Thoughts prior to Game Two of the 2017 ALCS

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

Last night the Yankees opened the ALCS with a Game One loss (again) to Dallas Keuchel (again). Keuchel’s annoying, isn’t he? He’s the new Cliff Lee, who was the new Chuck Finley. The Yankees will look to even the series at a game apiece this afternoon. This group is pretty resilient. They’ve bounced back from tough losses all year. That didn’t even feel like a tough loss last night anyway, did it? Not to me. Whatever. Here are some thoughts.

1. Joe Girardi learned from the non-challenge fiasco in Game Two of the ALDS! Following the game last night, Girardi said the Yankees thought Greg Bird was out on the play at the plate, but he decided to challenge it anyway. His exact quote: “Well, we thought he was out. But God knows I’m not doing that again.” By “that again” he means not challenging a big play. Just because replay guy Brett Weber may not see enough evidence to overturn something doesn’t mean the replay crew in New York will see it the same way. To paraphrase Wayne Gretzky, 100% of the calls you don’t challenge don’t get overturned. Bird getting thrown out was a huge play in the game. To wit:

  • Bird is thrown out: 15.7% win probability for the Yankees
  • Bird is called safe: 32.1% win probability for the Yankees

Big swing! It’s not just that the run scores, remember. The run scores and the inning continues with two men on base for Gary Sanchez, who was seeing Keuchel for the third time. The challenge didn’t work, but I’m glad Girardi asked for the review. This is the kind of challenge I’ve been hoping to see more of over the years. It’s a bang-bang play that could go either way and have a big impact on the game. And if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. There’s no bonus points for unused challenges. Shoot your shot.

2. The Yankees pitched the Astros very well in Game One. Masahiro Tanaka did not have his Grade-A splitter, yet he still held Houston to four singles in six innings, three of which bounced before passing the pitcher’s mound. The ‘Stros have a great lineup and the Yankees held them to two runs on six singles and one walk in the game. Continue to do that and things will be just fine the rest of the series. As a team, the Yankees have a 3.09 ERA (3.23 FIP) in the postseason so far. Aside from Game Two of the ALDS, which was a disaster for multiple reasons, they’ve held the Indians and Astros to no more than six hits in their five meetings. That’ll work. The pitching has been phenomenal in the postseason so far, even with Luis Severino‘s dud in the Wild Card Game and Sonny Gray‘s dud in Game One of the ALDS. I feel like this is not being talked about enough. The pitching staff has been on point.

3. Good to see Chad Green get back into a game and look like regular season Chad Green last night. He gave up the grand slam to Francisco Lindor in Game Two of the ALDS and hadn’t been heard from since. It seemed like he earned a temporary demotion out of the Circle of Trust™. And, given how flat his stuff looked in that Game Two meltdown, it was fair to wonder whether he hit a wall after appearing in so many games and throwing so many high-leverage innings this year. Green had six days off between appearances and it seems to have served him well. He was throwing fire and missing bats last night. That’s huge. A back-to-normal Chad Green makes the Yankees that much more dangerous, especially since these two teams will play three games in three days next week. Girardi won’t be able to ride David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman as much those days, so someone else will have to pick up the slack. Green will be one of those someones.

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

4. Seriously, what in the world are the Yankees going to do at DH? Matt Holliday returned to the lineup last night and went 0-for-3 on seven pitches. Jacoby Ellsbury pinch-hit for him in a one-run game in the ninth inning, which I don’t understand at all. At least Holliday has a chance to run into a fastball and hit a game-tying home run. He did it against Craig Kimbrel right after the All-Star break. Remember that? Holliday also took a right-hander deep in the regular season finale. Holliday’s upside there is a game-tying homer. Ellsbury’s upside is … a catcher interference? Anyway, including last night, the DH spot is now an unfathomable 0-for-24 with three walks and nine strikeouts in the postseason. (And one catcher interference.) It’s not like these guys are hitting into bad luck. The at-bats aren’t all that competitive. There’s a decent chance the best DH candidates right now are Tyler Austin, Clint Frazier, and Miguel Andujar, but none of them are on the ALCS roster. Do the Yankees keep running Holliday and Ellsbury and Chase Headley out there and hope one of them finds it? What about Ronald Torreyes? Do you consider him at some point? Torreyes might be worth a try. Oh geez, I can’t believe I just said that. I know one thing for sure: the Yankees are going to have a very hard time advancing if this whole Designated Out-Maker thing continues. The Astros are too good.

5. A #thingtowatch in Game Two: Severino’s fastball against the Astros. They’re a great fastball hitting team. During the regular season they hit .281 (5th in MLB) with a .229 ISO (4th in MLB) against four-seam fastballs. They crush fastballs. (The league averages were a .269 AVG and a.155 ISO against four-seamers in 2017.) I get the sense Severino is going to rely on his slider quite a bit this afternoon. This isn’t the kind of team you can beat with the heater only. And with Robertson and Chapman ready to go (and Tommy Kahnle too), presumably for more than one inning each, the Yankees might only need Severino to go through the lineup twice. Hopefully he dominates and it’s not a problem. But just watch the Astros and how they handle Severino’s fastball. We might see more foul balls and comfortable swings against the pitch than usual because they’re such a good fastball hitting team.

