Glow and Grow

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Before we begin, a sincere thanks to you, dear readers, for following along during the season and the playoffs. We all appreciate your day in, day out support and couldn’t do any of this without you. Please continue to read, share, and support the–frankly–great work that goes on here. Yankees Only. 

Reflection and feedback are key to our growth in anything we do. Whether we’re students or professionals in whatever field, we don’t move forward unless we take stock of what’s happened, how it happened, why it happened, and what to do next. When the Yankee organization goes through this process, they’ll have plenty to be happy about.

I said it all year. You said it all year. Everyone said it all year. This was not supposed to be ‘the year’ for the Yankees. This was supposed to be a year in which they won 85 games if everything clicked right. Everything clicked way right and they won 91 games and took one of the two best teams in the AL to seven games in the ALCS. Despite the repetition, I don’t think this can be said enough. What the Yankees did this year is nothing short of shocking in the best possible way.

They led the league in homers. They were second in runs. Top three in AVG/OBP/SLG. Their pitchers were third in ERA and fourth in strikeouts.

Aaron Judge? An MVP type season. Gary Sanchez? A 24 year old catcher with 30 homer power and the ability to throw out nearly 40% of base stealers. Luis Severino? A Cy Young caliber season. Chad Green? The next Dellin Betances. Greg Bird? A great playoff run to inspire hope for 2018. Clint Frazier? Forced his arrival early and showed flashes of brilliance in his cup of coffee.

What was the worst thing that happened to this team? Michael Pineda‘s injury? As sad as it was to see Big Mike go down, they didn’t miss him. Matt Holliday‘s second half of doom? It didn’t sink the team. Chris Carter? Total disaster, but they recovered.

2017, in so many ways, was glowing for the Yankees. They do have things to improve, mainly Dellin Betances remembering he’s Dellin damn Betances and fixing whatever ailed him for the last month or so of the season. They have to figure out their third base situation and the outfield logjam.

For this team, there is room to grow. For this team, the future is bright. We got an unexpectedly great taste this year, and hopefully, this is just the appetizer. While baseball will break your heart more often than not, this team looks to be set up for long-term success.

The World Series or bust mentality has certainly gone away in the last few years, and that’s a good thing. Despite that, expectations were the lowest for this team than they had been in years. Not only did the Yankees beat those expectations, they shattered them. If anyone–friend, family, foe–tells you that this year was a disappointment, a failure, laugh at that person. This was probably the most fun season the Yankees have had since 2009 and there should be many more just like around the corner.

Thoughts prior to Game Seven of the 2017 ALCS

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

For the fifth time in the last 18 days, the Yankees will play with their season on the line tonight. They are a perfect 4-0 in elimination games this postseason, and tonight’s Game Seven with the Astros will determine who moves on to face the Dodgers in the World Series. I am weirdly not nervous. I’m sure I’ll want to puke during the game, but I’m excited more than anything. Anyway, let’s get to some thoughts.

1. I thought Justin Verlander did a real nice job changing the game plan in Game Six. I mentioned yesterday he threw a ton of first pitch fastballs in Game Two, so it would make sense for the Yankees to hunt them in certain spots. In Game Six Verlander threw a first pitch fastball to 18 of the 27 batters he faced, so that’s nine who got a non-fastball. In Game Two he faced 32 batters and threw only six non-fastballs on the first pitch. A few Yankees took ugly hacks against first pitch breaking balls and changeups last night. Also, Verlander broke out his curveball and slider earlier in Game Six than he did in Game Two. Last night he came out of the gate firing everything. In Game Two he held back a bit on the curveball and changeup. Verlander had eight strikeouts last night: three on fastballs, two on sliders, two on changeups, one on a curveball. He was getting outs with everything. Verlander is tough as it gets. When he comes out with a different game plan than the first time you saw him in the series, he’s even tougher.

