Thoughts prior to Game Three of the 2017 ALCS

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

After two close games at Minute Maid Park, the ALCS now shifts to Yankee Stadium for Games Three and Four and, hopefully, Five. The Yankees are down 0-2 in the series and hey, they’ve been here before. They just came back from down 0-2 against the Indians in the ALDS. That doesn’t mean they’ll do it again. But it shows it can be done. Anyway, I have some thoughts, so let’s get to ’em.

1. The Yankees are down 0-2 in the ALCS because their best players are getting outplayed by Houston’s best players. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa have outhit Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez (by a lot), and Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander have outpitched Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino (by a lot). Heck, Altuve and Correa are 8-for-15 (.533) with a double and a homer in the series, and all the other Astros combined are 3-for-43 (.070) with a double. Good grief. The Yankees aren’t going anywhere without Judge and Sanchez producing, the same why the Cubs aren’t going anywhere without Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo producing (they’re 1-for-14 combined in the NLCS). They survived Judge’s brutal ALDS. They won’t survive this series against the Astros with Judge and Sanchez doing nothing. The Yankees’ best players are getting outplayed by the Astros’ best players. Plain and simple. That’s why they’re down 0-2 in the series.

2. Another reason the Yankees are down 0-2: poor execution. The Astros are making every single play and even going above and beyond to make great plays. Brett Gardner getting thrown out at third on the would-be triple last game? It was a bad send by third base coach Joe Espada, but it also took an excellent set of relay throws by the Astros to get the out. They executed. Greg Bird getting thrown out at the plate in Game One? Marwin Gonzalez made a wonderful throw from left field while Bird didn’t get the best jump from second base, especially considering it was a 3-2 count with two outs. Gonzalez executed and Bird did not. At this point of the postseason, the talent gap between the remaining teams is quite small. I know the Astros won ten more games than the Yankees this season, but the Yankees had the better run differential. The talent gap isn’t enormous by any means. So, then, when the talent gap is small, the difference in a short series comes down to execution. The team that makes more plays — and this could be executing relay throws, or executing a single pitch, or fielding a ground ball, whatever — is the team that often wins, and right now, the Astros are the team making the plays in the ALCS. Not the Yankees.

3. Speaking of poor execution, that final play of Game Two was straight up bad by Sanchez. It was bad. I know the throw short-hopped him and everything, but that’s a play a Major League catcher has to make, and Sanchez didn’t. Look where Altuve was when the ball reached Sanchez:

bandicam-2017-10-15-08-11-43-421

Altuve would’ve been out by a mile, which I’m sure would’ve been spun into “wow how’s so amazing look at the aggressive play and how small he is like Marcus Stroman and give him the next three MVPs” even though it would’ve been inexcusably awful to get thrown out at home on that play, with one out in the inning, when you would’ve represented the winning run at third. Anyway, that play by Sanchez was terrible, and the weird thing is that prior to that play, I thought the last five games were his best defensive stretch of the season. It all started in Game Three of the ALDS, when Gary blocked the hell out of all those Tanaka splitters in the dirt, most notably when Tanaka struck out Jose Ramirez and Jay Bruce with a runner on third and one out. Sanchez was fantastic behind the plate basically since the start of ALDS Game Three through the penultimate play of ALCS Game Two. And as bad as that play was, it would be absolutely crazy to move Gary out from behind the plate going forward. You don’t give up on a dude with these tools behind the plate because he struggling to block balls in the dirt at age 24, the same way you don’t give up on a kid like Severino as a starter just because he had some success out of the bullpen.

4. As for Severino, I have zero problem whatsoever with him being pulled from Game Two even though he felt healthy and strong. I was shocked to see, in our comments and on social media (less shocked to see it in the tabloids), some people saying it was mistake and that Severino should’ve stayed in the game if he said he was fine. That is insane to me. One, you can’t trust players to be honest about their health. There’s that “you better be out there unless your arm fell off” tough guy mentality that exists in baseball that pushes players to play hurt even when it is a detriment to themselves and their team. And two, this is your 23-year-old franchise pitcher, who is already in uncharted workload territory. Severino is up to 204.2 total innings this year between the regular season and postseason. His previous career high was 162.2 innings. Then he windmills his arm and gives the trainer and Joe Girardi reason to believe something is up, and some people didn’t want him pulled? Crazy talk. I’m happy and very relieved there is nothing seriously wrong with Severino. Even during a postseason game, I am 100% cool with Girardi playing it safe and pulling Severino. I don’t care how mad Severino was. The Yankees will have to protect the kid from himself at times, and this was one of those times.

