The Yankees will attempt to salvage the finale of their three-game series with the Astros on Thursday afternoon, well aware that at this point in their campaign, and their position in the standings, winning at home against weaker opponents is a must.
Still, even with a victory, history is against their postseason potential. No team with a negative run differential has ever made the playoffs, per Elias Sports Bureau, and after Wednesday's 5-2 loss the Yankees -- five games back in the American League Wild Card chase -- are at negative 43.
No one knows that better recently than Brandon McCarthy.
McCarthy lost his last two outings mainly because of a stagnant offense, which was shut out both times. The Yankees are averaging 2.9 runs per game over the last two weeks, a course they'll need to correct as each game becomes more meaningful.
"Whether the game means more, whether we're chasing, whether it's a month from now or we're in the playoffs, it's just trying to stay as focused as I can on the smallest things I can control," said McCarthy.
The righty has improved markedly in over a month with the Yankees since being acquired from the D-backs. He hasn't thrown fewer than 5 2/3 innings in his seven starts with the club, surrendering just 11 earned runs over 43 innings. But he also hasn't completed seven innings.
For all of McCarthy's consistency, he's wanted to buck that trend with the Yankees, especially as the team prepares for a postseason push.
"Working deep into games has been my biggest goal so far, something I take a lot of pride in, and I want to be better," said McCarthy. "Getting through six, or barely working into the seventh, isn't enough. I want to be able to get through seven or eight, take us deeper into games, take some of the load off the bullpen."
Getting deep into games hasn't been a problem for Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel, tied for the team lead in innings pitched last year and well on his way to repeating that feat. Keuchel enters Thursday's start with a career-high 156 1/3 innings, having thrown four complete games.
"I knew coming into the year, if I had a chance to start in Spring Training, I was going to get a pretty healthy workload," he said. "I kind of adjusted my offseason schedule to go 200-plus innings, and I think I'm on a pretty decent pace right now. I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing and kind of taper off the workload in between starts, and that should help me going out there every fifth day."
For Keuchel, who hasn't won in his last three starts, attaining 200 innings would certainly be a bright spot but requires careful attention to his arm. When Keuchel indicated tapering off, he said he might throw about half as many pitches in the bullpen between starts.
"There's no getting better at this point," he said. "What I got is what I got, and I'm going to go out there with it."
Yankees: Beltran again sidelined by right elbow
Carlos Beltran received a cortisone shot to help him deal with the soreness in his right elbow that kept him out of Wednesday's lineup and will sideline him for at least Thursday's game as well.
Beltran felt pain during a couple swings during Tuesday's 7-4 loss to the Astros, and while it was a feeling that has not been unusual for him, this time it felt worse. He has been dealing with a bone spur in that elbow since April, and it will require surgery during the offseason.
"I've been feeling pain once in a while, but what I was feeling yesterday was very sharp," Beltran said. "I just felt that, talking to the [Yankees team doctor Christopher Ahmad], it probably could be that the previous cortisone [shots] are wearing out."
Beltran is hoping to return to the Yankees' lineup on Friday, but that seems to depend on if he responds to the shot well enough to be able to swing a bat on Thursday.
"He's day to day, we'll go through the next couple of days and see what we've got," manager Joe Girardi said after Wednesday's game. "He won't be a player for me tomorrow. I don't expect that, but we'll see after that."
Astros: Altuve picking his spots to run
Second baseman Jose Altuve is leading the American League with 46 stolen bases, but only five have come in the previous 33 games.
Manager Bo Porter said Altuve has been picking his spots a little more and that it is not a matter of Altuve getting tired as the season closes in on the final month.
"He's understanding the impact which he's able to have, and I think the guys that are coming up behind him are benefiting from his patience," he said. "He's just picking his spots."
• The Astros' win Wednesday night marked the first time they have taken a series at Yankee Stadium in four tries.
• Chris Carter's 30th home run of the season Tuesday night made him the first Astros player to reach 30 dingers since Lance Berkman (34) and Carlos Lee (37) in 2007.
• Closer David Robertson has 499 career strikeouts in just 376 innings. With his next strikeout, he'll surpass David Cone as the fastest pitcher to reach the 500-K plateau in Yankees franchise history.
Jake Kring-Schreifels is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.