6. Is it weird that I think (hope?) the Yankees will have more success against Justin Verlander in Game Two than they did against Keuchel in Game One because he’s more conventional? Don’t get me wrong, Verlander is still very good. But Keuchel is an outlier in today’s game. He’s a finesse pitcher who doesn’t crack 90 mph with his fastball all that often. Keuchel succeeds by pounding the bottom of the zone with pitches that cut, sink, fade, you name it. Verlander is a more conventional mid-90s fastball guy with a nasty breaking ball. The Yankees just finished a series with the Indians, who have a rotation full of Verlander types. That’s what they’re used to seeing. Not finesse pitchers like Keuchel. Hopefully the return to normalcy (so to speak) leads to more success for the offense today.

Thoughts prior to Game One of the 2017 ALCS

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

It feels like the ALDS just ended (well, it kinda did) and already the ALCS is about to begin. Such is life when you go the full five games in a best-of-five series. The Yankees and Astros open their ALCS matchup tonight (8pm ET on FOX Sports 1) in Houston. Can you believe this team is in the ALCS? What a fun year. Anyway, let’s get to today’s thoughts.

1. When the Yankees announced their ALCS rotation yesterday, it was exactly how I expected. Pushing Masahiro Tanaka all the way back to Game Three just because of his home/road splits would be overthinking it. Tanaka is a very good pitcher who can pitch well anywhere. We’ve seen him do it. So he had more success at home this year. Big deal. I don’t think there’s anything that fundamentally makes Tanaka pitch better at home. It’s just one of those things. Luis Severino follows naturally in Game Two, and with the Game Three starter also set to start Game Seven, I figured CC Sabathia would get the ball. Sonny Gray‘s control has been an issue the last few starts and it makes sense to push him back. (Gray threw a three-inning simulated game yesterday to stay sharp.) It doesn’t mean the Yankees have soured on Gray or that they regret the trade or anything like that. It means they made a rational decision. Gray has been walking too many hitters lately and is the current weak link in the rotation. That’s all. Sonny Gray is good! When he’s your fourth starter in the postseason, you’re doing pretty damn good. Right now though, the Yankees’ best path to victory involves getting the other guys on the mound as soon and as often as possible.

2. I have to think the bullpen will be a little short tonight. Both Aroldis Chapman and David Robertson threw multiple innings in Game Five, and Chapman did it two days after throwing multiple innings in Game Three. I can’t imagine either guy will be available for multiple innings again tonight. Maybe the Yankees can squeeze one inning out of Chapman and Robertson each tonight if they have a lead? And if they do that, what’s their status for Game Two? You can’t really worry about that though, I guess. You have to worry about the game you’re playing, and if you have a chance to win, you have to go for it. I suppose the good news is the backup relievers are Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, Dellin Betances, and Adam Warren. It’s not like the Yankees would be turning the game over to Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez. Green hasn’t pitched in a week now, since giving up the grand slam to Francisco Lindor in Game Two, so he should be well-rested. Joe Girardi did what he had to do to win Game Five. No complaints about the bullpen usage here. That usage has consequences though, and that could mean a limited or even unavailable Robertson and Chapman tonight.

3. The Yankees and Astros finished first and second in home runs this season. They’re the two most prolific power-hitting teams in baseball, and when you look at their lineups and ballparks, it’s easy to understand why. The key difference between the two offenses is their strikeout rate. The Yankees collectively struck out in 21.8% of their plate appearances this season, which is basically identical to the 21.6% league average. The Astros on the other hand, had the lowest strikeout rate in baseball this season at 17.3%. Hot damn. Combining the second most home runs with the lowest strikeout rate is a great recipe for offense. Now, before you freak out, keep in mind the Indians had the second lowest strikeout rate at 18.5%, and the Yankees did a fine job keeping their offense in check. Cleveland only ranked 15th in homers, however. The Astros make contact better than anyone and they hit the ball out of the park better than anyone other than the Yankees. The pitching staff is going to have their hands full. Strikeout pitchers against contact hitters with power.

McCann't throw. (Bob Levey/Getty)
McCann’t throw. (Bob Levey/Getty)

4. A very big #thingtowatch this series: the Yankees on the bases. The Astros were, by frickin’ far, the worst team at throwing out baserunners this season. They threw out 12% of basestealers this season. Can you imagine? Austin Romine is a terrible thrower and he had a 10% caught stealing rate this year. That’s basically the Astros. They throw like Romine. Generally speaking, I am not a big stolen base guy. Given the current makeup of the Yankees, I think stolen bases are worthwhile in the late innings of a close game only, when one run means so much. Otherwise, just let this power-laden lineup in a home run friendly home ballpark take their swings with men on base. In the ALCS though, Brian McCann (13% caught stealing) and Evan Gattis (10% caught stealing) are such awful throwers that it makes sense to push the envelope. That doesn’t mean Gary Sanchez and Matt Holliday should try to steal, of course. But give Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Aaron Hicks, and basically anyone who can steal a base the perpetual green light. Throwing out basestealers is a glaring weakness for the Astros and the Yankees should attack it relentlessly. Don’t stop running until the Astros show they can throw you out consistently.