2. I said this in the recap last night and it bears repeating: I really did not like letting Luis Severino face Jose Altuve in the fifth inning. I didn’t even want Severino facing Josh Reddick, the previous batter, but Reddick popped out, so no big deal. Except that quick pop-up — Reddick popped up on the third pitch — is probably the reason Joe Girardi let Severino face Altuve. Had Reddick put together a longer at-bat and given Severino a chance to fall behind in the count (again), he might’ve been out of the game after that, even if Reddick eventually popped up anyway. There were plenty of indications Severino was losing it. I mean, three walks in the inning should set off alarm bells, right? Anyway, I’m harping on this because I thought it was a bad mistake. Aside from the non-challenge against the Indians, I think Girardi has had a great postseason overall. I’ve liked his bullpen usage and his lineup decisions. That decision last night, letting a fading Severino face Altuve for the third time with the bases loaded in a one-run game, stands out as a bad one. Probably Girardi’s worst move (or non-move) in the postseason behind the non-challenge. At that point Severino was not the best man to get that very important out. Chad Green, who was hot in the bullpen, was. Alas.

3. David Robertson really didn’t look good last night. His stuff was flat and the four Astros hitters he faced were on everything. The exit velocities on the four hits he allowed, in order: 93.3 mph, 107.2 mph, 102.2 mph, 98.4 mph. The Altuve homer had the lowest exit velocity. Go figure. Robertson just looked worn down to me, which is understandable, I think. Going into Game Six he’d throw eleven postseason innings — all intense high-leverage innings — in eleven games spanning 17 days. That’s an awful lot work. Robertson has thrown 79.1 total innings this season, easily the most of his big league career. It’s easy to understand why he’d look as worn down as he did last night. Of course, that isn’t good news for the Yankees, who figure to need their bullpen tonight since CC Sabathia rarely pitches deep into the game. I wonder if Tommy Kahnle, not Robertson, will be Girardi’s go-to setup option tonight given how run down Robertson looked last night. We’ll see. I suspect Kahnle will be the first guy out of the bullpen to put out any Sabathia created fire. Figure the rest out after that.

4. It goes without saying Game Seven is an all hands on deck game. It would not surprise me at all to see Dallas Keuchel come out of the bullpen at some point for the Astros. I’m pretty sure Lance McCullers Jr. will be the first guy out of the bullpen for Houston. For the Yankees, this means what? Sonny Gray in relief? Maybe Masahiro Tanaka? The Yankees always play it extremely safe with Tanaka, but two things. One, it’s a win or go home game! And two, tomorrow might be his final game as a Yankee. As callous as it sounds, Tanaka’s long-term health might not be the club’s biggest concern if they’re planning to let him walk once he triggers his opt-out. In a perfect world, the Yankees score a zillion runs and go Sabathia to Kahnle to Chapman tonight. Things rarely go according to plan though. My guess is we’ll see Robertson be asked to get some big outs (again), even after a tough outing last night. I don’t think we’ll see Gray or Tanaka unless Sabathia gets knocked out early or the game goes into extras.

5. Since the LCS became a best-of-seven in 1985, 15 teams have won Game Six when trailing 3-2 in the series, thus forcing a Game Seven. Of those 15 teams, 13 (!) went on to win the series. That is pretty crazy. History is not on the Yankees side tonight. Then again, if you’ve been reading RAB long enough, you know I’m not big on using history as a predictive tool. What happened in the past, those 13 teams that went on win the series after trailing 3-2, has no bearing on the 2017 Yankees. Besides, this Yankees team has been defying the odds all season. Why can’t they do it again? If nothing else, these Yankees have shown they are very resilient. They get knocked down — and there were a lot of knockdowns this season, plenty of bad losses to go around — and they get right back up and keep fighting. I expect more of the same in Game Seven tonight. The Yankees may lose and their season could end tonight. But I do not expect them go down without a fight. It’s not in their DNA.

Thoughts following Game Five of the 2017 ALCS

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Yankees are one win away from going to the World Series. I can’t believe it. They’ve turned an 0-2 series deficit into a 3-2 series lead for the second straight series. Three wins were enough to beat the Indians in the ALDS. The Yankees still need one more win to get to finish off the Astros in the ALCS. What a fun season. Anyway, I have some thoughts on the off-day, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Can’t say enough about Masahiro Tanaka‘s performance last night. His entire postseason, really. It was difficult to expect the Yankees to score a lot of runs given their history against Dallas Keuchel — Joe Girardi played the infield in in the second inning! — so Tanaka was going to have to match zeroes to keep the Yankees in the game, basically. Fortunately, the Yankees roughed Keuchel up and gave Tanaka some breathing room. He kept hanging zeroes on the scoreboard anyway. The Astros only squared him up a handful of times. The Yulieski Gurriel double in the second inning, which eventually led to the infield being drawn in. That’s about it. Tanaka held the Astros to an average exit velocity of 81 mph. That’s nothing. His average exit velocity during the regular season was 87.7 mph. It was 88.2 mph last season, when he finished seventh in the Cy Young voting. Tanaka is a stone-cold assassin on the mound. He stays cool and composed, but he competes like hell and will show some emotion when he gets a big out. What a start last night. What a postseason.

