Archive for Playoffs
The season is officially on the line tonight, as the Yankees are one loss away from an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Tigers in the ALCS. CC Sabathia will be on the mound on regular rest and that’s exactly who the Bombers want out there, but pitching hasn’t been the problem. The hitting has been, and tonight the batters will see hard-throwing right-hander Max Scherzer.
Scherzer, 28, went to the Tigers in the trade that brought Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, and he’s shaken off concerns about his durability by throwing at least 185 innings in each of the last three seasons. He’s got a little A.J. Burnett in him in the sense that he’s enigmatic and is more hittable than his stuff indicates he should be, but Scherzer is still pretty good. He just happens to be the fourth best starting pitcher in his own rotation.
2012 Performance vs. Yankees
Just the one ugly start back in April, that’s it. Andruw Jones went 2-for-2 with a homer and a walk off the bench in that game, that’s how long ago it was. Those seven walks are a career-high for Scherzer, who struggled big time in April before pitching very well the rest of the season. Despite only the one meeting this year, both sides are certainly familiar with each other though after the ALDS last season and various regular season matchups (four total, to be exact) since the trade that brought Scherzer to the AL.
Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)
Scherzer is a three-pitch pitcher who acts like two two-pitch pitchers. Right-handers get the fastball and slider while lefties get the fastball and changeup. That’s pretty much it, he’s very straight forward. The fastball usually sits comfortably in the mid-90s, but Scherzer has been battling some shoulder fatigue lately and he’s been sitting the low-90s more often than not. We really don’t know how much that will help the hitters if it continues tonight, but I can’t imagine it’s a bad thing for the Yankees.
Performance & Results
Unlike Justin Verlander yesterday, Scherzer has a significant platoon split. The guy eats up right-handers but has his struggled against left-handers because he doesn’t strike them out nearly as often and will walk them more frequently as well. It’s worth noting that some poor ball-in-play luck (.378 vs. 273 BABIP) plays a part in the huge split.
Regardless, it goes without saying that the Yankees have to take advantage of that, perhaps by again sitting Alex Rodriguez in favor of Eric Chavez even though neither guy is really hitting. Joe Girardi could trot out a lineup with only two true right-handed hitters — Russell Martin and Eduardo Nunez/Jayson Nix — and those guys could easily bat eighth and ninth. Last night’s ninth inning mini-rally was encouraging if nothing else, and today the Yankees have a chance to build on it and actually generate some offense by stacking lefties against Scherzer.
Joe Girardi has had to tinker with his lineup far more than I’m sure he would have liked this postseason, and it was all out of necessity. Alex Rodriguez simply has not hit right-handers at all, and the duo of Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher went from middle of the order thumpers to bottom of the lineup automatic outs. He inserted both Brett Gardner and Eduardo Nunez into the starting lineup last night and was mostly rewarded, as Nunez drove in their only run with a solo homer while Gardner had some of the team’s best and longest at-bats. The Yankees still lost though.
I expect tonight’s lineup to be very similar to last night’s with maybe one or two minor changes. Maybe Swisher is back in the starting lineup and Granderson sits, something like that. Either way, I think the stretch of 9-1-2 hitters — Nunez, Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki — will remain the same to give the team some speed on the bases. They didn’t use that speed at all last night though, as Ichiro singled twice and didn’t bother to steal second either time even though the one thing Justin Verlander will let an offense do is steal a base. I understand that every base-runner is precious when you’re struggling to score, but I felt the situation called for pushing the envelope.
Max Scherzer is a bit more stingy with the stolen base than Verlander, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the speed game should come out of the playbook. Frankly it doesn’t make sense to play Nunez and Gardner and not have them try to steal when they do reach base. Obviously the whole getting on-base thing is quite important, but Scherzer hasn’t been himself lately and is probably the least effective Tigers’ starter right now. If last night’s ninth inning mini-rally is going to carry over to today, it will be because Detroit’s starter is still dealing with some nagging shoulder issues and can’t reach back for 95+ when in a jam.
