The outlook for the upcoming ALCS games

(Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
(Corey Perrine/Getty Images)

Alright, we’ve seen this before. Down 2-1 in the series but a win tonight would tie it up. Gotta win few more games in a row from here on, right? Well, the Yankees could do that (again), but if only it were that simple. Winning three against a team like the Indians after being down 2-0 is pretty incredible. Asking for another similar task against the Astros… well, this team is certainly capable of it. We just don’t know the odds.

Game Four begins soon and I have some thoughts about the outlook going forward.

1. Lance McCullers Jr., eh?

I was fully expecting the Astros to go with Brad Peacock as the Game 4 starter (or Dallas Keuchel on a short rest) but they went with Lance McCullers Jr. instead. That is… an interesting decision.

McCullers had an up-and-down year. He had a great first-half (7-2, 3.05 ERA) that got him an All-Star nod. However, his second half was marred by a back injury and his performance was, well, not great (0-2, 8.23 ERA in 6 starts). For what it’s worth, he pitched in relief in the Game 3 of the ALDS versus Red Sox and went 3 IP, 2 ER while walking 2 and striking out 4. Eh. I don’t know if that would assure me enough to rely a postseason start on him.

The upside in McCullers Jr. is clear though. As mentioned, he was an All-Star this season and has been garnering attention as one of the best up-and-coming young pitchers in the MLB for awhile. If his health is fine and he can turn the right buttons perchance, he can dominate. It should be noted that McCullers has one of the nastiest curveballs in the game and dude throws it a lot (47.4% of his pitches in 2017) – like, more frequently than his fastball (40.4%). It will be interesting how that could give fits to guys like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, who have struggled with laying off the breaking ball in this postseason. The current Yankee roster hitters have hit only .241/.290/.310 cumulatively against him, which is not great. However, that does not mean a lot when predicting a one-game outcome. If McCullers can’t bring his A-game tonight, the Yankees could very well hit him.

All things considered, the decision to start McCullers Jr. is fascinating. It’s a bit of an unknown factor for now. I would not be surprised if they only have him out for three to four innings and put in Brad Peacock to absorb more.

2. The Astros starters after Game 4?

At first, I was wondering if there was a chance that the Astros could start Peacock on the Game 5 instead of Keuchel but 1) they probably want to start Keuchel on the normal rest 2) Keuchel has owned the Yankees, you know that. The goal for either team is not get to the Game 7 – it’s to end the series with a win as soon as possible. It does not matter for Keuchel whether he’s pitching in Minute Maid Park or Yankee Stadium – the lefty has a measly .446 OPS allowed at YS3 in his career. Yeesh.

I think Peacock would be a bullpen guy for Game 4 if McCullers Jr. departs early. In case you were wondering, Peacock had a breakout 2017 season. The Houston pitching coach Brent Strom has a reputation of working wonders on talented arms. The righty went 13-2, 3.00 ERA while striking out 10.98 batters per 9 innings pitched. He also went back forth between rotation and bullpen so it would make sense to ask him to absorb multiple innings if McCullers doesn’t work out.

If the series goes back to Houston, Game 6 would most definitely feature Justin Verlander. He started after Keuchel and dominated the Yankees in Game 2. What will be interesting, however, is if the series goes to Game 7. Do the Astros start Charlie Morton again? He flashed electric stuff last night but this industry is about the results – Morton allowed 7 ER in 3.2 IP and took the loss. I can see them give a nod to Collin McHugh, who pitched 4 scoreless last night in long relief and has a 3.55 ERA in 12 starts in the regular season. However, just like the Yankees, I’d expect the Astros to be ready to empty the tank on bullpen if they need to. Well, we’ll see if the series goes to that extent in the first place but gosh, that would be some drama.

3. Sonny Gray

It is easy to forget how excellent Sonny Gray has been in his career. As a Yankee, during the regular season, he had a 3.72 ERA in 11 starts. It’s not bad but there were some peripherals that are worrying. First off, after allowing only 8 home runs in 97.0 IP with the A’s, Gray allowed 11 in 65.1 IP in the pinstripes. That’s a jump from 0.7 HR/9 IP to 1.5. He also allowed walks more frequently – 2.8 BB/9 IP in Oakland to 3.5 in New York.

However, here’s something to keep in mind. In 8 out of 11 regular season starts as a Yankee, Gray allowed 2 ERs or less. He went 6 IP or more in 6 of those starts as well. Because of recency bias (9 ER, 8 IP, 3 HRs, 9 walks in the previous two starts. Yikes), it is okay to be wary of how he will do later tonight.

Here’s a positive that could just be a small sample size thing: he was pretty great after a long rest (6 days or more) this season – only .170/.255/.295 allowed in 4 starts. What the Yankees would hope is that he’ll be out there refreshed and mentally charged for this crucial, crucial matchup. So many things could go wrong – he’s had trouble avoiding long balls with the Yankees and will be pitching in the YSIII while facing the powerful Astros lineup. However, if he throws a solid start, he can catch multiple rabbits at once by instilling more faith in him going forward and giving the Yankees a chance to win today.

Depends on how things go with the bats, I would be happy with a five inning outing with maybe 2 runs allowed from Gray. The bullpen is rested and can take it from there. Chad Green, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman should be able to throw multiple innings – Tommy Kahnle maybe an inning or less.

4. Again with the dumb luck

Back in ALDS, I talked about how there were significantly more lucky bounces going the Indians’ way in their first two wins of series. Well, what do you know – some of it came to the Yankees’ side to help them win the series.

