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

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

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

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

1. Tanaka needs to ace it

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

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

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

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

2. Severino needs to bounce back

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

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

3. Cold bats need to come alive

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Dumb luck

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

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

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

Matt Holliday doesn’t have a clear role in the ALDS

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

All but five players on the Yankees’ 25-man ALDS roster have played in this series.

Two of the five are the Game 3 and 4 starters, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino, who will each pitch if the series gets to Monday. One is Jordan Montgomery, the break in case of emergency reliever or blowout mop-up man. Another is Austin Romine, the backup catcher.

And then there’s Matt Holliday. What’s his role again? That’s a good question.

Holliday is no longer the designated hitter. That much is clear. The Yankees have flipped between Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley at DH for the last week except during last Sunday’s meaningless game vs. the Jays. While starting Ellsbury at DH means no true backup outfielder, Joe Girardi has gone with him anyway.

Now 37-years-old, Holliday hasn’t played the outfield all year and there’s obviously no way he’s starting ahead of Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks or Aaron Judge. It’s highly doubtful the team feels comfortable with him playing the field, even at first base, which he played a few times early in the year. Greg Bird is the man at first, with Headley and Todd Frazier likely ahead of Holliday in the pecking order.

So where does Holliday fit in? In theory, he makes most sense pinch hitting (or starting) against left-handed pitching. He has normal splits, batting .220/.301/.418 (89 wRC+) vs. RHP and .267/.366/.477 (125 wRC+) vs. LHP.

The Indians have a rotation with 4-6 righties and no lefties. That means no starts.

So that leaves him as logically only worth pinch hitting against the two lefties on the Indians’ roster: former Yankees Andrew Miller and Tyler Olson. Olson pitched to only Ellsbury, Frazier and Gardner in the third/fourth inning on Friday, too early to go to a pinch hitter for Ellsbury.

Miller has pitched against the DH twice in this series. In the eighth inning on Thursday, Girardi kept Headley up there with none on and one out (he drew a walk). With Ellsbury coming up and none on, two outs in the eighth on Friday, Girardi pinch hit … Headley, not Holliday.

So in the most logical spot to use Holliday, Girardi chose Headley instead. It’s hard to quibble with the decision, too. Headley had walked vs. Miller the day before and was 5 for 7 with that walk against Miller in his career going into Friday night. Those numbers are hard to argue with.

That’s before you mention that Holliday is 0-for-4 vs. Miller and 0-for-1 vs. Olson in his career. He’s just 1-for-7 as a pinch hitter this year, 9-for-43 in his career. He doesn’t seem well-suited for the job he ostensibly fills.

So I repeat: What is his role on this roster? The Yankees could have used another pinch runner or an extra outfielder, which Tyler Wade or Clint Frazier could provide. They have DH covered. They aren’t facing many LHPs and Miller pitches well against both lefties and righties.

After being unable to play in National League parks early in the year, Holliday ironically makes the most sense in a series against an NL squad where pinch-hitting opportunities abound and all four playoff squads feature left-handed starters.

When asked on Saturday whether Holliday would play on Sunday, Girardi said, “We will continue to look at things and we’ll see.” He’s 1-for-4 with a single against Carlos Carrasco in his career, which is better than Headley’s numbers against the Indians’ starter. However, Ellsbury hits him well (8-for-21 with a triple, home run and two walks), so he makes the most sense to start.

And that likely leaves Holliday waiting on the bench once again, the 25th man on the 25-man roster. Maybe he finds his way into this series, facing Olson at an opportune time or being used to deke Terry Francona away from even going to the lefty. However, it seems like the Yankees could have put the spot to better use than a RHB without a clear position or role.

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.

Saturday Night Open Thread

I woke up this morning still annoyed Joe Girardi did not challenge the Lonnie Chisenhall hit-by-pitch last night. It was a reverse Wild Card Game win. I woke up the next day still feeling sky high after the win over the Twins. Now I’m still irked by the non-challenge, a non-challenge Girardi he took responsibility for today. Would’ve been nice if he’d done that yesterday instead of spouting that cockamamie excuse about not wanting to break the pitcher’s rhythm. Whatever. What’s done is done.