Desperate times do call for desperate measures, and Girardi did sorta take those measures with his lineup moves last night. If he keeps Nunez and Gardner in the lineup for Game Four, even if they don’t bat back-to-back, the club has to try to take advantage of their speed. I’m surprised they have yet to lay a bunt down towards Miguel Cabrera at third or even Prince Fielder at first, but if Scherzer is pitching well the first time through the order it might be a shot in the middle innings. The Yankees have to try to generate some offense in different ways tonight and hopefully going forward later in the series, and taking advantage of the fresh legs (both Nunez and Gardner missed a big chunk of time with injury this season) could be one way to do it.
Via Joel Sherman: Phil Hughes has been cleared by doctors to throw today after leaving last night’s start with mild stiffness in his back. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild saw the right-hander stretching between innings yesterday, which raised a red flag. He threw just three innings and 61 pitches in the game. Assuming today’s throwing session goes well, Hughes will be able to throw his usual between-starts bullpen session tomorrow and might even be available in relief down the road if the Yankees make the Tigers sweat a little in the ALCS.
The Yankees are playing with house money at this point. No one realistically expects them to win the next four games and mount a historic comeback from a three games to none deficit in the ALCS. The pitching has been fantastic and the hitting has been dreadful. Even is CC Sabathia goes out and dominates the Tigers in Game Four tonight, there’s a pretty good chance the Yankees will support him by scoring zero runs.
I hope that’s not the case though. Maybe those tough grind-it-out at-bats in the ninth inning last night were an indication that the Yankees are starting to figure things out offensively. Robinson Cano even got a hit in that inning, and they always say that all it takes is one hit to turn things around. Max Scherzer had a great regular season but has been battling shoulder problems of late, which is why his fastball velocity fell off in a big way in September. He averaged 94.2 with the fastball during the season but just 93.0 in Game Four against the Athletics last week.
Maybe that reduced velocity allows the Yankees to scratch a run or two across early and actually take the lead, something they’ve yet to do in the series. Maybe that’s enough for Sabathia to squeeze out the win. Then the Yankees have Andy Pettitte going in Game Five and Hiroki Kuroda on regular rest in Game Six. Sabathia would come back on three days’ rest to square off against Verlander in the winner-take-all Game Seven. It could happen. It’s incredibly unlikely, but not impossible.
At this point, the Yankees are the underdog. They’re not your typical small market underdog, but they’re an underdog nonetheless. No one expects them to win the series and I’m sure most people believe they’re going to lose Game Four tonight and get swept out of the playoffs as well. Expectations are low or just flat out non-existent, which can be a dangerous thing. It’s easy to forget how good of a team the Yankees really are, and if one or two (or three!) bats wake, they could become a headache for the Tigers in a hurry.
The Yankees have nothing to lose at this point other than their entire season, and I think most people assume that it’s only a matter of time before Detroit wraps up the series. Joe Girardi & Co. are going to take it one game at a time and blah blah blah cliche cliche cliche. There’s nothing to say, they just have to start hitting and hope the pitching holds up. It would behoove the Tigers to end this series as soon as possible though, you don’t want to give the Yankees that Game Four win. Anything can happen after that.
The Yankees are really trying to disprove this whole “pitching win championships” thing. They got another fantastic performance from the pitching staff in Game Three, but yet again the offense didn’t muster much of anything until it was too little, too late. The Yankees are down three games to none in the best-of-seven ALCS and are just one more loss from the end of their season.
Ninth Inning Rally
Justin Verlander threw 132 pitches in Game Three and I think only the final 17 were stressful. He held the Yankees to two base-runners — two ground ball singles by Ichiro Suzuki — in the first eight innings and was more efficient than overpowering. Verlander went to eight three-ball counts (28 total batters faced), which is an awful lot, but he also didn’t walk anyone. He struck out just three, only got eight ground balls (22 ball-in-play outs), and I counted just two tough defensive plays by Detroit. Very easy outing for Verlander, at least until the ninth inning.