The first two games of the ALCS has featured an array of moments that favored Houston – not a lot of 344 feet liners turn into homers but that’s what Carlos Correa made happen. Aaron Hicks could have given Yankees a 2-0 lead in Game 2 but the ball fell right in front of the wall. Brett Gardner could have been safe at third. Gary Sanchez could have fielded Didi Gregorius‘s throw from second and tagged Jose Altuve out easily, etc. A lot of these happened from inches to few feet’s worth of difference to resulting in very different outcomes. Who knows how the series’ momentum could be by now had many more little things gone the Yankees’ way?

It’s impossible to predict or project luck. The Yankees could get bad breaks here and there and could still win the series – it just would be very hard to work around them. Make no mistake about it – the players on both teams are very skilled and that’s why they are playing for a league title in the Major League Baseball. But sometimes, luck plays that x-factor that can really separate the winners from losers – and the Yankees could, again, really use some bounces go for them the next few games. We’ll see.

Yankees 1, Astros 2: Correa’s walk off and Verlander’s gem sink the Yankees in Game Two

Um, yeah. Holy hell. What was that ending? Well, before that, the Yankee bats got completely owned by Justin Verlander for the entirety of nine innings. They did manage back-to-back doubles in the fourth to score a run but that was about it. After Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson put in a strong relief effort, the game unraveled in the ninth thanks to Jose Altuve’s extra-hustle and, uh, what Gary Sanchez did. Let’s not put the blame solely on Sanchez though. The lineup has not been… good. Not at all. Let’s recap this thing.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Starting pitching duel part deux

It’s Severino vs. Verlander. I don’t know of any more possible matchups that could be as exciting. Two of the best fireballers in the baseball going at each other in a high-stakes playoff game. Inject it into my veins. And, of course the first few innings lived up to that hype. Both teams were scoreless for the first three innings. Luis Severino did not record any strikeouts but outs are outs. You can’t be too picky about them in the postseason.

In the third inning, the Yankees bats came close to getting the big hits but were befallen. With one out, Chase Headley got a fastball down low and middle and drove it towards the right field fence. Normally, maybe 8 out of 10 times, that’s a home run or a double. However, Josh Reddick had it played beautifully and robbed Headley of a big hit with a jump catch. A batter later, Brett Gardner pulled a line drive down the right field line. He got to second easily and it seemed like he had a legitimate chance to reach third. However, the Astros turned a great relay from outfield to infield to make it very close at the third base. Third base umpire initially called it safe. But… was it?

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Nope. Again with the game of inches! Upon replay, the umpires determined that Alex Bregman just got Gardner. That was the third out and ended the frustrating half inning for the Yankee bats.

In the bottom of the fourth, just like yesterday, the Astros struck first. With one out, Carlos Correa hit a 99 mph fastball up and away from the zone over the right field fence. Look at the location here. The fact that he hit it squarely enough for a home run is nuts:

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Or… did it actually go out? The ball bounced out of a kid’s glove right above the wall and the umpires decided to see if it’s a Jeffrey Maier situation. However, the ball was clearly going over the fence before it hit the kid’s glove. The umpires ruled it a home run and Astros took a 1-0 lead. I thought that Aaron Judge might have had a chance to make a leaping catch to rob it but he did not get back there in time – probably because that liner was scorched.

The Yankees got one back (a run!) the next inning. With two outs, Aaron Hicks squared up a 97 mph fastball up in the zone for a double. Todd Frazier followed it up with a deep flyball to left-center. In a normal ballpark, that very well could have been a home run, but instead, it got stuck in the fencing under the seats. I don’t know if that has ever happened before. The ball got stuck in there so neatly that you’d think that someone placed it by hand. The umpires ruled it a ground-rule double and that brought Hicks home for a 1-1 tie game.

Going into the bottom of the fifth, Yankees put in Tommy Kahnle to relieve Severino. Wait what? Sevy had thrown only 62 pitches but he was hit by Yulieski Gurriel’s comebacker in the fourth. If there’s any bright spot, he was hit on the non-throwing arm wrist. Also, prior to that, Girardi visited the mound after a pitch sailed way outside. Fortunately, Severino was only removed as a precaution. They would rather have him be 100% for the next start (if there is one). Also, because of the array of arms that they have in the ‘pen, it makes it easier to chew up innings while keeping the game close.

Kahnle took care of the fifth and sixth and Robertson got the seventh and eighth – and they were masterful. Both of them combined for a 4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB and 3 K performance to keep the game tied. Now, if only the bats could take advantage of the pitchers balling out.

However, besides that one run that they scored, the offense got manhandled by Justin Verlander. His fastball was classic Verlander, his slider and curve kept the hitters off balance all throughout the game, etc. In nine innings that he pitched today, he allowed only 5 hits, 1 earned run and struck out 13. While it’s remarkable that the Yankee pitchers were able to hold the powerful ‘Stros lineup to one run in the first eight innings of the game, it is very frustrating that the bat has scored only two in the first 17 innings of the series. That is not a good strategy – and they paid for it.

The bitter end

Because the Astros’ best hitters were coming up, Joe Girardi decided to put in Aroldis Chapman, who has, as you may have noticed, very good for about a month and half.

