The Yankees and Greg Bird have waited a long time for him to do what he’s doing right now

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

Last night was, hands down, one of the most intense and thrilling games in new Yankee Stadium history. There have been plenty of emotional farewells and of course there was plenty of drama during the 2009 postseason, but last night? It’s hard to top that. A riveting 1-0 win in an elimination game against a great Indians team makes for wonderful baseball theater.

The Yankees scored their only run last night when, of all things, a left-handed batter took Andrew Miller deep. That doesn’t happen often. It only happened once in the regular season, in fact. But, leading off the seventh inning, Miller left a fastball up in the zone and Greg Bird turned it around for a mighty blast into the right field second deck. Here is the very necessary video:

Yankee Stadium was shaking. It was as loud as any postseason game at the old ballpark. These Yankees are good, they’re fun, and the fans are eating it up. All game long the crowd was waiting to erupt — Masahiro Tanaka did provide some nice stress-release moments along the way — and when Bird lifted that ball to right field, the place exploded. It was great. Everything you could want in a baseball game.

The Yankees are in the postseason right now mostly because their young players emerged as key contributors in a very short period of time. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Luis Severino were all All-Stars this year and are the headliners in the youth movement, and understandably so. There’s also Chad Green and Jordan Montgomery, and others like Clint Frazier and Miguel Andujar provided some exciting moments this year as well.

Bird was supposed to be part of that group this season. He hit third on Opening Day! Remember that? Bird tore the cover off the ball in Spring Training after missing all of last year with shoulder surgery, and it looked like he was poised to have a big year. Sanchez was the star of the show after last season, but Bird showed he could hit big league pitching in 2015, and now that he was healthy, he would reclaim his place as the first baseman of the future.

“I bet on it. To be honest with you, I bet on it. I bet on myself,” said Bird after last night’s win. “I got a little taste in 2015 and I’ve wanted nothing more than to be back. And going through the shoulder thing was tough, and I thought I got through that, and then obviously dealing with the ankle thing. I learned a lot, though, and like I said, I bet on myself and I knew I could come back and be a part of this.”

An ankle injury quickly sabotaged Bird’s season, really before it even had a chance to start. He fouled a pitch off the ankle in Spring Training, played hurt throughout April, then had to be placed on the disabled list in May. Eventually he had to have surgery, and it wasn’t until mid-August that Bird returned to the lineup. And at that point, no one knew what to expect. Of course Bird is talented, but boy he missed a lot of time the last two years.

Not surprisingly, it took Bird some time to get his bearings at the plate. He went 9-for-43 (.209) with 12 strikeouts in his first 15 games back from the ankle injury, and Chase Headley was still getting plenty of time at first base. It wasn’t until mid-September that Bird really started to lock in at the plate. He went 13-for-44 (.295) with six home runs and nearly as many walks (six) as strikeouts (eight) in his last 14 games of the regular season.

That hot finish to the regular season has carried over into the postseason. Bird drove in a run in the Wild Card Game and hit a two-run home run in Game Two of the ALDS on Friday. Then, last night, Bird took Miller deep for that solo home run in the 1-0 season-saving win. Through four postseason games Bird is 5-for-16 (.313) with two homers, three walks, and a hit-by-pitch, which works out to a .450 OBP.

“As I’ve said about Greg Bird, I think he’s built for this park. I really do,” said Joe Girardi after last night’s game. “Just the way he played in the playoffs and the way he finished up the year, I felt really good. It’s great to have him back healthy. It sure is.”

The last two years have no doubt been difficult for Bird given all the injuries, and the Yankees have been remained very patient because they believe in him. They didn’t bring in a big name first baseman over the winter despite Bird’s shoulder surgery. Rather than add a first baseman at the trade deadline, they stuck with their in-house options because they thought there was a chance Bird would come back.

The Yankees have waited an awfully long time for this version of Bird to arrive, and now he’s arrived at exactly the right time. He’s finished strong in the regular season and has been the team’s best hitter through four postseason games. And for Bird himself, this has to feel awfully rewarding. He spent many days in Tampa rehabbing and watching the Yankees on television. That’s tough. Being away from the team that long is no fun.

“What got me through it? My family and my close friends. I have a great group, really, and they know who they are and they’re really special to me,” said Bird last night. “At times, it was hard. I mean, just watching from afar … I just like being there. So what a wild ride it’s been. But like I said, I knew we had a good team and we’d be here and I was hoping that I could be part of it.”

