MLB announced today that Game Four of the ALDS begin at 8:37pm ET on Thursday unless the Tigers and Athletics have to play a Game Five. In that case, the game will begin at 7:37pm ET. Game Five, if necessary, will begin at 7:07pm ET on Friday unless the Nationals and Cardinals have to play a Game Five. If they do, the Yankees and Orioles will have their game bumped up to 5:07pm ET. Got it? Good.
As I said this morning, splitting the first two games of the ALDS in Baltimore isn’t ideal but it’s far from the worst case scenario. Game Two was eminently winnable — the final 13 Yankees to bat could have either tied the game or given the team the lead with one swing — and the Yankees were a lot closer to finishing the first two games of the series up 2-0 than down 0-2. Now they get to come home for the rest of the ALDS thanks to MLB’s convoluted scheduling.
Like almost every other team in the history of baseball, the Yankees are a better team in their own building. They hit better at home this year (119 vs. 109 wRC+), they pitched better at home this year (3.67 vs. 4.06 ERA), and they won more games at home this year (.630 vs. .543 winning percentage). The Yankees were a really good team on the road this season, but they were even better at home. As much as I dislike this year’s playoff schedule, it does work in New York’s favor for this series.
I’m sure that by now, you’ve already been reminded that the Orioles actually won six of nine games in the Bronx this year. I don’t put much stock regular season performances carrying over to the postsason, but I know there are a lot of people who think it’s meaningful. The piece of the pie that’s missing is the fact that four of those six wins for Baltimore came against pitchers who aren’t even on the Yankees’ playoff roster — Ivan Nova (three) and Freddy Garcia (one). Seriously, in three starts against the Orioles at home, Nova allowed 19 runs in 16.2 innings. That information has been ignored while that “six wins in nine games” stat has circulated.
Anyway, the Yankees are coming back home for the rest of the series and only need to win two of three to advance to the ALCS for the third time in four years. I really, really hope they win the next two to ensure an off-day between the two rounds, but the most important thing is simply advancing. We can give out style points later. Hiroki Kuroda gets the ball in Game Three tomorrow night, and he’s an offspeed machine who works the edges of the zone well enough to take advantage of Baltimore’s middling walk rate (7.8%) and high strikeout rate (21.3%, third highest in the league). Splitting the first two games isn’t great, but the Yankees are still setup well for the remainder of the series in their own park.
The first two games of the ALDS have been similar but different. Similar in the sense that both were extremely close games for almost all nine innings, different in the sense that the Yankees had the big ninth inning in Game One but not Game Two. As thrilling as Sunday night’s win was, the Orioles weren’t just to roll over and give New York the rest of the series. They were hot on their tails for the division in September and aren’t going to go away quietly.
One similarity between Games One and Two of the series is that Chris Davis has really put a hurting on the Yankees. He went 2-for-4 in both games (all singles), and all four hits came off lefties CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. The 26-year-old Davis actually didn’t show much of a platoon split in the regular season, posting a 121 wRC+ against righties and a 111 mark against lefties. For his career, those numbers are 104 and 86, respectively, but there are sample size issues (only 416 plate appearances against southpaws).
Davis performed well against same-side pitchers this year (and last year for that matter), so he shouldn’t be considered a platoon bat despite his strikeout woes. He hits for big time power and as we’ve seen these last two days, he can also slap some singles. If you go back to the last three weeks of the regular season, Davis hit .352/.418/.746 with eight homers in Baltimore’s final 20 regular season games. The guy finished the season on fire and he’s carried it over into the postseason, and right now he’s making the Yankees pay.
In the first two games of the ALDS, Davis has seen a total of 18 pitches in his eight plate appearances. Ten of those 18 pitches were sliders, the other eight some kind of fastball (four-seamer, cutter, etc.). Davis has taken just six pitches in the series — three fastballs on the inner half and three pitches in the dirt (two fastballs and a slider). Here is a plot of the dozen pitches he’s offered at (via Texas Leaguers)…
The two hits in Game One came on fastballs — the red square and upside pink triangle, to be exact — while the two hits in Game Two came on sliders, including that one just hanging up near the top of the zone. That was the two-run third inning single off Pettitte. Davis has swung and missed three times in the series, all three times on those down-and-away sliders. Based on his heat map against lefties (blue is good for pitchers, red is bad), throwing him fastballs up-and-in and sliders down-and-away is a pretty good plan of attack for left-handed pitchers. Pettitte hung some sliders and got burned while that inside fastball Davis hit for a single was actually just a broken bat bloop. Can’t really blame Sabathia for that.