Chappy struck out Reddick rather swiftly. Against Altuve, aka the human hitting machine, he allowed a single on the first pitch 100 mph fastball because it’s Jose Freakin’ Altuve. There’s not a lot of things that you can do when the hitter is 15-for-27 in the postseason. Up came Correa, who had driven in the lone Astros run of the game. Correa hit a liner to right-center that Judge cut off and tried to take a chance to getting Reddick out at second. Meanwhile, Altuve was sprinting past third and going home. Didi Gregorius‘s throw to Sanchez looked like Altuve was going to be out by a mile. Take a look:

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However, Sanchez could not handle the ball in time and as he tried to pick it up, Altuve slid past him to score the walk-off. I really thought he was dead meat when the throw came in but man, that was some brutal defense from Sanchez. I still believe his long-term future is at catching but that was not a good display.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Leftovers

It is really hard to win when your 2, 3, 4, 5 hitters in the lineup (Judge, Gregorius, Sanchez and Bird) combine for a 1-for-15 effort with 5 strikeouts. We all talk about how bad Judge has looked this postseason (rightfully so) but Sanchez also looks lost against the Astros pitching. Today, he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and, of course, was involved in the game-ending play. Gotta think that it was the worst game of his career.

Here are the box score and video highlights. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs


Up Next

The Yankees are heading back to Bronx to host at least the Games 3 and 4 of the ALCS. The streak stopper CC Sabathia will be on the mound, trying to rescue the Yankees’ season, against Charlie Morton.

Yankees 1, Astros 2: Keuchel quiets the Yankees in Game 1

Oh well, a loss happens. Dallas Keuchel, who has a very well-documented history of dominating the Yankee lineup, did it again tonight, going 7 scoreless while striking out 10 on the way. On the other side of the mound, Masahiro Tanaka shrugged off his road woes to give the Yankees a chance to win. Greg Bird finally gave New York a run in the top of the 9th but it was not enough and too late. Astros won the Game 1 2-1 and the Yankees will look to bounce back tomorrow versus Justin Verlander. Let’s recap this thing.

(Pool/Getty Images)
(Pool/Getty Images)

The pitching duel

In the postseason where the bullpen usage has dominated headlines, tonight was very much about the starting pitching. Keuchel and Tanaka both displayed what they can do. Masahiro didn’t even really display his splitter – which worked so effectively against the Indians – yet he came away with a solid outing. In fact, he did not allow a hit for the first 3.1 innings. It seemed like the battle of who blinks first and it turned out to be the Yankees.

Well, New York came maybe a few feet of air away from scoring two in the top of the fourth. With two outs, Starlin Castro reached on base with a soft single to left. Aaron Hicks got a fastball up the middle and drove it deep to center. It looked like it had a decent chance to be a home run but the ball died right in front of the 409 feet center field wall. Gah. Maybe a tick or two higher launch angle or different direction and that ball’s outta here. A 2-0 lead would have been very gratifying especially against Keuchel. Instead, the Astros struck the next inning.

Jose Altuve’s feet manufactured the first run for the Astros. With one out, Altuve hit a grounder up the middle and beat out Castro’s throw for an infield single. During Carlos Correa’s at-bat, Altuve stole second to put himself in scoring position. It wasn’t even a bad throw from Sanchez either. Altuve got a great jump and simply used his speed to reach safely. The Astros shortstop promptly followed it up with an RBI single to left to cash in a run for Houston. It was a slider that hung up on the zone and easy contact for a talented hitter like Correa. Marwin Gonzalez’s groundout pushed Correa to the second base with two outs. Yulieski Gurriel tacked on another run for the Astros with an RBI single up the middle. With Dallas Keuchel on the other side of the rubber, 2-0 Astros lead seemed like a mighty order to top.

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

A 2-0 deficit  becomes more insurmountable when the team becomes unlucky in the game of inches. In the top of the fifth, the Yankees had two runners on with a Greg Bird single and Matt Holliday reaching on base on an Altuve error. After Todd Frazier lined out and Brett Gardner struck out, it was up to Aaron Judge to make something happen. He got a hold of a slider in the strike zone to line a base hit to the leftfielder Marwin Gonzalez.

At the moment that Gonzalez released the ball on the throw to the plate, Bird had just rounded third base and it seemed like he had a good chance to score. However, 1) Greg Bird isn’t really fast 2) Marwin Gonzalez threw that ball really hard at 97.4 mph. As a result, Bird was tagged out by Brian McCann as his foot was about to slide into the plate. I would not pin that on third base Joe Espada. Bird was well on his way home as Gonzalez was releasing the ball, which is like a runner tagging up way before the throw during the sacrifice fly. Take a look:
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Again, stupid game of inches. Would have been nice to score a run and get the rally going in that inning but that’s not how it went. Such is baseball. Another annoying thing happened in the top of the sixth when Didi Gregorius hit a blooper that headed towards the left field line… and was just foul. It could have placed a runner on the scoring position with one out but instead, Gregorius ended up striking out. It was close:

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Tanaka threw a good start. 2 runs allowed in 6 innings of work against the fine-tuned machine that is the Astros lineup is more than enough. Just so happens that Keuchel is a postseason beast that also happens to own New York. The Yankees will have to win the series in spite of him.

The bullpen portion

After Tanaka, Girardi put in Chad Green to keep the game close for the Yankees. It was his first appearance since the ALDS Game 2 disaster and boy, he rebounded well tonight. In two innings, Green struck out two and allowed only two baserunners. I have a feeling that he might be coming out of the ‘pen more frequently this series than in the ALDS. Tonight’s outing certainly helped making his case for more appearances.