With the bullpen a mess, manager Jim Leyland stuck with his ace right-hander for the final three outs even though his pitch count was over 110. Eduardo Nunez led the inning off and worked a real hard at-bat, fouling off six pitches before hitting a solo homer to left on the ninth pitch of the encounter (a hanging curveball). It was, by far, the team’s hardest hit ball of the night. In fact, you can argue that their second hardest hit ball was a foul ball down the left field line earlier in the at-bat. Brett Gardner followed Nunez by fouling off four pitches as part of an eight-pitch at-bat before grounding out. That ended the night for Verlander.
Leyland went to former Yankee Phil Coke against various left-handers, and he surrendered two two-out singles (Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano) to put the tying run in scoring position and bring Raul Ibanez to the plate. Joe Girardi‘s options at this point were Ibanez against Coke or either Nick Swisher or Alex Rodriguez against Joaquin Benoit, and the skipper stuck with Ibanez. I would have done the same thing despite his general inability to hit southpaws just because he’s been out of this world clutch these last few weeks. Raul worked the count full and fouled off the sixth pitch of the at-bat before swinging over a slider for strike three and the 27th out. Coke deserves some credit, it was a great slider.
Assuming the Yankees do not make a historic comeback, Phil Hughes will end his season at 201 total innings and with a stiff back. He exited Game Three after three innings and 61 pitches, but not before Delmon Young hit a hanging two-strike curveball out of the park to left field for a solo homer. He’s been killing the Yankees in the postseason for two years now, no reason to expect it to stop anytime soon.
Anyway, Hughes walked three while striking out just one in those three innings, pitching out of jams seemingly all night. The pitching line — 3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 1 K — looks a little better than he actually pitched, and it could have easily been four or five runs had the Tigers picked up some timely hits. Joe Girardi said after the game that they’ll re-evaluate Hughes tomorrow before deciding whether or not to take him off the ALCS roster, which would automatically disqualify him from the World Series roster should the Yankees actually make that historic comeback. Not a great night for Phil, but he did battle and the effort is always appreciated.
It’s a good thing Monday was an off-day, because Girardi had to go deep into his bullpen following the short start by Hughes. The first guy out of the bullpen was David Phelps — he inherited an 0-2 count on Jhonny Peralta — who completed the fourth inning before allowing an unearned run in the fifth. Eric Chavez booted a hard-hit ground ball before Miguel Cabrera clubbed a double into the right-center field gap, accounting for the Tigers’ second and eventual game-winning run. I was a bit surprised Girardi didn’t go to Derek Lowe in that spot, but I guess he didn’t want the ground ball guy in there while Nunez was playing short.
Clay Rapada replaced Phelps and retired the two left-handed hitters he faced with an intentional walk sandwiched in. Cody Eppley took over, finished up the fifth, then put two men on-base with one out in the sixth. Boone Logan replaced him and allowed a single to pinch-hitter and the right-handed Avisail Garcia — Garcia is now 3-for-3 off Logan in the series — before escaping the bases loaded jam with a 5-4-3 double play from Cabrera. I have to admit that I assumed the worst when I saw Logan was going to face Miggy with the bases juiced, but he got the ground ball and Chavez started the twin-killing with a nifty backhand pick.
Boone remained in the game to throw a perfect seventh as well as retire the first two men in the eighth, his longest outing (2.1 innings) since throwing 2.2 innings against the Phillies back in June 2010. Joba Chamberlain stepped in to wrap up the inning, so all told six pitchers allowed just two runs (one earned) in eight innings on seven hits and five walks (one intentional). They only struck out three, but the pitching staff definitely gave the offense a chance to get back into the game. The Yankees have gotten a 2.25 ERA out of pitching staff and only have three wins in eight playoff games to show for it. Gross.
Cano’s ninth inning opposite field single ended an ugly 0-for-29 stretch that was the longest single-season hitless streak in playoff history. Ichiro had the two ground ball singles but didn’t steal second either time, which was quite annoying. I thought he had a chance for a Johnny Damon-esque double steal in the seventh since the Tigers were playing the big shift on Teixeira. The one thing Verlander will let you do is steal a base, and the Yankees didn’t take advantage of it.