5. The strikeouts are, obviously, very bad. They’ve become extreme of late too. And it’s not just Sanchez and Judge. Gardner is 2-for-7 with five strikeouts (1.000 BABIP!) in the ALCS. Bird and Starlin Castro are both 2-for-7 with three strikeouts. The strikeouts are a problem up and down the lineup. The Yankees have struck out 10+ times in their last seven games this postseason — the only game they didn’t strike out 10+ times was the Wild Card Game — and in Game Five of the ALDS, they became the first team in history to win a postseason game while striking out 16 times. Overall, the Yankees have a 31.6% strikeout rate this postseason. Remove Judge and it’s still a 28.8% strikeout rate. That’s just too much. (The postseason average is a 25.0% strikeout rate.) And the solution is not simply make more contact. It has to be quality contact. The Astros had the lowest strikeout rate in baseball during the regular season and they’ve struck out only nine times in two ALCS games, yet their offense is hardly firing on all cylinders. Which team had the second lowest strikeout rate during the regular season? The Indians, and they’re sitting at home. Ramirez (10.7%) and Francisco Lindor (12.9%) had two of the 15 lowest strikeout rates in baseball during the regular season, and they went 4-for-38 (.105) combined in the ALDS. It’s not just contact. It’s quality contact. The Yankees aren’t getting enough of it right now.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty)

6. On one hand, going to Houston and allowing four runs total and leaving down 0-2 in the series is beyond frustrating. That’s tough to swallow. On the other hand, seeing the pitching staff handle that deep power/contact lineup the Astros run out there has been reassuring. The Yankees can hang with the Astros. As bad as Judge and Sanchez have been, and as good as Keuchel and Verlander were, these were two one-run losses and very winnable games. A bounce here or a borderline call there changes everything. The Yankees could’ve easily left Houston with the series tied 1-1. Heck, it wouldn’t have taken much to leave up 2-0. It can be easy to overlook the pitching staff given how the series has played out, but man, they’ve been phenomenal. The pitchers have done their part so far. All postseason, really.

7. Remember when Aaron Hicks wasn’t going to play in the postseason? Gardner and Judge sure as heck aren’t going to come out of the lineup, then Jacoby Ellsbury had that late season hot streak that had everyone thinking he’d start in the postseason. Instead, Ellsbury faded in the final two weeks of the regular season, and here’s Hicks playing wonderfully on both sides of the ball again. He’s 8-for-29 (.276) with two doubles and a homer in the eight postseason games, and he’s catching everything in center field. I am a Hicks believer. I think the Aaron Hicks we saw in the first half is the real Aaron Hicks. Maybe he won’t post a .420 OBP and a .550 SLG or whatever it was over a full season, but I think the tools for .280/.380/.480 with very good defense are there. Aside from Gardner and Didi Gregorius (and Bird), Hicks has been the Yankees’ best player this postseason, and it wasn’t that long ago that it looked like he would be stuck on the bench. Funny how that works.

8. These next two games are crucial for obvious reasons. The Yankees have to win to keep their season alive, blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. If the Yankees are going to make a comeback in this series, it has to start these next two games, which are at home against Houston’s third and fourth starters. Don’t underestimate Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock! They’re good. They combined for a 3.31 ERA (3.10 FIP) in 278.2 innings during the regular season. But they’re not Keuchel and Verlander. Morton and Peacock are as easy as it’s going to get for the Yankees in terms of opposing starters this series. They’re facing them at home in Yankee Stadium. Want to win the series? These are the pitchers you have to beat and the games you have to win before the rotation turns over and Keuchel and Verlander are back out there. At some point the Yankees have to beat Keuchel or Verlander and win a game in Houston to win the series. That’s just how the math works. And that’s only if they beat Morton and Peacock at home. So do that today and tomorrow.