On the Astros side, Chris Devenski relieved Keuchel to start the eighth inning. As Gardner walked with one out, A.J. Hinch brought in the closer Ken Giles for a five-out save. Giles threw 38 pitches, which makes you wonder if he will be available at all tomorrow. Even if he will be, he’ll probably be limited to an inning. With two outs in the top of the ninth, it looked like the Yankees will be shut out but Greg Bird denied it. On the third pitch of his at-bat, Bird squared up on Giles’ 98 mph fastball up in the zone into the right field seats for a 399-footer. It was a classic lefty pull power swing and a beauty. I can watch this gif over and over for awhile.

bird

Unfortunately, the time for the Yankees to rally was pretty much at minimum. Jacoby Ellsbury, pinch-hitting for Matt Holliday, struck out in four pitches to end the game. 2-1 Astros was the final score.

Box score, updated standings, video highlights and WPA

Here is tonight’s box score from ESPN, video highlights from MLB.com and WPA chart from Fangraphs.


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees are back at it again at the Minute Maid Park tomorrow on 4 pm EST for the Game 2 of the ALCS. Luis Severino will be on the mound against Justin Verlander – two of the league’s best fireballers! Should be a fun one to watch (or gut-wrenching, depends on how tense you feel).

Four things that need to happen for the Yankees to come back in the ALDS

It is obvious. The Yankees are in some serious trouble. It’s elimination game time tonight.

There is no magic formula here. The Yankees need to do a lot of things right in order to have a chance to win the series. At this moment, it is not impossible, but it’s looking grim down 2-0 against an Indians team that had all the momentum heading into the postseason. Here are a few things that need to happen in order for the Yankees to at least tie it and take the series back to Cleveland, or, perhaps, win the whole damn thing.

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

1. Tanaka needs to ace it

This is imperative. The Indians will have one of their three aces up against the Yankees in Carlos Carrasco and there is basically zero margin of error for Masahiro Tanaka on Sunday.

This is easily the biggest start in Tanaka’s Yankee career. An encouraging thing is that he is coming off one of his best starts. The last time he was out, he pitched a gem against the Blue Jays on September 29 – 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER and 15 strikeouts. Wouldn’t you love for him to replicate that against Cleveland? While he did have an overall inconsistent September (4.99 ERA in 30.2 IP with 7 walks and 39 K’s and 6 HR’s allowed) to cap off the season, Tanaka is certainly capable of rescuing the Yankees for the Game 3.

Tanaka is no stranger to big games. In high school, he took his school to the finals of the storied 2006 Koshien tournament. In 2013, his last year with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, he had the legendary Japan Series throwing a 160-pitch complete game on Game 6 and coming back out on the next game for a 15-pitch save to win it all. He has had to step up under the brightest spotlights at the levels he pitched and now, he holds the key to save the Yankees’ season.

If you look at it the Fangraphs’ way, Tanaka’s performance with the Yankees in the past four years is worth $100.3 million, as opposed to $88 million he’s made in that stretch. So he’s been (hypothetically) worth the big bucks. However, a heroic performance to extend the Yanks’ season would be priceless.

2. Severino needs to bounce back

Luis Severino was one of the best starters in MLB this season. There’s a chance that he might end it with only 0.1 IP logged in the postseason.

As you know, Severino was way too amped up in his only postseason appearance. He overthrew and couldn’t locate as he usually does. I would imagine that has become a learning experience for the young guy. While it is healthy to be skeptical, I would not be hesitant to use the best young Yankee starter in a long time. If it also helps his case, Severino threw a gem against the Indians back in August. If needed, it is entirely possible that Sevvy becomes a late-inning bullpen option for Game Three. Mike wrote a post about it yesterday. I would much rather prefer that Yankees be able to win Game 3 without Severino’s help and have him start the Game 4.

3. Cold bats need to come alive

Super obvious point here. While I think it is harsh trying to point flaws out of a lineup after only two games – especially the one that scored 6 runs off of Corey Kluber –  but the Yankees have their back against the wall.

Here are some notable hitters that have not pulled their weight the first two games:

Jacoby Ellsbury/Ronald Torreyes also have not had hits yet but they combined for only 4 at-bats so I won’t mention them here. The four guys I mentioned range from the leadoff guy in Gardner, the best power hitter in the league in Judge, the cleanup shortstop in Gregorius and a catalyst in bottom part of the lineup in Headley – all essential guys to get the offense going.

Here are the Indians starters lined up for the next two games – Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin. Well, the Yankees need to get past Carrasco first so let’s talk about him. Carrasco put up some great numbers this season – 18-6, 3.29 ERA with 226 K’s in 200.0 IP. In terms of matchups, he trounces Tanaka, who had a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde 2017. However, in their only meeting against Carrasco in this season, the Yankees managed to pound him for 5 ER in 5.2 IP. So that’s something. Of course, he is more than capable of throwing an 0-fer to end the Yankees season later today. He’s been riding a hot streak ending the season as well, marking a 1.27 ERA in the last 7 starts of 2017. Welp. There is only one way to find out how it will go. You have to hope that Carrasco is not on his A-game tonight and/or the Yankee bats catch on fire.

If the Yankees get past Carrasco and Game 3, it will be Josh Tomlin on the Game 4 (or at least it’s listed as for now). If the matchup turns out to be Severino vs. Tomlin, it would be a much favored one for the Yankees… on paper. If not Severino, who would they start? They could have a short-leash start for Jaime Garcia or get Sonny Gray going on a short rest. I don’t think either would be as good of options as Severino but if it comes down to using him to nail down the Game 3, there are not a lot of choices. On the Indians side, Tomlin is definitely not as intimidating as Kluber, Bauer and Carrasco. This season, the right-hander went 10-9 with a 4.98 ERA. He also gave up homers in a rather higher rate (1.47 HR/9 IP), which is not a great look when you pitch at the pitcher-friendly Progressive Field (0.974 in home run park factor this season) for around half of your starts.