The Bombers sent 32 hitters to the plate and I counted just seven “good at-bats” (by my completely arbitrary definition) — Ibanez in the second (eight pitches), Gardner in fourth (nine pitches), Ibanez in the seventh (seven pitches), Nunez in the ninth (nine pitches), Gardner in the ninth (eight pitches), Teixeira in the ninth (seven pitches), and Ibanez in the ninth (seven pitches). Seven “good out-bats” out of 32 total plate appearances isn’t good enough, especially when three came from the same guy.
Nunez’s ninth inning homer kept the Yankees from getting shut out in back-to-back playoff games for the first time in their history, so I guess that’s neat. It was also the first ninth inning homer Verlander has surrendered in his entire career, believe it or not. Nunez is the first non-Derek Jeter shortstop to hit a postseason homer for the team since Jim Mason in Game Three of the 1976 World Series. The Yankees only had five hits and zero walks in the game and have scored 12 of their 21 postseason runs in the ninth inning or later. That’s just too many. They have to start scoring earlier in the game.
It was a really rough night for Russell Martin, who allowed two stolen bases (in two attempts) and a passed ball. He also hurt his right thumb on a jam-shot ground ball against Verlander in the ninth, but said after the game that he’s fine and will play tomorrow. It’s worth noting that Nick Swisher was on deck to pinch-hit for Martin when Ibanez struck out to end the game. Not sure if that was just a matchup thing or a sign that Russ’ hand wasn’t good enough to hit.
The Yankees did get a little luck in that sixth inning when Omar Infante stopped at third on Garcia’s single off Logan. He would have scored easily — replays showed that Curtis Granderson had not even picked up the ball by the time Infante reached third base — and given the Tigers a three-run lead. The Cabrera double play following and that was that. Nunez also deserves some credit for a nice diving stop in the fifth, keeping the ball on the infield to save a run.
Sam Holbrook’s strike zone was just ridiculous; Verlander was getting a ton of calls off the plate to lefties. That’s not why the Yankees lost, but it certainly didn’t help. Here’s the PitchFX plot so you can see for yourself.
Box Score & WPA Graph
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights. The Yankees have not been swept in any playoff series since the Royals got them in the 1980 ALCS, which happened before I was born. Crazy. The Yankees also had four winning streaks of at least four games this season, which is what they’ll need to do to advance to the next round. For now, one game at a time.
The season is in the hands of CC Sabathia, who will start Game Four on Wednesday night against Max Scherzer. Hopefully the ninth inning was an indication that the offense is starting to awake. That would be nice. That game starts at 8pm ET, and check out RAB Tickets if you want to score some last minute deals to attend.
More great pitching, more disappointing offense. One more loss and everyone will be on winter vacation.
Win it for Philbert.
This situation right now is pretty much the closest the Yankees will ever get to being the underdog. They’re down two games to none in the best-of-seven ALCS, they haven’t hit a lick in the postseason, and the best pitcher on the planet will be on the mound for the Tigers tonight. It’s a truly dire situation for Joe Girardi‘s club.
That’s why a win tonight would be huge. The Yankees will have stolen a game from Justin Verlander and injected a little life into what has been a very one-sided series. I don’t know about the players, but I think the emotional pick-me-up for fans would be pretty enormous. It’s easy to be (very) down on the club right now, but going into Comerica Park and stealing a game from Verlander would be a great way to get back into the series and remind everyone who finished the season with the best record in the league. Here are the lineups…
RHP Phil Hughes (16-13, 4.23)
CF Austin Jackson
LF Quintin Berry
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Prince Fielder
DH Delmon Young
RF Andy Dirks
SS Jhonny Peralta
C Alex Avila
2B Omar Infante
RHP Justin Verlander (17-8, 2.64)
It’s chilly in Detroit but that’s all. Classic playoff weather. Tonight’s game is scheduled to start a little after 8pm ET and can be seen on TBS. Enjoy.
Ticket Update: If you want to catch any game in this series, either in New York or Detroit, make sure you check out RAB Tickets for some sweet last minute deals.
I’m going to start by repeating something I said this morning, but it’s worth it: the season is not on the line in Game Three tonight but it might as well be. Coming back from a three games to none deficit in a best-of-seven series is not unprecedented, but it is incredibly difficult. For all intents and purposes, a loss tonight would be a one-way ticket to the offseason. That’s the situation the Yankees have played (really hit, I have a hard time blaming the pitchers for anything) themselves into.