5. So I guess this means it’s prediction time, eh? I’ve done well so far. I had the Yankees coming back from an early Eddie Rosario two-run home run to win the Wild Card Game, and coming back to win the ALDS in five after falling behind 1-2, which they technically did. My official ALCS prediction: Yankees in six. I have the Yankees dropping Game One, winning Games Two, Three, and Four, losing Game Five to create mass panic, then winning Game Six. Severino wins ALCS MVP after two brilliant starts. The big hero on offense? Eh, I’ll say Starlin Castro, who drives in the go-ahead runs in Games Two and Six. Also, Sonny shoves in Game Four. I thought the Indians were the best team in the American League pretty much all season and the Yankees could’ve won that series 4-1. That doesn’t mean the Astros are a pushover, of course. That team can score runs in a hurry.

Thoughts following Game Five of the 2017 ALDS

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

How’s this for a rebuilding season? The Yankees erased an 0-2 series deficit in the ALDS and clinched a spot in the ALCS with last night’s Game Five win over the Indians. What a remarkable comeback. Not gonna lie, I thought they were done after Game Two. I really did. Shows what I know. Anyway, here are some thoughts following that memorable ALDS win.

1. The Yankees just beat the best team in the American League — the Indians led the league with 102 wins and had baseball’s best run differential at +254 during the regular season — in the ALDS even though their best player was a non-factor and they lost the first two games. Amazing. Heck, the Yankees could’ve won that series 4-1 given the way Game Two played out with the non-challenge. Baseball is weird and the best team doesn’t always win a short series, but man, if you had any doubt about these Yankees being a bonafide contender, they’re answered now. They gave away Game Two. Gave it away. And they still rallied from down 0-2 in the series. They went two-to-toe with the best team in the league, got punched in the face in Game Two, then got back up and won the series anyway. I think this is now year three of the Fighting Spirit gag, but man, it has never been more appropriate. This team never goes down without a fight.

2. Speaking of the Yankees’ best player being a non-factor, yeesh, what an ugly series for Aaron Judge. He went 1-for-20 with 16 strikeouts in the five games and had three four-strikeout games. Like I said, yeesh. I suppose the good news is Judge did rob Francisco Lindor of that two-run home run in Game Three, so he did make an impact in the field. Also, the one-hit was that two-run double against Trevor Bauer in Game Four, which actually drove in the game-winning run. Still, a brutal series for Judge. And the Yankees won anyway! I wouldn’t count on that happening again though. The Yankees need Judge to get back on track as soon as possible, and I think he will get back on track, the same way he did after his slump after the All-Star break. The Indians have a fantastic pitching staff and Cleveland buried him with elite breaking balls. The Astros have a very good pitching staff, though it’s not as good as the staff the Indians run out there. Example: Cleveland’s third starter was Carlos Carrasco and Houston’s is Brad Peacock. Yeah. Awful series for Judge. He needs to be better in the ALCS.

3. Man, what a ballplayer Didi Gregorius has become. Gregorius hit the two home runs last night and also started that big fifth inning double play, after David Robertson replaced CC Sabathia. And don’t forget about his game-tying three-run home run in the Wild Card Game either. I was a Didi doubter. I was. I knew he’d play the hell out of shortstop, but I wasn’t sure he’d ever hit enough to be a starter on a championship caliber team, and now here he is hitting third for an ALCS bound club, and swatting dingers (plural) against the likely Cy Young winner. Gregorius has become a really good hitter in addition to being a great defender, plus he’s so damn likeable and such an important player in the clubhouse. Joe Girardi called him the captain of the infield the other day. Two years ago Didi was the only player under 30 in the Opening Day lineup. For real. He was the first real member of the position player youth movement, and he’s gotten better and better each season. It’s been a lot of run to watch. He is a very worthy heir to Derek Jeter‘s throne at shortstop.

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

4. The Yankees held the Indians to five hits or fewer in four of the five ALDS games. Every game except Game Two, which went 13 innings. The bullpen allowed six runs in 20 innings in the series, and five of the six runs came in Game Two. So, aside from that ugly Game Two meltdown, the pitching staff kept a very good Indians offense in check. Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino were brilliant in their starts, and Sabathia pitched well in his two outings even if he didn’t pitch all that deep into the game. When Sonny Gray is your least effective postseason starter, you’re doing pretty great. The pitching staff was incredible in the ALDS and they had to be, because the offense overall wasn’t that great. Only 21 runs in the five games, with eight of them coming in Game Two. This has been an under-the-radar story, I believe. The Yankees had one of the top pitching staffs top to bottom during the regular season, and now that they’re into the postseason, they can lean on their top arms a little more, making them even more dangerous. The story of this series was great pitching just about each game, and timely hitting. And the Indians making seven errors and allowing six unearned runs in Games Four and Five combined. Thanks for that.