Say if the Yankees get past both Carrasco and Tomlin. They will have to face Kluber back in Cleveland. Game 2 aside, I’m not sure anyone feels comfortable facing that guy in a win or go home game. If nothing else, Game 2 reminded us Kluber is not unbeatable and can be rather human at times.

4. Dumb luck

The Indians have not lost three straight in a long, long time. They also lost only four games out of the last 36 games of the regular season, if you can imagine that. But fear not – historically, we have seen some unpredictable things happen in the playoffs, or in any short-term matchups.

That being said, it would really be useful to have lucky bounces happen the Yankees’ way. The sixth inning to the end of the Game 2? A lot of things went the Indians’ way. Chisenhall should have struck out to end the inning, Torreyes should have gotten back to the bag, the umpire’s zone maybe should not have been a bit wider with Josh Tomlin on the mound, etc. All the seasons’ worth of work can be dunzo just like that after some bad luck. However, it’s a different story when the lady luck shifts to the Yanks side. Something totally out of the players’ skill set reach could happen that spell either more doom or joy for the team. The Yankees could very well win both games at home the regular way for sure. But you know what they say – you can’t predict baseball, Suzyn.

And, in order to overcome the odds against the red-hot Indians in this situation, some dumb luck could help.

Yankees 6, Rays 1: New York clinches home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game behind Montgomery’s solid outing

With this win tonight, the Yankees have clinched home-field advantage for the AL Wild Card Game (if that becomes their destination). Also, with the Red Sox loss, the division deficit has reduced to three games. Slim hope but it’s still there. The recipe for tonight’s win was simple: Jordan Montgomery pitched well, the offense scored enough runs and the bullpen tossed three no-hit innings to make it as least stressful as possible. 88th win of the season – that’s the Yankees’ most since 2012, when they made it to the ALCS. Let’s recap this thing.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Six solid

Montgomery started the game dicey very early on. He allowed soft singles to Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza just past the infielders and walked Evan Longoria to immediately load the bases in the first. He got a breather by striking out Logan Morrison for the first out. However, Wilson Ramos drove a deep drive to right center that looked to be just going over the fence… until Aaron Hicks denied it. Hicks made a well-timed jump to rob Ramos of a grand slam. That would have been a devastating start for the Yankees but they held the Rays to merely a run. Huge. Not bad for a guy who just came off a DL suffering an oblique injury.

After the shaky start, Montgomery settled in and followed with five scoreless innings. In those frames, he allowed only five baserunners (one of them on a strike out wild pitch in which Adeiny Hechavarria reached first) and struck out three. He may not have the flashiest stuff, but boy he can mix up pitches. Per Brooks Baseball, Montgomery threw 34 fastballs (both two-seam and four-seamers combined), 8 changeups, 9 sliders and 29 curveballs. Of those 29, six of them generated whiffs. He’s had a nice season for a guy who’s a pitchability lefty in the AL East – 9-7, 3.96 ERA/4.11 FIP in 150 IP. Even though Montgomery’s had his ups and downs this season, if you told me he’d end up with these numbers back in March, I would have taken it ten out of ten times.

Thinking about it again… that Aaron Hicks catch was big. There’s a huge difference between getting out of the first inning with no outs, bases-loaded jam with only one run allowed and allowing a grand slam and suffering a meltdown for a start. Credit to Montgomery for bouncing back nicely for the rest of the night though.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Score four

You know how the Yankees have been making opposing starting pitchers throw tons of pitches in early parts of the game? That happened tonight as well. This time, they knocked Blake Snell out of the game with no out in the second inning.

The Yankees started the inning with a bang. Starlin Castro, who donned high socks tonight, led the inning off with a long, 445-feet home run into the left field bleachers to tie the game at one a piece. After that, the Fraziers and Ronald Torreyes all singled to load the bases in a flash for the Yankees. Hicks, fresh off the disabled list (and that amazing catch an inning earlier) walked to score the Yankees’ go-ahead run. At this point, Snell seemed to have completely lost his command. Even after the mound visit, Snell could not throw a strike against Aaron Judge and forced in another run, 3-1 Yankees. After getting only three outs and having throw 49 pitches, the lefty was out of the game and Kevin Cash put in the former Yankee Chaz Roe to face Gary Sanchez.

Sanchez squared one to the right side… but it found Hechavarria’s glove and Hicks was doubled off at the second. Not ideal. However, during Matt Holliday’s at-bat, Roe’s slider got away from Ramos way outside, resulting in a run-scoring wild pitch. Sloppy pitching by the Rays in this frame. But hey, the Yankees will take it.

Score two more

The scoreboard was full of goose eggs after the bottom of the second till the eighth inning. With Austin Pruitt pitching for the Rays, Torreyes worked a rare walk to get on base with one out. During Brett Gardner’s at-bat, Toe advanced to second on a wild pitch and onto third on a groundout. Judge, as Judge does, walked to get on base to make it runners on corners. Sanchez followed it up with an RBI single to center to make it 5-1 Yankees and Holliday tacked on another with a bloop one to the shallow center. 6-1 Yankees and that’s how the score would remain for good.