2. What a series for the pitching staff in general. The Yankees have held the Astros to nine runs and 22 hits — only eight of those 22 hits have gone for extra bases (seven doubles and one homer) — in the five games so far. Houston scored eight runs in Game One of the ALDS against Chris Sale and the Red Sox. Then they scored eight more runs in Game Two against Drew Pomeranz. The Yankees have held them to nine runs total in five games. Incredible. And this is not isolated to the Astros either. Here are the runs allowed by game this postseason: 4, 4, 9, 0, 3, 2, 2, 2, 1, 4, 0. That works out to a 2.45 ERA in eleven games and 99.1 innings. In the AL with the DH, against the very good Indians and Astros, and with six of those eleven games being played at hitter friendly Yankee Stadium. Incredible. We all knew the bullpen would be good, and aside from Game Two of the ALDS, it has been. The starters have really come through huge though. Aside from Luis Severino in the Wild Card Game, the Yankees are getting a quality outing every game right now. That’s why they’re one win away from the pennant.

3. The bats have finally come alive. Aaron Judge is 3-for-6 with two doubles and a homer in the last two games, and that doesn’t include his Game Three homer. Gary Sanchez is 3-for-7 with a double and a homer in the last two games. Chase Headley is 4-for-5 in the last two games. Those three guys — well, the two young guys and the DH spot — were really dragging down the offense earlier in the series. Judge and Sanchez were strikeout machines in Games One and Two, and the DH spot had done nothing all postseason until Headley poked a well-placed ground ball back up the middle the other night. I’ve said it several times within the last week and I’m going to say it again: the Yankees have no chance to beat the Astros without Judge and Sanchez contributing. They’re too important to the offense. Over the last two games, they’ve started to contribute, and that’s why the Yankees are now going back to Houston with a 3-2 series lead.

(Getty)
(Getty)

4. We don’t talk about Didi Gregorius enough. As much as we talk about him, it’s still not enough. Gregorius is 6-for-20 (.300) in the series and hitting .275/.383/.500 with more walks (seven) than strikeouts (six) in the postseason so far. He hit the game-tying homer in the first inning of the Wild Card Game and then hit two homers against Corey Kluber in Game Five of the ALDS. He also had a single during the four-run eighth inning rally in ALCS Game Four the other day. Plus Gregorius plays a mean shortstop. He makes everything so look easy when it is very not easy. Didi is similar to Robinson Cano in that he’s so smooth and in control in the field that it looks like he’s not even trying. I never in a million years envisioned Gregorius as a legitimate middle of the order hitter for a World Series contender, but here we are. Replacing Derek Jeter had to be a daunting task for the front office. Turns out they absolutely nailed it on the first try with Didi. What a ballplayer.

5. I know the Yankees won the last three games and have pitched so well and the offense is starting to heat up and they lead 3-2 in the series, but make no mistake, the next win will be the hardest one to get. The Yankees have to get that win in Houston against an Astros team that will be playing all-out to save their season. And they’re facing Justin Verlander tomorrow. This might sound silly because they’re so good, but do not underestimate the Astros. They are an excellent team, much better than we’ve seen in the series so far, and winning one of the next two games will not be easy. The easy part is over. Turning that 0-2 into a 3-2 lead will be nothing compared to nailing down this last win. If the Yankees are going to go to the World Series — I still can not believe this is a thing with a very real chance to happen — they’re really going to have to earn it. Winning one of two games at Minute Maid Park with Verlander set to toe the slab in one of them is no small order. Then again, no one said going to the World Series would be easy.

Thoughts prior to Game Five of the 2017 ALCS

(Getty)
(Getty)

So are we having fun this postseason or what? Once again, the Yankees have fought back from down 0-2 in a series to even things up 2-2. They did it against the Indians in the ALDS, and now the Astros are getting a taste of the Fighting Spirit in the ALCS. That win was amazing yesterday, but the series is far from over. You know that. It’s a best-of-three now. Anyway, let’s get to the thoughts.