Thoughts prior to Game Four of the 2017 ALDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fan Confidence Poll: October 9th, 2017

Regular Season Record: 91-71 (858 RS, 660 RA, 100-62 pythag. record), second in ALE
Postseason Record: 2-2 (17 RS, 17 RA), won AL WC Game, down 1-2 in ALDS
Opponents This Week: ALDS Game Four vs. Indians (Mon.), Tues. OFF, ALDS Game Five @ Indians (Weds. if necessary)

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Yankees 1, Indians 0: Tanaka and Bird keep the season alive

Andy Pettitte, Cecil Fielder, and Paul O’Neill’s catch in Atlanta. Mike Mussina, Jorge Posada, and Derek Jeter‘s flip play in Oakland. Masahiro Tanaka, Greg Bird, and Aaron Judge‘s catch against the Indians. Add another intense 1-0 postseason win to the Yankees Classics reel. The Yankees kept their season alive Sunday night with a 1-0 win in Game Three of the ALDS. What a win. What a team.

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

There Goes My ‘Hiro
When the Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka four years ago, they envisioned starts like this. Season on the line, back up against the wall against the best team in the league. As big as a game can get, really. Tanaka’s regular season wasn’t great, so more than a few folks were skeptical going into Game Three, but holy cow did Tanaka deliver. One of the best postseason starts in franchise history given the stakes. I don’t think that’s hyperbole.

Through seven masterful innings, Tanaka held the Indians to three hits and a walk in seven shutout innings, striking out seven. Did he get some help from his defense? Yes, absolutely. Judge robbed Francisco Lindor of a two-run home run in the sixth, using all 6-foot-8 of his frame to make the leaping catch at the wall. A game-saver, it was. Best of all, Judge took the home run away from Zach Hample, everyone’s least favorite ballhawk.

More MVP worthy than anything Judge has done all year. (Screen grab via Sung-Min Kim)
(Screen grab via Sung-Min Kim)

Perfect. Just perfect. Give Judge the MVP just for that alone.

Anyway, the biggest moment of the game for Tanaka came in the fourth inning. Jason Kipnis ripped a line drive that deflected off Judge’s glove and rolled away — Aaron Hicks, dude, you’ve gotta back up the play — for a one-out triple. A sticky situation, that was. Not only was the runner at third with one out, but MVP candidate Jose Ramirez was the plate. The same Jose Ramirez who struck out in only 10.6% of his plate appearances this year. With a runner on third and one out, you want a ball in play, and few make as much contact as Ramirez.

Tanaka, however, did manage to get that huge strikeout by leaning on what else? His splitter. He threw four splitters in the six-pitch at-bat, each one nastier than the one before. The strikeout pitch was a nasty split that dove right out of the strike zone. Tanaka followed that up by striking out Jay Bruce, who has done some serious damage against the Yankees this season. Runner on third with one out? Striking out the No. 3 and 4 hitters makes for a fine escape job.

With his bullpen short, Joe Girardi asked Tanaka to go out for the seventh inning even though there were some signs of fatigue and general “the Indians are starting to get to him.” He didn’t get any swings and misses in the fifth and sixth inning, and more pitches were being left up in the zone. But Tanaka went out and sat down Ramirez, Bruce, and Carlos Santana in order to complete seven strong.

There’s a chance this was Tanaka’s final start as a Yankee. The Yankees are still down 2-1 in the series, the Indians are still great, and the opt-out is looming. And a performance like this only going to push Tanaka closer to opting out, if he’s still sitting on that decision. If it was his final start, he went out with a massive bang, with a clutch showing against the league’s best win in an elimination game. Not an ace? Please. This was as ace-like as it gets.

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

Hang On To The Roof
Oh, by the way, Carlos Carrasco is really good too. He had video game stuff working Sunday night. Carrasco didn’t pitch quite as well as Tanaka — he finished with three hits and three walks allowed in 5.2 innings — but he kept the Yankees off the board and that’s all that matters. The Yankees had their best chance to score against Carrasco in the sixth, when they loaded the bases with two outs. Andrew Miller quickly snuffed that out with a Starlin Castro pop-up. Alas.

After six innings, this felt very much like a “first team to homer wins” game, and given the stakes, that’s pretty scary! Especially since Tanaka has had some home run issues this year and Yankee Stadium is known to give up a cheapie from time to time. As it turned out, the Yankees were the team to get that big home run, and it came in a rather unexpected way. From a left-handed hitter against Andrew Miller. Huh.

That left-handed hitter: Greg Bird. Twice Bird has faced Miller in this series — they’d never faced each other prior to the ALDS — and twice Miller worked him over. Took his lunch money and stuffed him in a locker. That’s usually how it goes for Miller against lefties. In Game Three though, Miller left a fastball up in the zone and Bird swung like he knew it was coming. He turned around the 95 mph heater for a second deck shot and a 1-0 lead. The very necessary video:

I love everything about it. Bird’s reaction. Miller’s reaction. The way the camerawork makes it look like that ball landed in the upper deck. The crowd reaction. Love it all. It was a no-doubter off the bat, and Yankee Stadium got as loud as I’ve ever heard it. It was as loud as any postseason game I’ve been too at the old ballpark. The stands were shaking and everything. What a moment. What a home run. After everything Bird has been through the last two years, how could you not be happy for the kid?