Here is an open thread for the night. Game Two of both NLDS matchups will be played today: Cubs at Nationals (5:30pm ET on TBS) and Diamondbacks at Dodgers (9pm ET on TBS). The (hockey) Rangers and Islanders are both playing tonight as well, plus there’s all that college football too. Talk about anything here that isn’t religion or politics. Keep it civil.

With the season on the line, the Yankees have to be ready to use Severino in relief in Game Three

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

For the second time in five days, the Yankees will play a win or go home game at Yankee Stadium tomorrow night, in Game Three of the ALDS. It didn’t have to be a win or go home. The Yankees blew an 8-3 lead in Game Two last night, with Joe Girardi‘s non-challenge of the Lonnie Chisenhall would-be inning-ending foul tip strike three dominating headlines, and rightfully so. It was a bad, bad decision.

The task ahead is extremely daunting. To advance to the ALCS, the Yankees have to beat the Indians three straight games, and this is an Indians team that a) has not lost three straight games since July, and b) has lost only four of their last 39 games overall. Rough. You have to win one before you can win three though, and tomorrow night the Yankees will try to win that one.

And, given their current situation — a loss tomorrow ends a season that has been so fun no one wants it to end — Girardi and the Yankees need to be prepared to do basically whatever it takes to win, and that includes using Luis Severino in relief. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The bullpen is gassed. A bullpen game in the Wild Card Game sounds great until your top relievers are running on fumes in the ALDS. Chad Green looked worn down yesterday and David Robertson has to be feeling it after throwing 77 high stress pitches the last four days. Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman both went multiple innings in Game Two as well.
  2. He might not pitch in the series otherwise. If the Yankees do not use Severino in relief in Game Three, it is entirely possible they lose the ALDS without their best pitcher throwing a single pitch. That can’t happen. He is one of the team’s best weapons and he has to be used, especially with the season on the line.

So, what’s the plan here, exactly? Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled start Game Three tomorrow, and I’d say the plan should be Tanaka for as long as possible, Severino out of the bullpen for as long as possible, then hopefully Chapman to close it out. If the Yankees have to use other relievers somewhere along the line, so be it. Severino has bullpen experience. We know he can do it, and he’d be on normal rest tomorrow following his short Wild Card Game start.

The alternative here would be simply starting Severino in Game Three tomorrow, and hey, that’s a great idea. Like I said, he’d be on normal rest, so that’s not a problem. My concern here is that it doesn’t help the bullpen at all. Tanaka does have some bullpen experience — he closed out Game Seven of the 2013 Japan Series, and also pitched in relief early in his career — though it has been a while, and besides, do you want him doing that given The Elbow™?

I think starting Tanaka and letting Severino be the first guy out of the bullpen gives the Yankees the best chance to win Game Three tomorrow, at least on the pitching side of things. It’s unclear how much Green and Robertson (and Betances and Chapman) can provide right now. It might not be much based on last night. So, the options are a) continue to ride those fatigued relievers, b) rely on lesser relievers, or c) use Severino in relief. Give me (c).

If the Yankees use Severino in relief tomorrow and actually win, they’d then need to come up with a starter for Game Four on Monday, and that’s a bridge you cross when you come to it. Maybe Jordan Montgomery gets the ball? Or Jaime Garcia following his solid relief work in Game One? Sonny Gray on short rest could be an option. I hope this is a decision the Yankees have to make, because that means the season will not have ended tomorrow.

The Yankees right now have to treat every game like a Game Seven, because it is a Game Seven. One more loss and they’re going home for the winter. And in Game Seven, using Severino in relief — Girardi said Severino was available yesterday had the game gone deep into extra innings — is such an obvious move. He gives you the best chance to win. With their bullpen gassed and their season on the line, using Severino out of the bullpen tomorrow is a no-brainer.