5. So Corey Kluber isn’t healthy, right? Something is up and I think that’s one of the reasons they pushed him back to Game Two rather than have him start Game One. You just don’t see a pitcher that good — again, Kluber is likely going to win the Cy Young this year — have a postseason series that bad. He gave up four homers in 6.1 innings. Come on. “I don’t feel like I need to get into details right now. I was healthy enough to go out there and try to pitch,” said Kluber to Travis Sawchik following last night’s game. Hmmm. Brian Cashman told Adam Kilgore he is “not sure Kluber was right. I’m sure something is going on there.” Whatever it is, the Yankees took advantage. Beating up on Kluber twice in the ALDS is pretty much the last thing I expected. The Yankees got a little lucky here. It seems Kluber isn’t 100% physically, which cost him location and cost his team on the scoreboard. I’m glad the Yankees were able to make him pay.

6. The Yankees will probably announce their ALCS pitching rotation later today, and if they want to, they could start Tanaka and Severino on normal rest in Games One and Two, respectively. I think the Yankees want to hold Tanaka back until Game Three though give his massive home/road splits this season:

  • Home: 3.22 ERA  (3.45 FIP)
  • Road: 6.48 ERA (5.35 FIP)

It wasn’t a coincidence Tanaka started Game Three at home in the ALDS rather than Game Two on the road. So I think the Yankees will go with Gray in Game One, Severino on normal rest in Game Two, then Tanaka and Sabathia in Games Three and Four. That would line Tanaka up to start Game Seven. Sabathia started the winner-take-all Game Five in the ALDS. Would the Yankees start him in Game Three of the ALCS to line him up for a potential Game Seven start? That would mean pushing Tanaka all the way back to Game Four. Eh. I don’t think you can line it up so Tanaka makes just one start in the ALCS. He’s too good. Alright, so all that said, I think the ALCS rotation ends up being Gray, Severino, Tanaka, and Sabathia in that order. We’ll probably get a definitive answer later today.

7. So what’s going to happen with the DH spot going forward? The DH spot went 0-for-16 with eight strikeouts in the ALDS. Including the Wild Card Game, the DH spot is 0-for-20 in the postseason. Yikes. That’s a big problem. The Yankees have a DH without the H. Dallas Keuchel is starting Game One of the ALCS for the Astros, and since he’s a finesse left-hander, I’d absolutely start Matt Holliday at DH. If you’re not going to start Holliday against Keuchel, a southpaw who won’t blow him away with velocity, then he serves no purpose. There’s no reason to have him on the roster in that case. Holliday can stay with the team and hang out in the dugout, and that’s cool because his veteran presence matters, but what does he contribute on the field that he needs to be on the roster? I say give him a chance against Keuchel, and if he shows basically any signs of life, run him out there against Justin Verlander in Game Two. Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley aren’t getting the job done and I think it’s time for something new.

8. I’m glad the non-challenge in Game Two can go away now. We can stop talking about it. It was ugly, Girardi admitted he made a terrible mistake, and the team picked up him. “This one’s for Joe. I’ll be honest with you. I told him, we got your back 100%,” said Todd Frazier to David Lennon after last night’s game. Girardi even took the ultra-rare step of going to the team and apologizing for the mistake. That never happens. Did you watch the FOX Sports 1 postgame last night? Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Keith Hernandez, and Frank Thomas were on the show saying that is unheard of it, and that it showed a lot of character and that Joe really cares. The Yankees overcame that gigantic blunder and won the series anyway, and when they come back to New York for Game Three early next week, I hope Girardi gets a huge ovation during the baseline introductions. He deserves it. People make mistakes and that was a very bad one that nearly cost the Yankees their season. The players went out and picked Joe up though. They care and Joe cares, and I care that they care.

Thoughts prior to Game Five of the 2017 ALDS

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

Once again, the Yankees will play with their season on the line tonight. It’ll be their fourth elimination game in the last eight days. Not sure I need this much baseball-related stress in my life right now but whatever. Game Five is tonight. Yankees vs. Indians, winner faces the Astros in the ALCS and the loser goes home. Lets get to today’s thoughts.

1. I don’t know about you, but I am oddly zen about this whole series. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel the nerves once the game gets underway. That’s unavoidable. But I don’t live and die with every pitch like I did when I was younger. Maybe it’s just a function of getting older, or maybe it has to do with the fact the Yankees have wildly exceeded expectations this season, and I feel fortunate they’ve gotten this far. I’m enjoying the ride. That’s all. This has been the most fun Yankees season for me in quite some time. It’s been better than 2009 in a lot of ways. In 2009, the Yankees were expected to win, and when they did, it almost felt like a relief. This is nothing like that. The Yankees are (a lot) better than I expected, the team is ultra-likeable, and they’re just a lot of fun to watch play. Whatever happens tonight, win or lose, I’ve enjoyed the heck out of this season. It’s been a very long time since a Yankees team made me feel this way.