Protect The Lead
Bird’s seventh inning home run meant the Yankees were six outs away from forcing a Game Four. How would they get those outs? With a taxed bullpen, the answer wasn’t obvious. David Robertson came in to start the eighth inning and he was so very clearly running on empty. Austin Jackson bailed him out by flying out on a 2-0 pitch for the first out, but a six-pitch walk to Michael Brantley followed, and that was it. Robertson was done. His pitch locations:

david-robertson-pitch-locations

That is a pitcher running on fumes. And who could blame him? Between the Wild Card Game and ALDS Game Two, Robertson had thrown 77 high-stress pitches — in only two appearances! — in the previous four days. With Chad Green and Dellin Betances also having worked hard of late, Joe Girardi had three options. One, stick with Robertson. Nope. Couldn’t do it. I’m glad Girardi pulled him. Two, go with Tommy Kahnle or Adam Warren. Okay. Defensible but not ideal.

Or three, go to Aroldis Chapman, who the Yankees gave the largest reliever contract in history so he could save games exactly like this one. Girardi went with the third option. In came Chapman for the five-out save. Greg Allen, who pinch-ran for Brantley? Stranded at first. Chapman struck out Yan Gomes and Giovanny Urshela to end the eighth inning, and he needed eight pitches to do it.

Now, in the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees had a great chance to tack on an insurance run. Brett Gardner started the inning with a bloop double — hooray for Kipnis in center! — but two strikeouts (Judge and Gary Sanchez), an intentional walk (Didi Gregorius), and a fielder’s choice (Castro) put an end to that. I know I’m not the only one who said to myself “they’re going to regret not scoring that run, aren’t they?”

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

The ninth inning was never going to be easy. Not because Chapman stinks or anything like that, but because the ninth inning in games like this are rarely easy. Getting three quick grounders to close out a game like this just doesn’t happen, you know? Chapman started the ninth by striking out Lindor, but Kipnis shot a two-strike single back up the middle to put the tying run on base, then Ramirez followed with an infield single to put the tying run in scoring position and the go-ahead run on base.

Calling it an infield single is, of course, leaving out a lot of information. It was a hard-hit ground ball that Todd Frazier stopped with a tremendous diving grab to his left. Just a fantastic stop … and then he muffed the transfer and no outs were recorded. I didn’t think he’d get the double play — Ramirez is too fast to double up after a dive — but the out at second? For sure. Instead, Frazier bobbled it and got none. Great. Fantastic. Awesome.

Chapman, by this point, was up over 20 pitches and starting to show signs of tiring. He threw two innings in Game Two two days ago, remember. Chapman was missing his spots and the foul balls were becoming more and more frequent. No one was warming up in the bullpen though, so it was Chapman’s game. He reached back to strike out Bruce — Bruce went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts in Game Three — then battled Santana for seven pitches. On his 34th and final pitch of the night, Chapman coaxed a well-struck fly out to center for the 27th out. Look at his reaction:

aroldis-chapman-reaction

That is the body language of a man who thinks he might’ve just given up the season-blowing three-run home run. Fortunately, the 102 mph heater missed enough of the sweet spot to stay in the park. That was one hell out of an outing for Chapman. Gutsy. He didn’t have much left in the tank at all when Bruce was at the plate, but he managed to get Bruce and then Santana with the tying run in scoring position. Chapman’s biggest moment as a Yankee, easily.

Leftovers
How about Sanchez? Those strikeouts of Ramirez and Bruce to strand Kipnis at third base in the fourth inning were made possible by Sanchez blocking the hell out of splitters in the dirt. Tanaka knew it too. He pointed at Sanchez after the inning as they walked off the field. Gary had about six or seven great blocks in the game overall. For all the crap he takes for his blocking, much of it deserved, he was a beast back there in Game Three.

The Yankees only had five hits total. The dinger by Bird, bloop double by Gardner, a Hicks infield single, and solid singles by Sanchez and Gregorius. Judge and Jacoby Ellsbury each drew a walk while Gregorius drew two, one of which was intentional. The Yankees only had four at-bats with runners in scoring position all night.

Leftovers
For the box score, go to ESPN. For the video highlights, go to MLB.com. Here is our Bullpen Workload page and here is the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
The Game Three win means we get to do this all again Monday night. The Yankees will look to force a Game Five while the Indians will look to end this series and advance to the ALCS. Trevor Bauer, not Josh Tomlin, is starting that game for the Indians. The team announced Bauer will go on short rest after Game Three. Luis Severino will be on the mound for the good guys.

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.