With both Clay Rapada and Boone Logan in the bullpen, the Yankees should have no trouble matching up with the Orioles’ big left-handed batter in the later innings. Hiroki Kuroda and Phil Hughes are scheduled to start the next two games though, so the whole fastball up-and-in and slider down-and-away approach goes out the window for the right-handers. Here is Davis’ heat map against righties (via Baseball Heat Maps)…
As I said before, blue is good for the pitchers and red (or in this case, green) is bad. What the map is telling us is how Davis performs on pitches in these locations compared to the league average, so he’s been effective on pitches up in the zone but not so much down at the knees, particularly away. Kuroda should have no trouble getting the ball down with his splitter, but it will be a challenge for Hughes. He pitches up in the zone with his fastball, which is why he gets so many fly balls and swings and misses. Phil will have to be careful with Davis come Game Four.
The Yankees have done a pretty good job of keeping Adam Jones (1-for-8), Matt Wieters (also 1-for-8), and J.J. Hardy (1-for-7 with a walk) in check during the first two games of the series, but Davis is the one guy who has really given them trouble each time through the lineup. He will strike out a bunch (30.1% strikeouts this year), so going after him with offspeed pitches down in the zone will be important these next two games. Catching too much of the plate like Sabathia and Pettitte did could result in big problems given Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch.
If you’ve been reading my stuff for the last few years, you know I’m a big fan of tinkering with the lineup throughout the season. Mark Teixeira stinks in April? Fine, drop him down a spot or three and give the hot hand a few more at-bats. Raul Ibanez is hitting well? Great, maybe bump him up so he gets a chance to do damage with more men on-base. Lineups aren’t all that important in big picture, but they can very important in one individual game or, by extension, a short playoff series.
The Yankees have used almost the exact same lineup for the first two games of the ALDS, which means a top six of Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, and Mark Teixeira. Jeter and Ichiro have done a swell job of setting the table, going a combined 7-for-17 (.412) with a double in the two games. They generated a first inning run in both games and outside of the Cap’n’s inning-ending ground ball to third with the bases loaded in the fourth inning last night, they’ve come up with some timely hits.
Teixeira has also produced well in the ALDS, with a pair of two-hit games (plus a walk thrown in). All four hits are singles, though at least two would have been doubles for someone with even average speed. Tex isn’t the fastest guy in the world to start with, but his calf injury has him in the Jorge Posada and miscellaneous Molinas pantheon of slowpokes. Cano has a run-scoring double in each game and Swisher reached base three times in Game One before coming up empty in Game Two.
And then there’s A-Rod, the most polarizing player in recent Yankees history and everyone’s favorite whipping boy. He drew a walk and struck out three times in Game One, then singled in struck out twice more in Game Two. Robert Andino stole a surefire run-scoring single away from him in the first inning last night with a diving stop at second, a hard-hit ball just hit to the wrong place. A-Rod is a career .271/.380/.484 hitter in the postseason, including .254/.381/.463 with the Yankees, but his failures get magnified more than anyone else’s.
So, naturally, after two disappointing games to open the playoffs there is talk of moving him down in the order or even benching him for the Eric Chavez. That second idea is a little ridiculous but the first one isn’t, yet Joe Girardi maintains that he won’t change the lineup because he “(believes) these guys are going to come through.” It’s the standard stock answer he’s been delivering all year, and on a number of occasions he switched up the lineup despite indications that no moves were coming. There’s no reason for Girardi to be truthful about this stuff, announcing that any hitter will be moved in the lineup serves zero benefit.
Now, there are valid reasons to move A-Rod down in the order for Game Three of the ALDS (and beyond), but you don’t need to focus on his recent playoff performance (.169/.282/.203 since 2010) for evidence. Frankly, what he or anyone else did in 2010 is pretty irrelevant in 2012. The case for moving A-Rod down comes from his performance since coming back from the hand injury, which features a .261/.341/.369 batting line in 129 plate appearances. I’ve mentioned this before, but hand injuries tend to linger. If he doesn’t have enough strength in that left hand following the broken bone, he won’t be able to grip or swing a bat properly. That certainly appears to be the case now as Alex just isn’t hitting for any power.
