2017 ALDS Game Three: Indians at Yankees

2017-alds-logoThe season is on the brink. The Yankees dropped Games One and Two of the ALDS in Cleveland, Game Two in particularly gut-wrenching fashion, and now they are one loss away from going home for the winter. All they have to do to extend their season is beat a team that hasn’t lost three straight games since July in three straight games. The Indians have lost only four of their last 39 games as well. Zoinks.

Coming back from a 0-2 deficit in the ALDS doesn’t happen often, but it isn’t unprecedented. The Yankees themselves have done it once before. They rallied from an 0-2 deficit to beat the 102-win Athletics in the 2001 ALDS. That was the Derek Jeter flip play series. Some quick numbers:

  • Teams that win the first two games of the ALDS at home are 38-6 in the series overall (86.4%).
  • Teams that win the first two games of the ALDS regardless of venue are 49-7 in the series overall (87.5%).
  • Since 2004, teams that win the first two games of the ALDS are 30-2 in the series overall (93.8%).

You don’t have to look too far back for the last time a team came back from an 0-2 deficit to win the ALDS. The 2015 Blue Jays did it against the Rangers after dropping the first two games at home. That was the Jose Bautista bat flip series. The only other team since 2004 to come back from an 0-2 LDS deficit to win the series is the 2012 Giants. They did it against the Reds. Is a comeback from an 0-2 deficit against the powerhouse Indians possible? Of course! Reality says it’s very unlikely.

Before you can win three straight, you need to win one, and as Alex Speier writes, just about every team that came back from 0-2 received a dominant start in Game Three. The flip play gets all the attention and understandably so, but Mike Mussina threw seven shutout innings in Game Three of that 2001 ALDS against the A’s. Tonight the Yankees are asking Masahiro Tanaka, who struck out 15 last time out, to save their season. Here are the starting lineups:

Cleveland Indians
1. SS Francisco Lindor
2. CF Jason Kipnis
3. 2B Jose Ramirez
4. RF Jay Bruce
5. 1B Carlos Santana
6. LF Austin Jackson
7. DH Michael Brantley
8. C Roberto Perez
9. 3B Giovanny Urshela
RHP Carlos Carrasco

New York Yankees
1. LF Brett Gardner
2. RF Aaron Judge
3. C Gary Sanchez
4. SS Didi Gregorius
5. 2B Starlin Castro
6. 1B Greg Bird
7. 3B Todd Frazier
8. DH Jacoby Ellsbury
9. CF Aaron Hicks
RHP Masahiro Tanaka

Not the best weather in New York. It rained this morning and it’s supposed to rain again later tonight, around midnight or so, but there’s a big enough window to play Game Three, even one of those extra slow moving postseason games. Tonight’s game will start at 7:30pm ET and FOX Sports 1 will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

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?