2. Against a guy like Corey Kluber, who is legitimately one of the five best pitchers on the planet, it can be easy to get caught up in the “work the count, raise his pitch count, get him out of the game as fast as possible” mentality. Of course you want to do those things. You want to do that against every pitcher. But I also think there’s something to be said for hunting a certain pitch (a fastball, usually) early in the count and taking a big rip if you get it. Kluber’s not going to give you many hittable pitches. If you happen to get one first or second pitch, you don’t want to pass it up for the sake of working the count. The downside here is that if you do hunt those early count fastballs and don’t do damage, you might look up in the sixth inning and see Kluber cruising at 65 pitches. At the same time, if you take pitches and try to drive up his pitch count, Kluber’s going to be ahead in the count 0-2 on a lot of guys, and that’s no way to hit. The Yankees have several smart, patient hitters in the lineup — Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro are the only real hackers — so I trust that they’ll work the count against Kluber, and also jump on that hittable early count fastball should it present itself.

3. A crazy idea that won’t and shouldn’t happen: Ronald Torreyes at DH. Or maybe Castro at DH and Torreyes at second. The idea is Torreyes in the lineup over the hodgepodge of unproductive DHs the Yankees have used this postseason. Kluber is super tough and it’s not just that hard contact is hard to come by, contact in general is hard to come by against him. Torreyes excels at putting the ball in play. That’s his thing. And hey, he sure as heck won’t let a hittable fastball go by early in the count. Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury have contributed nothing this series and Matt Holliday hasn’t played in over a week. Putting him in the lineup for the first time in nine days in an elimination game against Kluber is asking for trouble. Torreyes hasn’t played much either, but he does get the bat on the ball, and maybe that’ll lead to something big in Game Five. Like I said though, this ain’t happening. It was just a thought.

4. Speaking of the DH, rumor has it Edwin Encarnacion will be back in the lineup tonight. Terry Francona hinted at the possibility yesterday, when Encarnacion ran in the outfield and took batting practice to test the ankle. They’re not paying this guy to run. As long as he is healthy enough to mash a baseball, the Indians will put him in the lineup, and live with the station-to-station baserunning. It’s not like he gives them that much more than that when healthy anyway. I can’t imagine Encarnacion is 100% physically right now — that was a really ugly ankle roll, they’re lucky the injury wasn’t worse — but I expect him to tough it out and be in the lineup tonight, and that’s unfortunate for the Yankees. Encarnacion changes the entire complexion of Cleveland’s lineup.

5. So I guess I need to make another prediction? I mean, I already predicted the Yankees in five, so I can’t go back on that. I also predicted Aaron Judge will have the big game-winning hit against Andrew Miller in Game Five, so I’m sticking with that too. Furthermore, I’m thinking this game will be low-scoring into the late innings thanks to two very different pitching performances — Kluber dominates while CC Sabathia pitches in and out of jams before giving way to the bullpen in the fifth inning — before the Yankees get the lead late. The final three outs? Painful. Tying run on base, middle of the order due up, something wild like that. Isn’t that always how these games go? I don’t foresee a quick 1-2-3 ninth inning with two ground balls and a strikeout on ten pitches. I’m expect a good ol’ makes-you-want-to-puke ninth inning in Game Five.

Thoughts following Game Four of the 2017 ALDS

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The 2017 Yankees are not going down without a fight. Did you expect anything else? This team has been resilient all season. The Game Four win last night means a winner-take-all Game Five tomorrow night at Progressive Field. The Yankees are 3-0 in elimination games already this postseason, you know. Lets get to some thoughts, shall we?

1. This probably sounds lame as hell, but man am I proud of Luis Severino. He got smacked around in the Wild Card Game and was booed off the field, then he came back last night and shoved against the best team in the American League in a win or go home game. Yes, Severino did allow those two home runs in the middle innings, but he shook them right off and finished the game strong. He was throwing upper-90s in the seventh inning with his pitch count over 100 and showing no fear. Going right after hitters. Severino’s come a long way since just last season. Last year any little rally would snowball into something big and ugly. This year Severino limits the damage and goes back about his business. He’s matured so much as a pitcher and we saw it last night. He rebounded from that Wild Card Game start like a champ. I’m proud of the kid. I don’t care if it sounds lame.

2. Obvious statement is obvious: getting the top relievers a night off last night was huge. Chad Green and Aroldis Chapman did warm up during Game Four, though it was more like playing catch to get loose than getting on the bullpen mound intending to get hot and pitch in the game. A little catch is nothing. For all intents and purposes, Chapman and David Robertson will go into Game Five with two days of rest and Green will go into Game Five with four days of rest. Also, Sonny Gray was not needed last night, so he’ll be available in the bullpen tomorrow (with an extra day of rest) in case things go haywire. This works both ways — Andrew Miller will go into Game Five with two days of rest too — but I’m feeling pretty good about the bullpen situation right now. Chapman, Robertson, and Green should be as close to 100% as we could reasonably expect after the last week.