Fan Confidence Poll: October 16th, 2017

Regular Season Record: 91-71 (858 RS, 660 RA, 100-62 pythag. record), second in ALE
Postseason Record: 4-4 (31 RS, 26 RA), won AL WC Game, won ALDS, down 0-2 in ALCS
Opponents This Week: ALCS Game Three vs. Astros (Mon.), ALCS Game Four vs. Astros (Tues.), ALCS Game Five vs. Astros (Weds. if necessary), ALCS Game Six @ Astros (Fri. if necessary), ALCS Game Seven @ Astros (Sat. if necessary)

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Sunday Open Thread

The Yankees and Astros have an off-day today and thank goodness for that. I think we can all use a little break after those two frustrating losses. The ALCS resumes tomorrow night at Yankee Stadium. In the meantime, I recommend checking out Jonah Keri’s piece on the basically impossible task of evaluating managers. The only thing we see is the on-field decisions, and even then we don’t have all the information (who’s available, etc.). That’s only a very small part of the job though. The important stuff happens behind closed doors in the clubhouse.

Anyway, here is an open thread for this Yankees baseball-less day. The Dodgers and Cubs will play Game Two of the NLCS tonight (7:30pm ET on TBS), plus there’s all the day’s NFL action. The Jets play at 1pm ET and the Giants play at 8:30pm ET. The Islanders play later tonight on the West Coast. Talk about those games or anything else here, as long as it is not religion or politics. Get that outta here.

DotF: Sheffield dominant in Arizona Fall League opener

Now that the various fall and winter leagues have started their seasons, it’s time for a minor league update. I usually only do these once a week during the offseason. Before we get to the game action, here are some stray notes and links.

  • If you’re still holding out hope the Yankees will find a way to keep Gary Denbo, stop. The Marlins officially announced his hiring this past Tuesday. Here’s the press release. The Yankees have not yet announced who will replace Denbo as their player development department head. It might not happen until after the postseason.
  • Matt Eddy ranked the 30 teams by farm system production, and the Yankees led the way with +13.2 WAR from their prospect class in 2017. The Rockies were a distant second with +7.4 WAR. OF Aaron Judge is the headliner, obviously, but both LHP Jordan Montgomery and RHP Chad Green had close to +3 WAR seasons too.
  • Baseball America (subs. req’d) posted their 2017 draft report card for the Yankees recently. Most notably, the write-up says OF Steven Sensley has 70 power. Huh. Didn’t expect that. Sensley hit .292/.370/.584 (157 wRC+) with 13 homers in 50 games after being this year’s 12th round pick.
  • The Yankees have re-signed C Francisco Diaz, according to Eddy. Diaz, 27, hit .261/.315/.322 (79 wRC+) in 58 games at three levels as an organizational depth catcher this year. This is at least the second time he’s re-signed with the Yankees as a minor league free agent.

AzFL Scottsdale (7-4 win over Mesa) Tuesday’s game

  • SS Thairo Estrada: 2-4, 1 R, 1 RBI, 2 K — the Summer of Thairo is now the Autumn of Thairo (the Fall of Thairo sounds bad)
  • DH Billy McKinney: 1-4, 1 R, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 K
  • RF Estevan Florial: 1-4, 2 K — threw a runner out at the plate
  • LHP Justus Sheffield: 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 6 K, 6/1 GB/FB — 40 of 62 pitches were strikes (65%) … Keith Law and Eric Longenhagen had Sheffield sitting 94-96 mph … Law said this game was the best he’s ever seen Sheffield, and a scout told Josh Norris: “That was No. 1 starter stuff right there” … in a post (subs. req’d), Law said Sheffield was “absolutely filthy in his AFL debut, sitting 94-96 with a plus slider at 86-87 and above-average changeup at 86-89, better at the 86-87 part of that range”
  • RHP Cody Carroll: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K, 3/0 GB/FB — 16 of 31 pitches were strikes (52%)

[Read more…]

The Ghost of DH Future

The DH situation in picture form. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)
The DH situation in picture form. (Ronald Martinez/Getty)

The Yankees’ designated hitters in the playoffs have been way more ‘designated’ than they have been ‘hitters.’ It seems that no matter what name or number Joe Girardi calls for that spot in the order, it comes up empty. Chase Headley gave it a good try yesterday, robbed of a homer by Josh Reddick, and that–aside from one measly catcher’s interference by Jacoby Ellsbury (of course)–has pretty much been the extent of the offensive production by Yankee DHs against Minnesota, Cleveland, and Houston. Short of someone being injured and another player–Tyler Austin? Clint Frazier?–being added to the roster, there really isn’t much the team can do about the current DH situation aside from hope that someone runs into a pitch or two and gets out of this funk. The future of DH, though, is up in the air.