So the question now becomes where do you move him? Flip-flopping him and Teixeira seems like a fine idea if you buy into Teixeira turning it around following his slow return from the calf injury, or they could just move A-Rod down to sixth and bump everyone up a peg, allowing Cano to bat third. The generic lineup optimization answer is that the best hitter should hit fourth because the number three hitter will come up with the bases empty and two outs quite often, but as I said earlier, Jeter and Ichiro have been a two-man wrecking crew atop the lineup for the last four weeks or so.
Moving Cano up to third makes sense and it really doesn’t matter who the Yankees have hitting behind him because it won’t prompt the Orioles to pitch to him in a big spot anyway. Unless the Yankees reanimate the corpse of Babe Ruth, Robbie will be pitched around no matter what in a big spot. Finding someone to take advantage of those situations behind Cano is important and I have no idea who that is — Teixeira? Swisher? Ibanez? Russell Martin? Who knows. It’s not A-Rod at this point, who simply is missing hittable pitches and not really driving the ball when he connects. There are valid reasons to move him down in the batting order, and they stem from his hand injury and his performance since coming off the DL. Not his recent playoff history.
A split in Baltimore for the first two games of the ALDS wasn’t ideal, but it’s far from the worst case scenario. The final three games of the series will be played in Yankee Stadium, which I consider advantage Yankees even though the Orioles won six of nine there this season. We’ve been through this “Team A did this against Team B in the regular season and therefore have the advantage in a playoff series” dance how many times in the last few years now?
1. The ALDS is now a best-of-three and it’s great that all three games will be in the Bronx, but the playoff schedule this year is such a mess. If this series happens to go five games, the winner will have to use their fifth starter in the ALCS because Games One and Two of that series immediately follow Game Five of this one. How ridiculous is that? Finish with the best record in the league and that’s the reward? The new playoff system was rushed into place this year and the schedule is a nightmare. I wish they would have just waited until the Astros moved to AL next season and made all the changes at once. I guess the teams and the league stood to make too much money by implementing it this year, half-assed or not.
2. As our Bullpen Workload page shows, pretty much every reliever on the ALDS roster other than David Robertson will have had a full week of rest going into Game Three. That’s a good thing because for a long time those guys were really getting worked hard, but a full week off is entering the danger zone of being rusty (poor location) when they finally do get into a game. They’ll need all the rest they can get because playing five games in the next five days is a very real possibility, but there was so much time off between the end of the regular season and the start of the ALDS that these guys might need an inning or two to regain their feel.
3. While on the bullpen subject, you ready for a weird stat? The Yankees haven’t had a save opportunity in the playoffs since Game One of the 2010 ALCS. They won Game Five of that series in a blowout, won Games One and Four of the 2011 ALDS in blowouts, and won Game One of this series in a blowout. Twelve games since their last postseason save chance. Weird.
4. What the hell happened to the routine play? Derek Jeter threw away a ball while Mark Teixeira and J.J. Hardy let ground balls get through their legs in last night’s game, but it’s not just that. Routine plays are being botched all around the postseason — pop-ups are falling in, pitchers are throwing away bunts, all that stuff. Basic plays you practice on the first day of Spring Training. It’s just unbelievable to watch all these easy routine plays turn into game-changing mistakes. The World Series is going to come down to whoever turns the most routine plays into outs, I guess.
5. The Yankees have to do a better job against the Orioles’ left-handed hitters, specifically Nate McLouth and Chris Davis. Those two are a combined 6-for-16 (.375) in the series with a two-run single in each game so far, and that’s against New York’s top two left-handed starters in CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte. They’ve kept Adam Jones and Matt Wieters in check while keeping Mark Reynolds in the park, so those guy aren’t killing them. McLouth, who was on the verge of playing in an independent league a few months, and Davis are. Those two are going to bat first and third in every game of the series forward and the Yankees have to do a better job of keeping them off base and more importantly, doing damage when there are runners on base.
