while allowing 10 home runs over 24 ¹/₃ innings covering his last five starts dating to July 6. There may not be a spot for Sabathia on the postseason roster.

That decision is, of course, for later. Just as the determination of whether the Yanks will open every series at home. You remember, of course, 2017, when the Yanks won all three at home in the ALCS against the Astros but went home when Houston took all four in its park.

“We’re great in this building, we feel like we have a tremendous home-field advantage” Boone said. “So we want to rack up as many wins as we can with that hope.

“But we also know that we’re capable of beating anyone when we put our best foot forward no matter where we play.’

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