Saturday Links: Otani, Denbo, Judge, Sanchez, YES Network

(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)
(Atsushi Tomura/Getty)

The Yankees and Indians have an off-day today as the ALDS shifts from Cleveland to New York. The best-of-five series will resume with Game Three tomorrow night. Here are some links to check out in the meantime.

Otani dazzles in possible final start in Japan

Shohei Otani, who may or may not come to MLB this offseason, made what could be his final start for the Nippon Ham Fighters earlier this week. He struck out ten in a two-hit shutout of the Orix Buffaloes, and Jason Coskrey says dozens of MLB scouts attended the game. Otani finished the season with a 3.20 ERA in 25.1 innings and a .340/.413/.557 batting line in 63 games. He missed time with quad and ankle problems, hence the limited time on the mound.

Joel Sherman says the Yankees are “known to be extremely interested” in Otani, who, if he does come over this year, will come over under the old posting rules. That means the (Ham) Fighters will set a $20M release fee. MLB and NPB are currently renegotiating the posting agreement for other players going forward. The Yankees have roughly $2M in international bonus money to offer Otani based on my estimates, though if he comes over this year, it won’t be for top dollar. Basically no team has much international money to offer. Otani will go wherever he thinks is the best fit based on his own personal preferences. Good luck predicting that.

Denbo expected to join Marlins

Folks in baseball expect Yankees vice president of player development Gary Denbo to join Derek Jeter and the Marlins this offseason, reports Jon Heyman. Marlins general manager Mike Hill is expected to remain on, with Denbo coming over to head up their player development department, the same department he runs for the Yankees now. Denbo’s contract is up after the season, so he’s free to come and go as he chooses.

Jeter and Denbo are very close and go back a long away, and I figured Jeter would try to poach him once we found out he was buying the Marlins. Denbo has done a phenomenal job turning around the farm system and the Yankees will miss him, assuming they can’t convince him to stay. Who will take over the farm system? I have no idea. The Yankees will find someone. I’m curious to see which Yankees farmhands the Marlins try to acquire going forward. You know Denbo has some personal favorites in the system.

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

Judge had most popular jersey in 2017

The most popular player jersey this season, according to sales on MLB.com, belongs to Aaron Judge. Here is the press release. The average age of the top 20 players in jersey sales is 27, so that’s fun. Here’s the top five:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees
  2. Kris Bryant, Cubs
  3. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
  4. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
  5. Bryce Harper, Nationals

Also in the top 20 jersey sales: Gary Sanchez. He ranked 15th in jersey sales overall and sixth among AL players, behind Judge, Mike Trout, Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts, and Jose Altuve. Only two pitchers in the top 20, which is kinda weird. Kershaw is fourth and Noah Syndergaard is 19th. The people love dingers, I guess.

YES Network ratings up 57%

Not surprisingly, the YES Network’s rating were up a whopping 57% this season, the network announced yesterday. This season’s ratings were the best in five years. Primetime game broadcasts on YES had higher ratings than the primetime schedules of all other cable networks in New York, plus ratings for non-game broadcasts (pregame and postgame shows, etc.) were up as well. Ratings outside the city also increased substantially. Turns out if you put a very good and very fun team on the field, people will watch. Who woulda thunk it?

Indians 9, Yankees 8: Yanks grab defeat from jaws of victory in Game Two of ALDS

I don’t even know what to say. A litany of mistakes turned an 8-3 lead into a disastrous 9-8 loss in 13 innings Friday night, putting a Yankees on the brink of elimination in the ALDS. There are no excuses for this one and plenty of blame to go around, and no one deserves more blame than Joe Girardi.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Sometimes Indecision Is Worse Than A Bad Decision
This game turned in the sixth inning. I’ll get to everything that happened before the sixth and after the sixth in a little bit, but right now, let’s focus on the sixth. The Yankees took an 8-3 lead into that sixth inning and CC Sabathia was cruising. He’d retired 11 straight batters before walking Carlos Santana on four pitches to start the frame. Jay Bruce lined out softy to Didi Gregorius at shortstop and that was it, Sabathia’s evening was over.