3. I’m a big Sonny Gray fan but I think the Yankees are 100% making the right call starting CC Sabathia in Game Five tomorrow. No doubt in my mind. They’re not going to ask him to dominate for eight innings, though they’d happily take it. Realistically, the Yankees need what, four good innings from Sabathia? They could piece together the final five innings from Green, Robertson, Chapman, and the suddenly untouchable Tommy Kahnle. You know Sabathia is not going to be overwhelmed by the moment and you know Sabathia is going to be motivated to beat his former club. Can you believe this? Sabathia was so terrible from 2013-15 and now here is, getting the ball in an elimination game in 2017 and pretty much everyone agrees he’s the right man for the job. What a time to be alive. By the way, the last time the Yankees won a full postseason series? The 2012 ALDS against the Orioles, when Sabathia threw a complete-game in Game Five.

Ouch. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Ouch. (Jason Miller/Getty)

4. Know what’s had a big impact on this series? Edwin Encarnacion’s injury. That dude is a terror at the plate. He started slow this season — Encarnacion was hitting .199/.333/.356 (89 wRC+) as late as May 20th — yet he still finished the year at .258/.377/.504 (132 wRC+) with 38 home runs. He’s that good. Encarnacion has not played since rolling his ankle at second base in Game Two and Michael Brantley, who has stepped in at DH for the time being, has gone 1-for-11 with a walk and four strikeouts. Brantley returned from an ankle injury of his own very late in the regular season — he got three whole at-bats before the start of the postseason — and looks very much like a player who is still searching for his timing at the plate. And hey, maybe he’ll find it tomorrow. It can happen quick and Brantley is really good. For now though, the Indians lost their top power hitter and a very dangerous middle of the order presence. The Encarnacion injury has undeniably changed the series and helped the Yankees. Just think, how does Game Three play out if he’s in the lineup? I don’t even want to think about it.

5. Speaking of the DH, good gravy, I have no idea what the Yankees can do at that spot. Chase Headley went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts last night and the DH spot has now gone 0-for-18 in five postseason games. That’s bad. Real bad. I was on board with starting Matt Holliday last night because he’ll at least work the count and maybe pop a dinger, but tomorrow night, against Corey Kluber? Kluber will chew Holliday up. Holliday has been lost against righties the last few weeks, especially anyone with mid-90s gas, and Kluber is no ordinary righty. Starting Holliday at DH against Kluber in Game Five after having him sit on the bench for nine days seems doomed to fail. I dunno. I guess Jacoby Ellsbury is best DH option tomorrow. Neither he nor Headley have looked good lately, but, if nothing else, Ellsbury might be able to make something happen with legs. Force an error, beat out a double play, something like that. Headley gives you basically no shot at that. There’s no good DH solution right now, and if the Yankees do manage to advance to ALCS, they have to seriously consider dropping Holliday from the roster in favor of Tyler Austin or Clint Frazier, someone who can bring a little more to the table defensively while still being able to hammer a mistake.

6. Speaking of Kluber, his Game Two performance was an aberration as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think the Yankees have his number or have figured something out or anything like that. I think it was just an anomaly performance from a truly great pitcher. That said, if that Game Two performance gives the Yankees confidence and/or puts a little doubt in Kluber’s mind, great! I’m just not sure it actually means anything. Kluber struggled to locate from the get-go in Game Two and the Yankees took advantage. Sometimes great players have bad days. That’s all it was, probably. Kluber just had a bad day. The Yankees are going to have their hands full tomorrow. No doubt about that. Kluber is a monster. I wish that Game Two showing made me feel more confident.

7. I don’t normally put much stock in “they’re feeling the pressure!” and things like that, but geez, I have to think the Indians are starting to feel it a little bit, don’t you? They had a 2-0 series lead and couldn’t put it away in Games Three or Four, and now they have to play a decisive Game Five. Furthermore, this team blew a 3-1 series lead in the World Series last year, remember. And aside from Encarnacion and Jay Bruce, it’s basically the same group of players. The Yankees are the Yankees, it’s hard to consider them an underdog, but they absolutely are the underdog this series given everything that’s happened the last 18 months or so. Cleveland was the best team in the league this season, they had that AL record 22-game winning streak, and they were supposed to win the ALDS after winning Games One and Two. The Yankees were supposed to quit on Joe Girardi after the non-challenge in Game Two and that would be that. It hasn’t happened. If anything, the Yankees have rallied around Joe’s blunder, and now suddenly the Indians are left wondering how a 2-0 series lead turned into a decisive Game Five. The Yankees? This is all gravy baby. No one thought they’d last this long after Game Two. Enjoy the ride.