Leftovers

The Yankee bullpen tossed three perfect innings tonight. Tommy Kahnle got the seventh inning and absolutely dominated Daniel Robertson, Peter Bourjos and Kiermaier – groundout, strikeout, strikeout, respectively – all in just 11 pitches. Kahnle has yet to allow an earned run in the month of September (10 IP) and that’s a really good sign heading into the postseason.

Taking care of the eighth was David Robertson, who struck out one and walked one in a scoreless frame. It seemed like Aroldis Chapman was going to enter the ninth for a save. But as the Yankees scored two in the bottom of the eighth, the save situation became null and Joe Girardi put in struggling Dellin Betances to end the game. Betances retired the side in only seven pitches (four strikes) to end the game rather swimmingly. Sure, he didn’t strike out anyone or anything but I’ll definitely take this from him. This should be considered a positive step for the big guy after a rough month he’s had.

Castro went 3-for-3 tonight. His home run in the 2nd inning was his first at Yankee Stadium since June 11, as unbelievable as that might sound. Torreyes, the little machine that could, maintained his status as a solid utility guy by going 2-for-3, a walk and two runs scored. Judge did not hit a home run today. Bust! However, he did go 1-for-3 with two walks, a strikeout and an opposite-field double. It was almost an on-brand game for him.

Box score, video highlights, updated standings and WPA

Here are tonight’s box score and updated standings from ESPN, video highlights from MLB.com and WPA from Fangraphs.


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees will continue the three-game series against the Rays tomorrow at the Bronx. Luis Severino will be up against Matt Andriese for a 7:05 pm game start.

Thoughts during the homestretch of the regular season

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

The Yankees, as we all know, are chasing the AL East division title and, as much as they’d hate to admit it, solidifying their status as the top AL Wild Card team. The Red Sox look like clear AL East winners and the Yankees seem to be gearing up for the AL Wild Card game (most likely at home). Anyways, here are some thoughts I’ve got.

1. The Dellin BetancesAroldis Chapman duo was ballyhooed all offseason to be a cream of the crop eighth-ninth inning bullpen duo. Both of them are not having bad seasons, but the performance has not reached the expectations. As of now, Dellin Betances has a 3.02 ERA in 56.2 IP. While he’s still striking out hitters at an exorbitant rate (15.53 K/9 IP), his walk rate has almost doubled from last year (3.45 to 6.83 BB/9 IP, yeesh). Chapman? This is his worst season as a big leaguer since 2012. He has a 3.50 ERA and a 2.68 FIP – both of them higher than marks from 2012-16 seasons. Both relievers have been inconsistent all season, Jekyll and Hyde-mode. What is interesting, however, is the pattern of how they did it. Take a look at their monthly stats:

April
Betances: 8.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 5 BB, 14 K, 1.13 ERA
Chapman: 9.1 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 4 BB, 15 K,  0.96 ERA

May
Betances: 9.1 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 18 K, 0.00 ERA
Chapman: 3.1 IP, 6 H, 4 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 10.80 ERA

June
Betances: 8.0 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 9 BB, 15 K, 4.50 ERA
Chapman: 4.2 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 7 K, 1.93 ERA

July
Betances: 12.1 IP, 8 H, 6 ER, 13 BB, 21 K, 4.26 ERA
Chapman: 13.0 IP, 11 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 16 K, 2.77 ERA

August
Betances: 12.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 6 BB, 17 K, 1.50 ERA
Chapman: 8.0 IP, 8 H, 8 ER, 6 BB, 8 K, 9.00 ERA

September
Betances: 7.2 IP, 5 H, 6 ER, 6 BB, 14 K, 7.04 ERA
Chapman: 9.0 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 13 K, 0.00 ERA

As you see, they’ve been pretty much see-sawing it after April. If the Yankees want to go deep into the postseason, they can’t afford to have one of them be off again. Imagine if they were dominant together for one or two more months of the season. Given that the Yankees have lost a lot of one-run games this season, we could be talking about the AL East division-leading team. What’s giving me hope for Chapman is that he seems to have found the root of his problems and fixed it. Betances? It’ll take a few good outings in a row for Yankee fans to feel comfortable seeing him on mound in cutthroat October situations.

2. The last time the Yankees made the postseason was 2015. It’s kind of staggering to think how different the team was only two seasons ago. For instance, they had guys like A-Rod and Mark Teixeira playing vital roles most of the season. We had no idea what was coming with guys like Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino and Aaron Judge. Also unlike that top AL Wild Card team, this likely-top AL Wild Card team seems to have a much brighter forecast in October. While momentum in September does not necessarily correlate with how the team fares in playoffs, the 2015 team did not have a lot of good things going for them towards the AL Wild Card game. Teixeira was declared out for rest of the season after a painful bone bruise. In September/October 2015, the Yankees were 14-17 and got swept by the Orioles in a three-game series to end the regular season. Two years later, at this moment of the season, the Yankees are on upswing of things. They are 16-6 so far in September and, barring a late-season losing streak at home, they’ll head to the AL Wild Card (assuming that’s what they’ll end up doing) in quite a positive vibe.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

3. I’m wondering if Todd Frazier‘s in the Yankees’ plans for 2018. Dude’s had a fine September (went into yesterday’s hitting .207/.390/.569 for a .959 OPS) and has commented that he wants to be back. He’s certainly a productive player. He gets on base, can hit for power and displays really nice third base defense. Those aspects alone should give the team some thoughts on offering him a contract before free agency season hits. However, I don’t know if they would offer him anything more than a one or two-year deal. Maybe Frazier could take a one-year deal and try to re-build his value to what it was back when he was a Home Run Derby-winning, top-tier slugger. *If* he can do that, that would be a win-win for both the player and the team – Yankees would get solid production before letting Gleyber Torres take over full-time and Frazier could make a good amount of money from some other team after 2018. However, it’s too bold to assume that kind of theory to come to life. Him, Chase Headley, Didi Gregorius, etc. could very well play the role of mentor to Torres when the top prospect comes up to the bigs next season. Another aspect that he could be valuable is what him and Headley have been able to do in 2017 – alternating positions and filling in hole at the first base if (or when) Greg Bird becomes unavailable. I would personally very much welcome it if Frazier were to sign a short-term contract. If it will be something like three years, hopefully it won’t be backloaded. There’s always risks and careful calculations when making decisions like this. Whatever the Yankees decide to do with Frazier, they will give it some deep thought looking at a big picture, I’m sure.