Personally, I was totally cool with removing Sabathia, even after only 5.1 innings and 77 pitches. We’ve seen Sabathia have trouble this season once his pitch count gets over 80-85, so going to a fresh Chad Green in a very important postseason game was a-okay with me. I just didn’t expect Green to be less than dominant. He looked pretty fatigued. Following an Austin Jackson fly out and a Yan Gomes double, Green hit Lonnie Chisenhall in the hand with a two-strike fastball. It is maybe the single biggest play of the season.

Immediately, Gary Sanchez pointed to the dugout telling the coaching staff to ask for a review because the pitch did not actually hit Chisenhall in the hand. It hit the knob of the bat and deflected into Sanchez’s glove. That’s a foul tip! That’s strike three! The inning was over! Sanchez was telling the Yankees to challenge … and the challenge never came. Chisenhall went down to first and everyone looked at each other for a moment, but no challenge. Here’s the play:

I am going to repeat this: the ball hit the knob of the bat and deflected into Sanchez’s glove for an inning-ending foul tip strike three. That’s what the Yankees had to gain there. The third out of the inning with two men on base to preserve their 8-3 lead through six innings. Inexplicably, the play was not challenged, and two pitches later Francisco Lindor walloped a grand slam off the right field foul pole. That 8-3 lead was suddenly an 8-7 lead. Some numbers:

  • Yankees win probability had strike three been called: 97.3%
  • Yankees win probability after the hit-by-pitch to load the bases: 93.2%
  • Yankees win probability after the grand slam: 68.4%

The difference between a strike three and the grand slam was roughly 30 percentage points of win probability, which is massive. That’s on par with the biggest non-walk-off hits in baseball each season. Green was having trouble putting hitters away and did not look very good — he’d warmed up three times since the second inning, which probably didn’t help — and eventually put a yucky slider on a tee for Lindor.

We have to go back to the non-challenge though. I’ve been harping on this for years. Girardi does not use his challenges enough. He has a great success rate year after year, but he also challenges fewer plays than just about every other manager, and that feels like a giant waste. Furthermore, you get two challenges in the postseason, not one. And Girardi still did not use one. Did I mention it would’ve been an inning-ending strike three? Because it would’ve been an inning-ending strike three.

I don’t blame home plate umpire Dan Iassogna for calling that a hit-by-pitch. It happens so fast I think it’s easy to understand why you’d call it a hit-by-pitch. But it wasn’t, and plays like that are why replay exists. There was nothing Girardi could’ve said after the game to make things better. He instead somehow made them worse. Here’s the video, if you want to watch. Here’s what Girardi said about the non-challenge:

“There was nothing that told us he was not hit on the pitch. By the time we got the super slo-mo, we were a minute — probably beyond a minute — and it was way too late. They tell us we have 30 seconds … Being (an ex-catcher), my thought is I never want to break a pitcher’s rhythm. That’s how I think about it.”

I … uh … what? First of all, your catcher was telling you the batter was not hit by the pitch. Maybe Girardi would’ve listened if Austin Romine was behind the plate? If you’re not going to trust your starting catcher on a potentially huge play like that, it’s a big problem. Secondly, Chisenhall sure as heck did not react like a hitter who just a took pitch the hand, and that was an indication something was up. Pitches to the hand hurt. Girardi should know that. Chisenhall is either the toughest dude in history or he didn’t get hit.

And third, holy crap the “I never want to break a pitcher’s rhythm” stuff is unbelievable. What a joke. Girardi had no problem breaking Aroldis Chapman‘s rhythm in the tenth inning when a ball may or may not have been thrown into the camera well. He had no problem with the endless parade of mound visits we saw this summer breaking his pitcher’s rhythm. Something tells me Green would have been totally cool with sitting in the dugout with a five-run lead having his rhythm broken had the call be challenged and overturned.