Because of this, Joe Girardi has to manage tonight like it is a Game Seven, particularly with his bullpen in relief of Phil Hughes. There’s little reason to hold anyone back for tomorrow or later in the series. This isn’t the regular season anymore, there’s no point in worrying about keeping guys fresh in the long-term when the offseason could be two days away. Girardi typically does a great job of keeping his bullpen rested during the summer, but all of that should go out the window now.
Thankfully, the core late-game relievers are well-rested. Not only did Monday’s travel day give everyone a day off, but David Robertson and Rafael Soriano also had Sunday’s game off as well. They didn’t even warm up. Furthermore, CC Sabathia is scheduled to start Game Four on normal rest tomorrow night, and he’s one of the very few pitchers who can be counted on to go out and soak up seven or more innings without thinking twice. Sabathia should make everyone, including Girardi, feel a little bit better about using the bullpen heavily tonight.
If push comes to shove in Game Three in a few hours, multiple innings from both Robertson and Soriano should be on the table. Soaking up nine total outs in a close game seems like a given, maybe even more if things get really messy. Both guys are rested, Sabathia is going tomorrow, and the game is of paramount importance. This is when a team needs to rely on its top bullpen arms and the Yankees are lucky enough to have two dynamite right-handers capable of getting both lefties and righties out. They’re a luxury who will be a necessity tonight.
Up two games to none in a best-of-seven series with the best pitcher on the planet scheduled to start Game Three is one hell of an enviable position. Unfortunately the Yankees are on the other side of that coin, down two-zip in the ALCS and slated to face Justin Verlander in his home ballpark tonight. That ain’t pretty.
Verlander, 29, put together another brilliant regular season — 2.64 ERA and 2.94 FIP in 238.1 innings — and seems to have gotten the postseason monkey off his back with a dominant ALDS showing. He came into 2012 with a 5.57 ERA in eight starts and 42 playoff innings but held the Athletics to one run in 16 total innings last week. Verlander was the worst possible matchup for the free swinging and strikeout heavy A’s, a description that unfortunately fits the Yankees’ offense at the moment as well.
2012 Performance vs. Yankees
The Yankees saw Verlander in all three series against Detroit in the regular season, beating him twice before that career-high strikeout total-tying performance in August. That game broken a stretch of six consecutive starts (playoffs included) against New York in which the right-hander allowed at least one first inning run.
The Yankees have actually hit Verlander harder than any other AL team in his career, a span of 13 starts and 345 batters faced. The problem is that his career started in 2005 and most of that information is irrelevant. The Yankees managed to hang five runs on him twice this year, but that still isn’t encouraging. Even if the offense was clicking on all cylinders at the moment, beating Verlander would still be a tall order. Now that they’re mired in a team-wide mega-slump, it seems like generating offense off him with take a miracle.
Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)
There is no mystery here. Verlander gets ahead with his mid-to-high-90s fastball (he famously adds velocity in the later innings) and puts hitters away with his knee-buckling upper-70/low-80s curveball. He’ll also throw a mid-80s slider to righties that breaks more down-and-away (like Joba Chamberlain‘s) than side-to-side. Verlander’s mid-80s changeup has morphed in a knockout pitch against lefties because he throws it with the same arm speed as his fastball. Felix Hernandez might have something to say about it, but there’s a very strong case to be made that the Detroit right-hander has the best pure stuff in the business. Two top of the line pitches in the fastball and curveball plus two other above-average offerings in the slider and changeup. Just filthy.
Performance & Results
Well, I hope you weren’t looking for a platoon split because Verlander dominates everyone. Maybe right-handed batters have a slightly better chance against him because he strikes out a touch fewer, but … nah. The guy is a machine and any team that faces him should run their very best lineup out there and forget all about platoon splits. The problem is that the Yankees don’t have a very best lineup right now, at least nothing outside of Mark Teixeira and Raul Ibanez in the middle of the order. The only thing I have to add here is that Verlander will let you steal a base, so anyone who reaches base tonight should be thinking about a stolen base as soon as possible.