1. Now that the series is tied 2-2, the hard part begins. Mathematically, the Yankees have to do two things to win this series. They have to beat Dallas Keuchel or Justin Verlander, and they have to win a game in Houston. Can’t do it any other way. Today’s game is huge for both teams, because neither wants to go back to Houston needing to win Games Six and Seven. That’s true for the Astros, not just the Yankees. Because there’s an off-day tomorrow, I imagine Joe Girardi is ready to go all out with his bullpen to nail down a win today. In a perfect world Masahiro Tanaka would throw seven brilliant innings like he did in Game Three of the ALDS, when the Yankees were facing elimination. If not, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson could both be asked to throw multiple innings. So could Aroldis Chapman if there are some stray outs that need to get got in the eighth. Girardi knows these guys will get to rest Thursday, and a win today in Game Five would make things so much easier going forward. Hopefully Tanaka continues to pitch well and takes the ball deep into the game. If not, I expect Girardi to use that bullpen aggressively.

2. Speaking of the bullpen, the Astros seem to have some issues down there, huh? Steven wrote about this last week. Ken Giles, last night’s blowup aside, has been pretty great all year. Chris Devenski and Will Harris have been very home run prone since the All-Star break though — Harris gave up Aaron Judge‘s three-run home run in Game Three — and neither Luke Gregerson nor Francisco Liriano inspire much confidence right now. There’s a reason neither see high-leverage work. The Yankees sent 15 batters to plate against Houston’s bullpen yesterday and none of the 15 struck out. That seems impossible. Could you imagine the Yankees bullpen going 15 batters without a strikeout? Keuchel and Verlander are workhorses of the first order. The Astros can reasonably expect them to pitch deep into Games Five and Six because they’ve been doing it all year. Now that the Yankees are seeing these guys a second time, hopefully they work the count a little more and not only be more effective against them, but also get into the bullpen a little sooner. The Astros have some issues down there right now, and I’ll take my chances in a battle of the bullpens any day of the week.

3. Man, how great was it to see Judge and Gary Sanchez play such huge roles in the comeback yesterday? Forget about their recent strikeout-filled slumps for a second. I’m just talking about two young cornerstone players getting huge hits in a postseason game. That is an awful lot of fun, isn’t it? These two are the faces of the franchise now. These are the types of hits and moments the Yankees are going to count on them to provide the next five or ten or however many years. And to see them do it now, in their first postseason and first full MLB season? Gosh that is awesome. Sanchez and especially Judge have looked more dangerous at the plate the last two games and it’s not a second too soon. The Yankees need those two to beat Keuchel and Verlander. I’m just glad they were able to snap out of their slumps and contribute in a huge way to that memorable win last night. That alone is really exciting and memorable.

(Getty)
(Getty)

4. Todd Frazier has been exactly the right player at exactly the right time for the Yankees. He’s been involved in basically every notable rally so far this postseason. He had the run-scoring double against Trevor Bauer in ALDS Game Four. He worked a nine-pitch walk in front of Brett Gardner‘s monster 12-pitch at-bat in ALDS Game Five. He slugged the three-run home run in ALCS Game Three the other day. Then, last night, he started that four-run eighth inning rally with a leadoff single. Frazier is a flawed hitter. He pops up a lot and it drags down his average. That’s just who he is. But, so far this postseason, Frazier has shown he’s not afraid of the bright lights and he embraces the biggest moments. And that’s on top of all the intangibles he adds. His teammates love him and he brings so much energy to ballclub. No one is having more fun than this dude. Given his role as a complementary player who bats near the bottom of the order, he’s been as good as the Yankees could’ve possibly hoped. Sometimes teams make a trade and that player just fits in perfectly. That’s Frazier.

5. Austin Romine catching Sonny Gray is absolutely going to be a thing now. Assuming the Yankees advance and Gray makes another start, of course. I hope he gets that chance. Following the game yesterday Gray said he and Romine were on the same page — he shook him off only once in five innings — and they had a good rhythm going. That sounds like more than enough for Girardi to justify keeping them together. Gray’s last four starts prior to yesterday were rough, mostly because he struggled to throw strikes, so I imagine anything that makes him comfortable and effective will remain in place going forward. That’s Romine. Gray said himself they were working well together. What can you do? I guess this is a thing now.