6. Total homers hit in the postseason so far: ten in ten games (counting the two wildcard play-in games), so one per game. All of those have come against the supposed numbers one and two starters of team, right? No one started their number four or five guy out of necessity. Even when Johnny Cueto got hurt in the first inning of Game One, Mat Latos come in to pitch in long relief. The MLB average this year was 0.94 homers per game. Runs per game in general are down — 8.57 runs per game in the regular season to 7.25 in the playoffs — and you know why that it is? Because stringing together a rally with multiple hits against top pitchers is much harder than hitting homers off them. Good pitchers make fewer mistakes, and when you get a mistake you have to make it count. I will fight the ridiculous “you can’t hit homers off good pitching in the playoffs” narrative ’til the death, right after I finish watching this Edgar Renteria highlight.
It’s a best-of-three series now. The Yankees fell to the Orioles by the score of 3-2 in Game Two of the ALDS following another rain delay, this one only 40 minutes or so.
The Ichiro Reach Around
I can’t even explain that. Ichiro Suzuki was dead at the plate on Robinson Cano’s two-out double in the first, but then … that … happened. Sort of a double pirouette to avoid the tag and get the hand in to score the run. The TBS broadcast showed about a million different replays from all sorts of angles, and they all showed the same thing: Ichiro avoided the tag. You could see it on Matt Wieters’ face after the safe call. We give umpire Angel Hernandez a real hard time, but he got that call right. (.gif via Chad Moriyama)
Anyway, that inning featured a lot more than one great slide. Derek Jeter (line drive to right-center) and Ichiro (grounder that Mark Reynolds tried to barehand) opened the game with singles in 0-2 counts, starting the night off on the right foot. Alex Rodriguez lined into a 4-6 double play that could have easily been a 4-6-3 triple play had Ichiro not scurried back to first in time. Robert Andino made a diving stop to catch the line drive before flipping to J.J. Hardy at the bag to double off Jeter. Just bad luck for Alex, he scorched the ball back up the box but the defender made a great catch. Cano picked him up with a rocket double into the right field corner to score Ichiro, but yeah that was a terrible send by third base coach Robbie Thomson. Gotta love those first inning runs though. Second straight night too.
After the Yankees scored a run in the first, the Orioles rallied back to plate a pair in the bottom of third. Pretty much a carbon copy of Game One, right down to the hanging breaking ball to the left-handed batter that resulted in the two-run single. The two-out rally started with bloop hits from Robert Andino and Nate McLouth, at least one of which broke a bat. J.J. Hardy loaded the bases with a four-pitch walk that if you didn’t know any better, you would have though was intentional so Pettitte could face the left-handed Chris Davis. He didn’t seem particularly interested in challenging Hardy with two men on.
Davis lined the hanging slider into right for a two-run single, giving the Orioles a 2-1 lead. Things could have been a lot worse when Adam Jones’ ground ball scooted by Jeter at short, but Hardy held at third on a ball he would have easily scored on. Replays shows that the third base coach waved him in and that A-Rod deked him by acting like he caught a relay throw from short and was about to apply the tag. No idea if that played a part on the hold, but either way a run that should have scored did not. Wieters popped up to second one batter later to end the inning, so the base-running blunder really helped the Yankees out.
Again like Sunday’s game, the Yankees had a chance to answer Baltimore’s third inning run in the fourth. Unlike Sunday’s game, they didn’t convert it into a run. Nick Swisher struck out to open the inning, but Mark Teixeira (single), Russell Martin (walk), and Curtis Granderson (single) reached base after that to load the bases with one out. In many ways, the two right hitters were due up in Eduardo Nunez and Jeter. They both make a lot of contact and that’s all you’re looking for in that spot. Unfortunately, Nunez’s contact was a pop-up to short and Jeter’s was a grounder to third to end the threat.
The Yankees did plate a run in the seventh, but not after the Orioles extended their lead to two in the sixth. Nunez started the inning with a hustle double — Davis gets an assist for his ill-advised dive in shallow right — and Jeter plated him with a line drive single to left, another hit in an 0-2 count. The managerial machinations went into overdrive after that, as Ichiro tried to bunt Jeter to second only to fall behind in the count 0-2. He wound up grounding into a fielder’s choice, barely beating out the double play. Ichiro then stole second as A-Rod struck which, unsurprisingly, took the bat out of Cano’s hand. Swisher grounded out to end the inning. The steal was just generic “let’s get the man in scoring position” stuff without regard for the game situation — a runner at first is in scoring position when Cano is at the plate. He proved it in the first inning. Gotta let him swing the bat in that spot.