Thoughts prior to Game Four of the 2017 ALDS

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Abbie Parr/Getty)

The Yankees aren’t done just yet. Last night the Yankees earned a thrilling 1-0 win over the Indians to force Game Four of the ALDS later tonight. Game Three is one of those games I will remember for a very long time. I have some thoughts on Game Three and also some thoughts looking ahead to Game Four, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Really can’t say enough about Masahiro Tanaka‘s performance last night. I know he’s had his troubles at times this season, especially early in the season, but that was as clutch as it gets. Seven shutout innings against the best team in the league in an elimination game? Good gravy. Pretty much the only path to victory last night involved a dominant start from Tanaka. Had he been just okay, the Yankees would’ve been packing up for the winter right now. And that was the case going into the game too, I’m not just saying that because of the outcome. The Yankees needed Tanaka to go out and shut the Indians down so the offense could go to the work and the bullpen could get a breather. Tanaka did exactly that. What a performance. I really hope that wasn’t his final start in pinstripes. If it is, boy did Tanaka go out with a bang.

2. Speaking of the bullpen, tonight will surely be another all hands on deck game, but realistically, how much can David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman give the Yankees tonight? Robertson has thrown a ton lately and he looked completely gassed after nine pitches last night. Can he even give them an inning tonight? What about one batter in a strikeout spot? Chapman threw two innings and 27 pitches Friday and then 1.2 innings and 34 pitches Sunday. You know he’s feeling it. For what it’s worth, Chapman said he’ll be ready to pitch tonight, but you can’t trust relievers. They always say they’re available. Larry Rothschild told Brendan Kuty that if the Yankees do use Chapman tonight, it’ll be “fairly brief.” So again, does that mean one inning? One batter? Who knows. Tommy Kahnle and Adam Warren should be fine for tonight, and Dellin Betances has now had two days to rest after his extended outing Friday, so I imagine he’ll be available in some capacity. I get the sense that Joe Girardi will lean on Kahnle and Betances tonight — Chad Green is another dude who’s worked a ton the last week and looked worn down last time out — and, if necessary, Chapman will get the ninth and only the ninth.

3. I know he got hammered in the Wild Card Game last week, but I am expecting big things from Luis Severino tonight. I think he’s mad at himself for that performance against the Twins and I think he’s been champing at the bit the last few days to get back out there. Severino was amped up in that Wild Card Game and I think he knows that and understands it, and will be better off for that experience going forward. Given the state of the bullpen, the Yankees will need Severino to do basically what Tanaka did last night, and based on what we saw pretty much all season, Severino is absolutely capable of providing that type of performance. I’m excited. The Yankees are still alive in the series and now they have one of the three best pitchers in the American League ready to go in Game Four tonight. What more could you want?

4. The Indians announced last night that Trevor Bauer, not Josh Tomlin, will start Game Four tonight. Bauer will be on short rest following his Game One start. I think that is advantage Yankees. That isn’t to say Bauer will stink and the Yankees will knock him all around the park, though I would welcome that outcome. I think it’s advantage Yankees because they’ve seen him once already and because going on short rest inevitably means his stuff will be a little short. There’s more fatigue and that usually manifests itself somehow. It could be missing velocity or poor location. In most cases, a pitcher on short rest also tends to start to lose it a little earlier than usual. Instead of getting 100 good pitches from a guy you might only get 75 before the tank hits empty on short rest. Bauer dominated the Yankees with his curveball last time out and it worked so well I have to think he’s going to try it again. Make the Yankees show they can hit it before making an adjustment, you know? Hopefully the Yankees are ready for it, and hopefully the pitch isn’t as crisp as it was in Game One.

(Abbie Parr/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

5. All things considered, the Yankees have done a nice job against Andrew Miller this series. He’s appeared in every game so far. His line: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 3 K on 57 pitches. That works out to 4.38 pitches per batter. The one run is obviously Greg Bird‘s home run last night. Overall though, the Yankees have been able to work deep counts against Miller, which has prevented Terry Francona from using him for multiple innings. Last postseason Miller was going two innings on the regular. The Yankees have worked him hard enough that Francona hasn’t allowed Miller to pitch that long. Perhaps that’ll change tonight if the Indians have a lead with a chance to clinch. Through three games though, I’m very pleased with how the Yankees have handled Miller. He’s so damn good and can be so overwhelmingly dominant, but the Yankees are making him work for outs.

6. Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, and Didi Gregorius in the ALDS: 2-for-33 (.061). Gardner had a Jason Kipnis aided bloop double last night and Gregorius had a solid single. Judge has drawn four walks in the series, so combined, that’s a .244 OBP for those three. Ouch. They’re the leadoff, two-hole, and cleanup hitters. Basically the three most important lineup spots. The good news? Those guys are still having an impact on defense, so it’s not like they’ve been zeroes all series. But the Yankees need a lot more from them at the plate though. The fact of the matter is the Yankees have scored three runs total in 27.1 offensive innings against Not Corey Kluber this series, and all three runs scored on Bird home runs. For the Yankees to force Game Five, they’re going to need Gardner, Judge, and Gregorius to contribute something at the plate. It’s a short series and sometimes guys don’t hit in a short series. That’s baseball. But those three are too important to the offense for the Yankees to continue getting so little and expecting to win.