6. With each passing round this postseason, the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium has gotten better and better. The place was electric last night. The atmosphere was great during the Wild Card Game, it was even better during the ALDS, and now it’s better than it’s ever been since the new place opened. I went to postseason games in 2009. Aside from maybe Alex Rodriguez‘s game-tying home run against Joe Nathan, I don’t ever remember the ballpark getting as loud and as rowdy as it did during the eighth inning rally last night. It’s been amazing. Really amazing. This team is lovable — how weird is it that the most lovable team left in the postseason is the Yankees? — and fans are buying into it. The fact they’ve exceeded expectations makes it so much better. This has been such a fun ride, from the young players having so much success on down to being at the ballpark.

Thoughts prior to Game Four of the 2017 ALCS

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Now we’ve got a series on our hands. After dropping Games One and Two of the ALCS in Houston, the Yankees returned home to Yankee Stadium to win Game Three last night. They still trail the series 2-1, but according to the laws of sports momentum, they will go undefeated the rest of the postseason after last night’s win. Anyway, I have some thoughts.

1. Can we talk about the pitching so far this series please? I feel like it is completely flying under the radar. The Yankees have held the Astros to five runs and 15 hits in three ALCS games so far. That includes only three extra-base hits. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa are 9-for-23 (.391) so far this series and the rest of the Astros are 6-for-66 (.091). There has been some great defense to rob base hits along the way — Aaron Judge saved two hits last night, one a double at the wall and the other a bloop in shallow right — but hey, that counts. You need pitching and defense to prevent runs, not just one or the other. The Astros have the kind of offense that can explode for four or five or six runs in an inning at basically any moment, so I’d be lying if I said I think the Yankees will continue to manhandle Houston’s lineup the rest of the series. The fact they’ve pitched so well and are still down 2-1 in the series is quite annoying. What can you do though? Overall, the pitching has been excellent so far in the ALCS, and really in the entire postseason. The guys on the mound are doing their job.

2. Man was it great to see Judge have a monster two-way game last night. He had the two great plays on defense and also hammered the three-run home run, which officially turned Game Three into a laugher. That doesn’t mean Judge is out of the woods yet — his slump didn’t end when he ripped that double against Trevor Bauer in Game Four of the ALDS, after all — but at least he contributed on both sides of the ball and could go home feeling pretty great about things. Judge is a pretty stoic dude who never seems to get too high or too low, though I’m sure the struggles and all the strikeouts were beginning to wear on him. How could they not? It’s only natural. The Yankees survived the ALDS with Judge doing basically nothing. I have a hard time thinking they can come back to beat the Astros in the ALCS without him contributing. He’s too important to the lineup and the team in general. Judge reminded us of all the wonderful things he can do on the field last night. Hopefully that was a sign of things to come the rest of the postseason.

3. The Yankees at home this postseason: 4-0. The Yankees on the road this postseason: 1-4. The one win was Game Five of the ALDS. Does that mean anything? The Yankees were a much better team at home than on the road this season, though I don’t think the postseason home/road record is indicative of anything. The two games in Houston were very winnable, and the Yankees were up five runs in one of the games they lost in Cleveland. They might’ve won that game had Joe Girardi challenged the hit-by-pitch. A bounce here or a borderline pitch call there could’ve changed that road record easily. I do, however, believe the Yankees are an extremely confident team at home. They’re built for Yankee Stadium and they know they can do serious damage at home. That doesn’t mean they lack confidence on the road or anything. I think this team believes they can beat anyone anywhere, and they should, because they can. At home though, I get the sense they feel invincible.

(Duane Burleson/Getty)
(Duane Burleson/Getty)

4. I was a bit surprised the Astros opted to start Lance McCullers Jr. in Game Four today rather than literally anyone else. Brad Peacock was the obvious alternative, though my hunch was they’d go to Dallas Keuchel on short rest. I guess not. As good as McCullers can be — his mid-80s (!) curveball is just filthy — it’s been a while since he’s been effective. McCullers had some back problems in the second half, and in his final seven starts of the regular season, he had an 8.53 ERA (4.14 FIP) with 46 hits allowed in 31.2 innings. That’s what a miniscule 15.7% soft contact rate will do for you. McCullers was getting squared up well down the stretch — he allowed two runs on three hits and two walks in three innings in his only ALDS outing, which came in relief — and hopefully he’s still not right when he takes the mound today, because when this kid is on, he’s untouchable. Also, another thing to keep in mind: McCullers has not thrown more than 83 pitches in a game since July. Work the count and he could be out of the game fairly early. After three or four innings or so.