Teixeira led off the eighth with a single but didn’t advance any further because Martin struck out, Granderson struck out, and Nunez popped up into foul territory to end the inning. I wanted Brett Gardner to run for Tex there because 1) that run is really important, and 2) his spot in the lineup isn’t guaranteed to come up again in the game. Even if it did, Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez were both on the bench. Plus Teixeira is so slow he practically needs a walker, which is why he didn’t score on Granderson’s single in the third. Maybe they pitch everyone differently with the speedy Gardner on first (more fastballs?), but it doesn’t matter now. The Yankees had their chances to score runs and even went a not terrible (but not great) 2-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Teixeira’s single was their final base-runner of the game and Gardner never pinch-ran. Bullet left in the chamber.
Three runs in seven innings is a pretty typical Andy Pettitte start, meaning rock solid and dependable. Allowing three hits to lefties (one by McLouth and two by Davis) was quite annoying, but otherwise he only allowed seven hits total (six singles) and walked just one against five strikeouts. Two of the hits were bloops and another two were weak little ground balls just beyond the reach of Jeter and Cano on the middle infield.
Pettitte allowed the leadoff man to reach base in fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth innings, but not all of that was his fault. Jeter made a throwing error on Reynolds’ ground ball to start the fourth, Teixeira allowed a ground ball to get through his legs to start the fifth (he’s lucky it hit the ump otherwise the runner would have been on second), and Andy shouldn’t even have been sent back out for the eighth. Forty-year-old pitcher nearing 100 pitches facing the molten hit Davis for the fourth time with a rested bullpen and a day off on Tuesday … get a fresh arm in there. What the hell. Anyway, David Robertson came in to clean up the inning and no damage was done. At one point he threw like eight straight curveballs. Pettitte did his part, he kept his team in the game all night.
The Yankees had a four-pitching inning offensively in the fifth, part of a span in which Chen got five outs against the middle of the order on eleven total pitches. Teixeira and Jeter were the only players with two hits apiece while everyone else other than Swisher and Martin had exactly one knock. One of the two walks was intentional (Cano in the eighth) and the other was drawn by Martin. Nine of the final eleven Yankees to bat made outs, and one of the exceptions was Cano’s intentional walk. The Orioles have a really good bullpen and they rebounded to nail things down after the Game One disaster.
Hernandez had his typical ridiculous strike zone, which at times apparently shifted from being big on the right-handed batter’s box side to big on the left-handed batter’s box side. That’s just the way it goes with him though, and both teams got screwed at different times. I will say that the 1-1 called strike to Nunez in the fourth inning (strike zone plot) was a killer that changed the entire complexion of the at-bat. Here’s a strike zone plot for the entire game. Ugly.
Some Buck Showalter weirdness: After Ichiro’s stolen base in the seventh, Showalter replaced Darren O’Day with the left-handed Brian Matusz only to have Matusz intentionally walk Cano. Usually you’d just let O’Day issue the walk since he was coming out of the game. Pitchers always seems to lose the strike zone a bit after an intentional walk, and sure enough Matusz’s first real pitch was in the dirt for a wild pitch that allowed the runners to move up. Maybe Buck was going to pitch to Cano and changed his mind after bringing in Matusz? Just a really weird move that ultimately didn’t come back to bite the Orioles.
Box Score & WPA Graph
MLB.com has the box score and video highlights. This one was pretty straight forward, no?
Tuesday is a travel day, so these two clubs will reconvene at Yankee Stadium for Game Three on Wednesday night. The start time for that one will be either 7:37pm or 8:37pm ET (on TBS) depending on what happens with some of the other playoff series. Hiroki Kuroda will get that start against rookie right-hander Miguel Gonzalez. Check out RAB Tickets for any last minute deals on tickets.
Welp, you can’t say they didn’t have their chances. The Yankees dropped Game Two of the ALDS to the Orioles despite Andy Pettitte’s admirable seven innings of work. More to come … eventually.