For what it’s worth, Frazier has provided above-average run production with a good glove for the past few seasons. He’s also walked quite more this season than he had in his entire career. Next year will be his age-32 season so he’s presumably got few more years of keeping up current level of performance. So far with the Yankees, Frazier’s had a .803 OPS. That figure would be the highest by a non-A-Rod Yankee third baseman since… 2002 Robin Ventura (.826 OPS). Boy, that’s awhile ago.

4. Joe Girardi was recently asked about kneeling during the national anthem, Donald Trump’s comments on the NFL players, and whether he would visit the White House if the Yankees were to win the World Series. If you don’t live under the rock, you know the deal. Randy Miller of NJ.com wrote an article about it and Girardi, I think, played it as safe as he can.

“It’s not something that I would choose to do,” Girardi said Sunday before the Yankees’ game with the Toronto Blue Jays. “It’s my opinion. I’m entitled to my opinion and others are entitled to their own opinion. There’s going to be a lot of things in this world that you may not agree with. I think it’s a player’s right. That’s the country we live in. It’s a player’s right. You don’t necessarily have to agree with it, but it’s what people do.”

Girardi never really struck me as a hugely political guy and he probably was instructed by the front office to “say the right things.” That could mean a lot of different things. But from what I can decipher, it seems like he worded his statement in a way that would not incite loud reactions from the both sides. It just sounded like a “let’s get this question over with and talk about baseball” kind of thing. This quote, in particular, really struck me as one that reflected his tone: “Those are my personal reflections and I’m not going to necessarily dive into it because that just opens up a huge can of worms and allows you to write stories for weeks.”

I personally stand on the side of the players protesting. That being said, I would be disappointed if the Yankees choose to visit the White House if they win the 2017 World Series. I know CC Sabathia himself has said that he won’t go at all and it’s possible that he’s not alone in the Yankees on that side. However, it is easy to assume that the baseball locker room culture is not as racially diverse as the NFL teams, where team-wide protests took place Sunday. Chris Archer of the Rays has spoken out that he would not be comfortable voicing his opinion within his own clubhouse, which is a damn shame. Only 7.7 percent of all MLB players are African-Americans and, the odds are that they share the locker room with many players with conservative backgrounds. Gotta understand where Archer is coming from. That makes what Bruce Maxwell did much more gutsy and impressive.

Anyways, didn’t mean to get too political here. Politics have been a big part of my life since I first moved to U.S. so it’s hard not to think about societal + sports concerns. And, as you could tell from this past NFL Sunday, these two subjects really do go hand-on-hand, whether you like it or not.

(Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Rob Carr/Getty Images)

5. Alright, something lighter here. You can make a case for AL MVP for any of these five guys right now: Aaron Judge, Jose Altuve, Chris Sale, Mike Trout and Jose Ramirez. Besides Trout, all of them play for a playoff-bound team and have been playing some of the best baseball of their lives. From what I can gather though, it looks like it could come down to a Altuve-Judge match. Trout, the best player of this generation, is posting career-high peripherals but that missed time from thumb injury is really going to hurt his case. Ramirez is putting up stupendous numbers but his basic stats aren’t strong as Judge or Altuve’s. Chris Sale is the current fWAR leader in all of the baseball but his hype train has slowed down a bit in the second half and it became unclear if he would even win the AL Cy Young Award. (Corey Kluber really, really stepped it up as of late, didn’t he? You could also make an MVP case for the Indians righty as well.) Altuve and Judge both get love for their basic and sabermetric stats and seem like the two strongest candidates for the 2017 AL MVP award. Depends on what metric you look at, they’ve both been productive in almost equal way – just in different manners. Judge, as you know, hits for massive power, a decent average, strikes out a lot, etc., and Altuve is a Swiss Army knife kind of guy who hits for high average, plays scrappy defense, steals bases, etc. Unfortunately for Judge, his two-month cold streak will seem to work against him. He went from a clear MVP favorite hitting .330/.440/.700~ish in early-July to .270/.410/.570 by early-September. That’s still a great line! But during that period, from July 8 to September 9 (53 games), Judge hit for a .186 average, 9 HRs and struck out 84 times. And you know some writer are going to reference that when they write to explain their MVP votes.