5. At this point, I think the Yankees have to stick with Chase Headley at DH. The DH spot finally got into the hit column with his little seeing-eye ground ball single between the shift last night — the DH spot is now 1-for-30 (.033) in the postseason — but, more than anything, Headley seems to be starting to square the ball up more often. He had a line drive reeled in by Josh Reddick at the wall in Game Two and also had two other line drives go four outs the last two games as well. Headley has put balls in play at 96.1 mph, 96.2 mph, and 98.6 mph in the last two games, all of which went for outs. Exit velocity isn’t everything, but given the current DH situation, at least we’re seeing some signs of life here. Headley has squared some balls up the last few games and you might as well keep running him out there, and hope it continues. Eventually the hits will fall in if it does. That makes Jacoby Ellsbury a pinch-runner and Matt Holliday a … I don’t know what. A veteran mentor occupying up a 25-man roster spot.

6. Pretty good chance Dellin Betances threw his final pitch of the postseason last night. Maybe even the final pitch of his Yankees career, though I don’t think so. Girardi did the right thing by using him with the 8-0 lead. That’s exactly when you should be using a pitcher you’re trying to get right, even in the postseason. And Girardi did the right thing by yanking Dellin after the back-to-back walks. Unless the Yankees play a lot of blowouts the rest of the way, it’s hard to see how Betances toes the slab at all. Blowouts and extra innings — like extra extra innings — are about it. If the Yankees get to the World Series, they’ll have to consider leaving him off the roster. Hopefully for a bat but maybe it ends up being Chasen Shreve. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. The Yankees need to win three more games before we can begin thinking about the World Series roster. For now, Betances is an obvious mess, his confidence is shot, and there’s basically no way Girardi can use him in anything other than an emergency. What a shame.

Thoughts prior to Game Three of the 2017 ALCS

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

After two close games at Minute Maid Park, the ALCS now shifts to Yankee Stadium for Games Three and Four and, hopefully, Five. The Yankees are down 0-2 in the series and hey, they’ve been here before. They just came back from down 0-2 against the Indians in the ALDS. That doesn’t mean they’ll do it again. But it shows it can be done. Anyway, I have some thoughts, so let’s get to ’em.

1. The Yankees are down 0-2 in the ALCS because their best players are getting outplayed by Houston’s best players. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa have outhit Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez (by a lot), and Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander have outpitched Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino (by a lot). Heck, Altuve and Correa are 8-for-15 (.533) with a double and a homer in the series, and all the other Astros combined are 3-for-43 (.070) with a double. Good grief. The Yankees aren’t going anywhere without Judge and Sanchez producing, the same why the Cubs aren’t going anywhere without Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo producing (they’re 1-for-14 combined in the NLCS). They survived Judge’s brutal ALDS. They won’t survive this series against the Astros with Judge and Sanchez doing nothing. The Yankees’ best players are getting outplayed by the Astros’ best players. Plain and simple. That’s why they’re down 0-2 in the series.

2. Another reason the Yankees are down 0-2: poor execution. The Astros are making every single play and even going above and beyond to make great plays. Brett Gardner getting thrown out at third on the would-be triple last game? It was a bad send by third base coach Joe Espada, but it also took an excellent set of relay throws by the Astros to get the out. They executed. Greg Bird getting thrown out at the plate in Game One? Marwin Gonzalez made a wonderful throw from left field while Bird didn’t get the best jump from second base, especially considering it was a 3-2 count with two outs. Gonzalez executed and Bird did not. At this point of the postseason, the talent gap between the remaining teams is quite small. I know the Astros won ten more games than the Yankees this season, but the Yankees had the better run differential. The talent gap isn’t enormous by any means. So, then, when the talent gap is small, the difference in a short series comes down to execution. The team that makes more plays — and this could be executing relay throws, or executing a single pitch, or fielding a ground ball, whatever — is the team that often wins, and right now, the Astros are the team making the plays in the ALCS. Not the Yankees.