That to me sounds like a manager who screwed up, knows he screwed up, and doesn’t want to admit he screwed up, so he came up with that ridiculous excuse. Where is the accountability? Aaron Judge struck out in a record 30-whatever straight games this year and answered every question, took all the blame after each game. Tyler Clippard coughed up how many games this year? He took responsibility for all of them. The manager completely botches a challenge situation in the postseason and we get “I never want to break a pitcher’s rhythm” as an answer? Seriously?

Even if Girardi challenges and the replay crew in New York doesn’t overturn the call, fine, who cares? You did all you could do. A play that enormous can not go unchallenged. Just challenge it. Don’t wait for the thumbs up from replay guru Brett Weber. It’s the sixth inning and possibly the last best chance for the Indians to get back in the game. It was inexplicable and a complete failure on Girardi’s part. This was his Buck Showalter/Zach Britton moment. He will never escape it. It is part of his legacy. The decision — indecision, really — flew in the face of common sense, it cost the Yankees dearly, and Girardi wouldn’t even accept responsibility. Awful. Absolutely awful.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Breaking Down The Klubot
Okay, let’s get to the rest of the game. Who had the Yankees scoring six runs in 2.2 innings against Corey Kluber? Not me. That’s for sure. Most runs he’s allowed this season. True story. Right in the very first inning it was clear Kluber was not the usual F.U. mode Corey Kluber. He walked Judge and gave up a two-run home run to Sanchez to give the Yankees a quick 2-0 lead. Hooray!

The best part: the Yankees continued to work Kluber after the homer. By time Aaron Hicks struck out to end the first inning, they’d forced Kluber to throw 38 — 38! — pitches. Kluber hadn’t thrown 30 pitches in an inning since July 9th, in his final start of the first half. Couldn’t have asked for a better start. Two innings later, Starlin Castro poked a two-strike single back up the middle to give the Yankees their third run, and two batters after that, Hicks crushed a three-run home run to right field. Look at this thing:

Given the stakes and the pitcher, it is one of my all-time favorite home runs. Kluber just could not get the third out of that third inning and Hicks made him pay big time on that hanging slider. Two innings after that, Greg Bird demolished a two-run home run against Mike Clevinger to stretch New York’s lead to 8-3. Eight runs through five innings in a game Kluber started? We all would’ve taken that in a heartbeat. More than anyone expected.

Sabathia Grinds It Out
Man do I love Sabathia. His defense does not, apparently. Right after the Yankees took that 2-0 lead in the top of the first, they gave it right back with a gift-wrapped rally. Todd Frazier made an error on Lindor’s ground ball — he tried to ole it and missed — Sabathia walked Jose Ramirez on four pitches, then Sabathia hit Edwin Encarnacion in the knee with a pitch to load the bases with one out. Suboptimal! Carlos Santana tied the game with a two-run single.

Austin Jackson opened the second inning with a single, then Frazier committed his second error of the game when his throw to second base on Gomes’ potential 5-4-3 double play short-hopped Castro at second. Castro couldn’t make the pick and both runners were safe. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners up, then the Yankees a) intentionally walked Lindor to load the bases, and b) brought the infield in. Why set up the double play with the intentional walk only to bring the infield in? I do not understand. Jason Kipnis poked a single threw the drawn in infield for a 3-2 lead. Sigh.

Had the Yankees gone on to win this game, I was all ready to write that Sabathia’s escape job in the second inning as the biggest moment of the game. The Yankees were down 3-2 and the Indians had the bases loaded with one out. Sabathia managed to get Ramirez to pop-up in foul territory and Michael Brantley to strike out to end the inning, limiting the damage. That was huge. Ramirez and Brantley were the first two batters of an eleven straight batters retired stretch.