Two weeks ago, I wrote that Todd Frazier–current third baseman–makes the most sense at DH next year–though, really, this would Headley to DH as it seems the Yankees prefer Frazier defensively. This idea stems mostly from the fact that it’s unlikely the team will go with a full time DH as there aren’t many good full-time options and the team could have extra Greg Bird insurance. Frazier and the Yankees seem to like each other, but he’s going to be a free agent and will have that leverage in his back pocket. So do the Yankees, though, as it seems like Bird is back and healthy and Headley did have a decent season and is a good defender at third, also on a one year deal. Would Frazier settle for a one year deal? Probably not. With Miguel Andujar just about ready to be a Major League player and Gleyber Torres (hopefully) knocking on the door behind him, it may not be wise to stock this team with too many third base types. Granted, Headley or Frazier on a one year deal could be jettisoned, but that’s not necessarily what you want. The outfield situation may also complicate things.

As they do now, the Yankees will have four outfielders for three spots in 2018. Of course, they could flip one in a trade to free up room, but I’m still not sure there are viable markets for Brett Gardner and/or Jacoby Ellsbury. Aaron Judge isn’t going anywhere and Aaron Hicks earned a starting spot for next year with his play this year. Gardner is, fankly, better than Ellsbury. If the team is willing to let Ellsbury be a high-priced fourth outfielder, then they could get another player to DH, rather than rotating the outfielders in and out when they need a day.

The more I think about it, the more it might make sense to let Todd Frazier walk. He’s a great guy and I’ve enjoyed rooting for him in every way possible. But in terms of money and roster space, it might be best to let him go, shift Chase Headley back to third base, and roll with a rotating DH.

Yankees 1, Astros 2: Correa’s walk off and Verlander’s gem sink the Yankees in Game Two

Um, yeah. Holy hell. What was that ending? Well, before that, the Yankee bats got completely owned by Justin Verlander for the entirety of nine innings. They did manage back-to-back doubles in the fourth to score a run but that was about it. After Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson put in a strong relief effort, the game unraveled in the ninth thanks to Jose Altuve’s extra-hustle and, uh, what Gary Sanchez did. Let’s not put the blame solely on Sanchez though. The lineup has not been… good. Not at all. Let’s recap this thing.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Starting pitching duel part deux

It’s Severino vs. Verlander. I don’t know of any more possible matchups that could be as exciting. Two of the best fireballers in the baseball going at each other in a high-stakes playoff game. Inject it into my veins. And, of course the first few innings lived up to that hype. Both teams were scoreless for the first three innings. Luis Severino did not record any strikeouts but outs are outs. You can’t be too picky about them in the postseason.

In the third inning, the Yankees bats came close to getting the big hits but were befallen. With one out, Chase Headley got a fastball down low and middle and drove it towards the right field fence. Normally, maybe 8 out of 10 times, that’s a home run or a double. However, Josh Reddick had it played beautifully and robbed Headley of a big hit with a jump catch. A batter later, Brett Gardner pulled a line drive down the right field line. He got to second easily and it seemed like he had a legitimate chance to reach third. However, the Astros turned a great relay from outfield to infield to make it very close at the third base. Third base umpire initially called it safe. But… was it?

bandicam-2017-10-15-06-01-56-211

Nope. Again with the game of inches! Upon replay, the umpires determined that Alex Bregman just got Gardner. That was the third out and ended the frustrating half inning for the Yankee bats.