7. I have no idea what the Yankees should do at DH at this point. Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley are a combined 0-for-10 with two walks in the ALDS, and if you include the Wild Card Game, the DH spot is 0-for-14 this postseason. In those 14 at-bats, they’ve hit three balls out of the infield. Is it time to just stick Matt Holliday in the lineup and hope for the best? Holliday has not been good at all since mid-June — he hit .170/.236/.313 (42 wRC+) in his final 195 plate appearances of the regular season — so I’m not sure why we would expect Holliday to be an upgrade at DH other than the dubious “he can’t be worse” logic. It is entirely possible New York’s best DH options at this very moment are Tyler Austin, Clint Frazier, and Miguel Andujar, and none of them are on the roster. I think I’d go with Holliday at DH in Game Four because he will work the count — Headley is still doing that, to be fair — and there’s at least a chance he’ll run into a fastball and pop a homer. Even when Ellsbury and Headley are at their best, homers are few and far between.

8. I expected Girardi to get booed last night because that’s how these things go, but I still think it’s really unfortunate. Joe screwed up by not challenging the hit-by-pitch. He screwed up bad. Everyone knows it. And when you screw up that bad, the fans are going to let you hear about it. I just think that given his overall body of work with the Yankees, including his time as a player, hearing boos like that — Girardi was booed louder than any Indians player during pregame intros — in his possible final game as a manager was a bit of a bummer. Joe makes mistakes like everyone else, he just makes higher profile mistakes, but I’ve never doubted for one second that he cares deeply about the Yankees and wants to win, or thought he isn’t doing what he feels is best for the team. Hopefully the Yankees complete this comeback and we can all move on from the non-challenge, and Joe can get a great big cheer during pregame intros in the ALCS.

Thoughts Before an Elimination Game

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Hello, dear reader. A lot has happened since last we spoke and I’m hoping a lot more happens before we speak again. Let’s hope this isn’t the last Sunday of 2017 when we can look forward to Yankee baseball, huh? Anyway, let’s get on with my thoughts, ones that hopefully won’t be the last of the season, however long that shot might be.

Oh, Joe

By now, you’ve read every Joe Girardi hot take, but allow me to pile on, self-indulgently. At the time he did it, I really had no problem with Girardi taking out Sabathia. It’s the playoffs, and you’ve gotta go to the power arms quickly, even if it’s CC Sabathia out there, who’s been an absolute rock this year. It’s too bad Chad Green didn’t quite have it, though, and that is understandable. Even with some days off, he pitched the most stressful game of his life on Tuesday and may have been fatigued.

Sadly, the bad decisions cascaded from there. Not challenging on the Lonnie Baseball foul tip/HBP. What. And even if Joe owned up to it yesterday, that seems a bit late, doesn’t it? Declaring in the aftermath that he didn’t want to disturb Green’s rhythm is like my students telling me they finished their essay, honestly, but they just left it at home! Or their printer stopped working. Or their email got lost. Right. Just tell me you didn’t do it and let’s move on. I’ll still be disappointed, but at least you won’t be insulting my intelligence until you do own up to it. Then he pushed David Robertson too far. Then he went to Aroldis Chapman for two innings…instead of just pitching him in the eighth and ninth. And then he pushed Betances too far. It’s safe to say that Friday night was probably the worst managerial night Girardi has had as Yankee manager.

In the immediate aftermath, people were discussing replacing Girardi and that conversation spilled over into Saturday. I’m of two minds here. With the one, I think that there really isn’t anyone better to manage this team than Girardi and he’s proven that over the years. But with the other, ten years is a damn long time and it might be time for a new voice in the room, especially as the team starts to skew younger. Who could that voice come from? I have no idea, honestly. If I had to bet, I’d say Girardi is back next year and thereafter.

If and when he is back, the most important thing for Joe to do is gain some more confidence in Gary Sanchez. He’s shown that by keeping Sanchez behind the plate and not buying into any sort of narrative, but not challenging despite Sanchez’s insistence looks bad. Gary needs to improve on blocking balls, sure, but he’s a good framer and receiver and he’s an elite level thrower behind the plate. Atop all that, he’s the best hitting catcher in baseball not named “Buster Posey.” Winning the trust and confidence of Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Luis Severino, and the other young players on the team and on the 40-man is the most important thing Girardi can do. If the front office–read Brian Cashman–thinks he can do that, then he is certainly the right man for the job.

There’s a chance the Yankees’ season will end before I write again–duh–and I hope it doesn’t. I have missed playoff baseball, even if it is stressful and a cause for sleeplessness. This is why we watch, isn’t it? Baseball, more than other sports, may be about the journey more than the destination, but when the destination is in sight, it sure is more exciting. We’ve harped a lot about how this team wasn’t expected to go this far, wasn’t expected to win in the high 80’s, let alone the 90’s. This playoff run is gravy and a half. But that doesn’t mean I won’t be disappointed if it ends. That disappointment comes from enjoying the hell out of this team, but also from the fact that it’s a good team that could go farther than the ALDS. Is there shame in losing to the best team in the game? No, but that doesn’t mean it won’t sting if it happens. If this is the end, thanks for going on this ride with me for 2017; I can’t wait for 2018 and beyond.