3. Speaking of poor execution, that final play of Game Two was straight up bad by Sanchez. It was bad. I know the throw short-hopped him and everything, but that’s a play a Major League catcher has to make, and Sanchez didn’t. Look where Altuve was when the ball reached Sanchez:

bandicam-2017-10-15-08-11-43-421

Altuve would’ve been out by a mile, which I’m sure would’ve been spun into “wow how’s so amazing look at the aggressive play and how small he is like Marcus Stroman and give him the next three MVPs” even though it would’ve been inexcusably awful to get thrown out at home on that play, with one out in the inning, when you would’ve represented the winning run at third. Anyway, that play by Sanchez was terrible, and the weird thing is that prior to that play, I thought the last five games were his best defensive stretch of the season. It all started in Game Three of the ALDS, when Gary blocked the hell out of all those Tanaka splitters in the dirt, most notably when Tanaka struck out Jose Ramirez and Jay Bruce with a runner on third and one out. Sanchez was fantastic behind the plate basically since the start of ALDS Game Three through the penultimate play of ALCS Game Two. And as bad as that play was, it would be absolutely crazy to move Gary out from behind the plate going forward. You don’t give up on a dude with these tools behind the plate because he struggling to block balls in the dirt at age 24, the same way you don’t give up on a kid like Severino as a starter just because he had some success out of the bullpen.

4. As for Severino, I have zero problem whatsoever with him being pulled from Game Two even though he felt healthy and strong. I was shocked to see, in our comments and on social media (less shocked to see it in the tabloids), some people saying it was mistake and that Severino should’ve stayed in the game if he said he was fine. That is insane to me. One, you can’t trust players to be honest about their health. There’s that “you better be out there unless your arm fell off” tough guy mentality that exists in baseball that pushes players to play hurt even when it is a detriment to themselves and their team. And two, this is your 23-year-old franchise pitcher, who is already in uncharted workload territory. Severino is up to 204.2 total innings this year between the regular season and postseason. His previous career high was 162.2 innings. Then he windmills his arm and gives the trainer and Joe Girardi reason to believe something is up, and some people didn’t want him pulled? Crazy talk. I’m happy and very relieved there is nothing seriously wrong with Severino. Even during a postseason game, I am 100% cool with Girardi playing it safe and pulling Severino. I don’t care how mad Severino was. The Yankees will have to protect the kid from himself at times, and this was one of those times.

5. The strikeouts are, obviously, very bad. They’ve become extreme of late too. And it’s not just Sanchez and Judge. Gardner is 2-for-7 with five strikeouts (1.000 BABIP!) in the ALCS. Bird and Starlin Castro are both 2-for-7 with three strikeouts. The strikeouts are a problem up and down the lineup. The Yankees have struck out 10+ times in their last seven games this postseason — the only game they didn’t strike out 10+ times was the Wild Card Game — and in Game Five of the ALDS, they became the first team in history to win a postseason game while striking out 16 times. Overall, the Yankees have a 31.6% strikeout rate this postseason. Remove Judge and it’s still a 28.8% strikeout rate. That’s just too much. (The postseason average is a 25.0% strikeout rate.) And the solution is not simply make more contact. It has to be quality contact. The Astros had the lowest strikeout rate in baseball during the regular season and they’ve struck out only nine times in two ALCS games, yet their offense is hardly firing on all cylinders. Which team had the second lowest strikeout rate during the regular season? The Indians, and they’re sitting at home. Ramirez (10.7%) and Francisco Lindor (12.9%) had two of the 15 lowest strikeout rates in baseball during the regular season, and they went 4-for-38 (.105) combined in the ALDS. It’s not just contact. It’s quality contact. The Yankees aren’t getting enough of it right now.

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

6. On one hand, going to Houston and allowing four runs total and leaving down 0-2 in the series is beyond frustrating. That’s tough to swallow. On the other hand, seeing the pitching staff handle that deep power/contact lineup the Astros run out there has been reassuring. The Yankees can hang with the Astros. As bad as Judge and Sanchez have been, and as good as Keuchel and Verlander were, these were two one-run losses and very winnable games. A bounce here or a borderline call there changes everything. The Yankees could’ve easily left Houston with the series tied 1-1. Heck, it wouldn’t have taken much to leave up 2-0. It can be easy to overlook the pitching staff given how the series has played out, but man, they’ve been phenomenal. The pitchers have done their part so far. All postseason, really.