Sabathia’s final line: 5.1 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 5 K. Frazier did him no favors with the two errors and Green allowed the runner he inherited from Sabathia to score as well. Like I said, I was cool with pulling Sabathia after 5.1 innings and 77 pitches. I just didn’t expect Green to come in and not be able to put guys away. He allowed nine two-strike foul balls to the four batters he faced. That’s not the Chad Green we saw all season.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Blowing The Rest Of The Game
The non-challenge and grand slam were terrible, BUT, the Yankees still had the lead. It was 8-7 and the Yankees needed some combination of nine outs from David Robertson — Robertson replaced Green after the grand slam — and other relievers to earn the win in Game Two. Easy? No, not against the Indians. But doable.

Robertson mowed through the middle of the order in the seventh inning, then, despite Girardi saying he might not be available at all following his extended outing in the Wild Card Game, Robertson went back out for the eighth inning as well. He then gave up the game-tying solo home run to Bruce. Remember when the Yankees didn’t claim him on trade waivers or agree to take on his salary at the trade deadline? Think they regret that one? They should.

The Bruce home run tied the game 8-8. It was pretty crushing. Tommy Kahnle came in to finish off the eighth inning, and in the ninth, out came Chapman. He threw a scoreless ninth and tenth inning. So, just to circle back, Chapman could throw two innings in a tie game but not two innings with a one-run lead. Why not just use him to start the eighth instead of a fatigued Robertson? What the hell is going on here? I can’t be the only one who thinks this makes no sense.

While the bullpen did its thing, the offense was busy doing not much of anything. They had five baserunners in 8.2 innings after Bird’s dinger. Frazier led off the sixth with a single, then Gardner banged into a double play. Frazier led off the eighth with a single, Gardner bunted him up, but Judge grounded out and Sanchez struck out. Bird drew a walk and Hicks singled to put men on the corners with two outs in the tenth, then Chase Headley grounded out.

Worst of all, Frazier reached base again leading off the 11th, this time when third baseman Erik Gonzalez threw away a routine ground ball. Threw it way over Santana at first base and into the stands, allowing Frazier to advance to second base. Pinch-runner Ronald Torreyes then ventured too far off the bag and was picked off by Gomes from behind the plate. Brutal. Just brutal. Torreyes was originally called safe before the play was overturned.

A potential rally was snuffed out just like that. The Yankees never had another baserunner. Meanwhile, on the mound, Dellin Betances was throwing fire for the second straight night. Six up, six down in the 11th and 12th. As good as Betances has looked all season. Girardi decided to send Dellin back out for a third inning, which is when things went south. Jackson worked a leadoff walk, stole second, then scored on Gomes’ walk-off double down the third base line to end the game. Betances gets saddled with the loss but doesn’t deserve it. That game was lost long before he took the mound.

Leftovers
The Yankees had eleven hits and somehow they were all tied up in five players. Two hits for Sanchez, two hits for Castro, two hits for Bird, two hits for Hicks, and three hits for Frazier. All other Yankees went 0-for-20. Judge did draw three walks though. Gregorius drew one and Bird had one as well. Eight runs should be enough. More than enough. I mean, six innings in 2.2 innings against Kluber and lose? Turrible.

Green was charged with three runs in one-third of an inning. Robertson, Kahnle, Chapman, and Betances then combined to allow two runs in 6.2 innings, which isn’t bad in the grand scheme of things, they just happened to be two back-breaking runs. The Bruce game-tying homer and the Gomes walk-off double. Well, technically it was scored a single, but it would’ve been a double under normal circumstances.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Head over to ESPN for the box score and MLB.com for the video highlights. Here’s our Bullpen Workload page and here’s the loss probability graph …


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The ALDS now shifts from Cleveland to New York, where the Yankees have been a much better team in 2017. Hopefully that trend continues in Game Three. It kinda has to. This season has been fun as hell and I’m not ready for it to end. Saturday is a travel day and the series will resume Sunday night. Masahiro Tanaka and Carlos Carrasco are the Game Three scheduled starting pitchers. The Indians, in case you’re wondering, have not lost three consecutive games since June.