As you know, however, from September 10 on, Judge has been on fire and could be making a case for some MVP votes. In those 14 games, he’s hit eleven home runs with a 1.678 OPS. I assume he could be extra-wired for the last home stretch with a lot of fun things in stake – the rookie home run record, the Yankees AL East run (if not, clinching the top AL Wild Card spot) and, of course, making the last push for his MVP case. He may not talk about it, but I bet it is in his head somewhere. He’s been a better home hitter (1.150 OPS) than road (.910 OPS) so get excited for the next six games! My question is, how much of a push push would he need to make the last six games to earn some votes? I think, unless Judge goes absolutely ballistic (something like, reaching 55 home runs), Altuve will still be the favorite. Getting to 50 home runs (because what a nice, round number that is for a Major League rookie!) could help, but Altuve is leading the league in hits, batting average, and has arguably been the best member of the top 2 team of the league. Also, for someone his size, boy he’s getting every bit and inch out of the talent that’s given. Judge has a clear flaw in his game (strikeouts) but Altuve is almost flawless. Besides that he’s really, really undersized among his MLB peers. I know there are many ways to spin to argue that Judge has been more valuable than Altuve but, at least for this moment, the consensus seems to point to the latter. Obviously it would be really cool to see Judge be the first AL player to win both ROY and MVP since Ichiro Suzuki. We’ll see how it goes though.

Yankees 11, Twins 3: Score all the runs


Source: FanGraphs

Won the game and swept the series. After falling behind 3-0, the Yankee bats scored 11 unanswered points to take this one Wednesday afternoon. Luis Severino wasn’t his usual self so, of course, the bullpen and the lineup picked him up. Wouldn’t it be neat if New York played Minnesota all the time? Anyways, it was a matinee game so let’s do it bullet-point style.

  • 46 pitches: Remember when this was the start that Sevy was supposed to skip? I kind of figured that he wouldn’t really go a long distance today because 1) he’s a young starter who’s upped the innings pitched from last year, and 2) the Yankees probably want to save some bullets for October. Turned out that he didn’t go past three innings today, for better or worse. He really labored in the top of the third. With one out, Kennys Vargas hit a soft infield single to shortstop and Jason Castro followed it up with a line drive single to put runners on corners. Brian Dozier worked a full-count walk to make the bases loaded and up came Joe Mauer, who is not really someone you want to face in situations like this. Mauer really, really worked Severino to a 13-pitch at bat until finally getting an RBI single to the right field. Jorge Polanco followed it up with another single through the right side for a 2-RBI single. 3-0 Twins. He retired the next two hitters but, by then, Sevy had thrown a 46-pitch inning. It’s one thing to have thrown 71 pitches but it’s another when you threw more than half of it without taking a break in the dugout in between. The Yankees decided to go to bullpen starting the fourth.
  • Tying it up: But fear not, here comes the Young Yankee Hitting Machine. In the bottom of the third, Greg Bird got on base with a double and Aaron Judge followed it up by hitting an opposite two-run shot. It was one of those homers that made the small Yankee Stadium tiny. Dude hits home runs like he’s playing pinball. Gary Sanchez, not to be outdone, hit a solo homer into Monument Park to tie the game at 3-3. That was quick. But hold on, the fun was far, far from done.
  • Let the runs pile in: After Chasen Shreve threw a clean fourth, the Yankee bats really brought it in the bottom of the frame. After Matt Holliday fouled out, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a triple into the left center because he’s friggin’ Jacoby Ellsbury. Todd Frazier followed it up with a walk and Bird brought Ellsbury in with his second double of the day (and knocked Bartolo Colon out of the game, who may or may not have thrown his last pitch at the Yankee Stadium. We’ll see). Brett Gardner’s RBI single against the new pitcher Tyler Duffey brought in Frazier and made it 5-3 Yankees. Judge struck out but Sanchez singled to right to tack on another run and Didi Gregorius hit a three-run homer into the second deck to make it a 9-3 rout. The Yankee rally continued on in the fifth. The former Yankees 2008 50th round pick (no, really) Nik Turley took the mound for the Twins and, well, it didn’t go well for him:

bandicam-2017-09-21-06-18-27-317

  • Extend the netting: There was a huge scare in the fourth inning when a Frazier liner hit a young girl in the mouth, briefly interrupting the game. While Joe Girardi said after the game that the young girl is “doing OK”, it was a very, very scary moment where you did not know whether the carelessness of the team and the league cost a precious life. Every player on the field looked very shaken while the medics were looking after her and I bet that they would choose in a heartbeat to install a netting across the infield to protect the fans. Not to get too voiced here but there’s a proverb “fixing the barn door after your cow escaped” in Korea and I really hope this will not apply to this situation. After a foul ball from Judge struck a fan in the stands few months ago, the team said they are “seriously exploring” he idea of extending the netting but haven’t taken an action. That’s ridiculous. There’s one thing to “obstruct” fans’ view but it becomes a much graver thing when the non-athletes have to go out of the way from a 105 mph liners.
  • Leftovers: Guess who came a home run shy of the cycle? Ellsbury. He had a 3-for-4 day with a walk. In his last at-bat in the bottom of the eighth, Ellsbury was clearly swinging for the fence but had to settle for a flyout in the center. Bum! Judge stayed on-brand by having a 1-for-3 day with a home run, a walk and a strikeout. Sanchez and Bird each had a 3-for-4 day and that’s just music to my ears. Clint Frazier also had a triple in his pinch-hit AB for Gardner, making it his 17th extra-base hit of his 30 total. On the bullpen side, Shreve had an almost-perfect 3 IP outing, allowing only a walk while striking out three. Ben Heller tossed a scoreless inning and Domingo German finished the game up with a 2 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 4 K outing. Neat all around.

Here are today’s box score and updated standings from ESPN, video highlights from MLB.com and WPA chart from Fangraphs. The Yankees have a break tomorrow and will head up north to face the Blue Jays for the final road trip of the regular season. Masahiro Tanaka is penciled in to start against Marco Estrada for the Friday series opener.