7. Remember when Aaron Hicks wasn’t going to play in the postseason? Gardner and Judge sure as heck aren’t going to come out of the lineup, then Jacoby Ellsbury had that late season hot streak that had everyone thinking he’d start in the postseason. Instead, Ellsbury faded in the final two weeks of the regular season, and here’s Hicks playing wonderfully on both sides of the ball again. He’s 8-for-29 (.276) with two doubles and a homer in the eight postseason games, and he’s catching everything in center field. I am a Hicks believer. I think the Aaron Hicks we saw in the first half is the real Aaron Hicks. Maybe he won’t post a .420 OBP and a .550 SLG or whatever it was over a full season, but I think the tools for .280/.380/.480 with very good defense are there. Aside from Gardner and Didi Gregorius (and Bird), Hicks has been the Yankees’ best player this postseason, and it wasn’t that long ago that it looked like he would be stuck on the bench. Funny how that works.

8. These next two games are crucial for obvious reasons. The Yankees have to win to keep their season alive, blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. If the Yankees are going to make a comeback in this series, it has to start these next two games, which are at home against Houston’s third and fourth starters. Don’t underestimate Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock! They’re good. They combined for a 3.31 ERA (3.10 FIP) in 278.2 innings during the regular season. But they’re not Keuchel and Verlander. Morton and Peacock are as easy as it’s going to get for the Yankees in terms of opposing starters this series. They’re facing them at home in Yankee Stadium. Want to win the series? These are the pitchers you have to beat and the games you have to win before the rotation turns over and Keuchel and Verlander are back out there. At some point the Yankees have to beat Keuchel or Verlander and win a game in Houston to win the series. That’s just how the math works. And that’s only if they beat Morton and Peacock at home. So do that today and tomorrow.

The Ghost of DH Future

The DH situation in picture form. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
The DH situation in picture form. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

The Yankees’ designated hitters in the playoffs have been way more ‘designated’ than they have been ‘hitters.’ It seems that no matter what name or number Joe Girardi calls for that spot in the order, it comes up empty. Chase Headley gave it a good try yesterday, robbed of a homer by Josh Reddick, and that–aside from one measly catcher’s interference by Jacoby Ellsbury (of course)–has pretty much been the extent of the offensive production by Yankee DHs against Minnesota, Cleveland, and Houston. Short of someone being injured and another player–Tyler Austin? Clint Frazier?–being added to the roster, there really isn’t much the team can do about the current DH situation aside from hope that someone runs into a pitch or two and gets out of this funk. The future of DH, though, is up in the air.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that Todd Frazier–current third baseman–makes the most sense at DH next year–though, really, this would Headley to DH as it seems the Yankees prefer Frazier defensively. This idea stems mostly from the fact that it’s unlikely the team will go with a full time DH as there aren’t many good full-time options and the team could have extra Greg Bird insurance. Frazier and the Yankees seem to like each other, but he’s going to be a free agent and will have that leverage in his back pocket. So do the Yankees, though, as it seems like Bird is back and healthy and Headley did have a decent season and is a good defender at third, also on a one year deal. Would Frazier settle for a one year deal? Probably not. With Miguel Andujar just about ready to be a Major League player and Gleyber Torres (hopefully) knocking on the door behind him, it may not be wise to stock this team with too many third base types. Granted, Headley or Frazier on a one year deal could be jettisoned, but that’s not necessarily what you want. The outfield situation may also complicate things.

As they do now, the Yankees will have four outfielders for three spots in 2018. Of course, they could flip one in a trade to free up room, but I’m still not sure there are viable markets for Brett Gardner and/or Jacoby Ellsbury. Aaron Judge isn’t going anywhere and Aaron Hicks earned a starting spot for next year with his play this year. Gardner is, fankly, better than Ellsbury. If the team is willing to let Ellsbury be a high-priced fourth outfielder, then they could get another player to DH, rather than rotating the outfielders in and out when they need a day.

The more I think about it, the more it might make sense to let Todd Frazier walk. He’s a great guy and I’ve enjoyed rooting for him in every way possible. But in terms of money and roster space, it might be best to let him go, shift Chase Headley back to third base, and roll with a rotating DH.