In the bottom of the fourth, just like yesterday, the Astros struck first. With one out, Carlos Correa hit a 99 mph fastball up and away from the zone over the right field fence. Look at the location here. The fact that he hit it squarely enough for a home run is nuts:

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Or… did it actually go out? The ball bounced out of a kid’s glove right above the wall and the umpires decided to see if it’s a Jeffrey Maier situation. However, the ball was clearly going over the fence before it hit the kid’s glove. The umpires ruled it a home run and Astros took a 1-0 lead. I thought that Aaron Judge might have had a chance to make a leaping catch to rob it but he did not get back there in time – probably because that liner was scorched.

The Yankees got one back (a run!) the next inning. With two outs, Aaron Hicks squared up a 97 mph fastball up in the zone for a double. Todd Frazier followed it up with a deep flyball to left-center. In a normal ballpark, that very well could have been a home run, but instead, it got stuck in the fencing under the seats. I don’t know if that has ever happened before. The ball got stuck in there so neatly that you’d think that someone placed it by hand. The umpires ruled it a ground-rule double and that brought Hicks home for a 1-1 tie game.

Going into the bottom of the fifth, Yankees put in Tommy Kahnle to relieve Severino. Wait what? Sevy had thrown only 62 pitches but he was hit by Yulieski Gurriel’s comebacker in the fourth. If there’s any bright spot, he was hit on the non-throwing arm wrist. Also, prior to that, Girardi visited the mound after a pitch sailed way outside. Fortunately, Severino was only removed as a precaution. They would rather have him be 100% for the next start (if there is one). Also, because of the array of arms that they have in the ‘pen, it makes it easier to chew up innings while keeping the game close.

Kahnle took care of the fifth and sixth and Robertson got the seventh and eighth – and they were masterful. Both of them combined for a 4 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB and 3 K performance to keep the game tied. Now, if only the bats could take advantage of the pitchers balling out.

However, besides that one run that they scored, the offense got manhandled by Justin Verlander. His fastball was classic Verlander, his slider and curve kept the hitters off balance all throughout the game, etc. In nine innings that he pitched today, he allowed only 5 hits, 1 earned run and struck out 13. While it’s remarkable that the Yankee pitchers were able to hold the powerful ‘Stros lineup to one run in the first eight innings of the game, it is very frustrating that the bat has scored only two in the first 17 innings of the series. That is not a good strategy – and they paid for it.

The bitter end

Because the Astros’ best hitters were coming up, Joe Girardi decided to put in Aroldis Chapman, who has, as you may have noticed, very good for about a month and half.

Chappy struck out Reddick rather swiftly. Against Altuve, aka the human hitting machine, he allowed a single on the first pitch 100 mph fastball because it’s Jose Freakin’ Altuve. There’s not a lot of things that you can do when the hitter is 15-for-27 in the postseason. Up came Correa, who had driven in the lone Astros run of the game. Correa hit a liner to right-center that Judge cut off and tried to take a chance to getting Reddick out at second. Meanwhile, Altuve was sprinting past third and going home. Didi Gregorius‘s throw to Sanchez looked like Altuve was going to be out by a mile. Take a look:

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However, Sanchez could not handle the ball in time and as he tried to pick it up, Altuve slid past him to score the walk-off. I really thought he was dead meat when the throw came in but man, that was some brutal defense from Sanchez. I still believe his long-term future is at catching but that was not a good display.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Leftovers

It is really hard to win when your 2, 3, 4, 5 hitters in the lineup (Judge, Gregorius, Sanchez and Bird) combine for a 1-for-15 effort with 5 strikeouts. We all talk about how bad Judge has looked this postseason (rightfully so) but Sanchez also looks lost against the Astros pitching. Today, he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts and, of course, was involved in the game-ending play. Gotta think that it was the worst game of his career.

Here are the box score and video highlights. Here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs


Up Next

The Yankees are heading back to Bronx to host at least the Games 3 and 4 of the ALCS. The streak stopper CC Sabathia will be on the mound, trying to rescue the Yankees’ season, against Charlie Morton.

Update: Severino exits ALCS Game Two with shoulder injury

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

7:25pm ET: Following Game Two, Joe Girardi said Severino checked out fine. They were worried more about his shoulder than his hand following the comebacker. Severino didn’t want to come out of the game, but the Yankees pulled him anyway. “I feel great. I feel 100%,” he said after the game. He’s going for precautionary tests anyway.

5:53pm ET: Luis Severino left Game Two of the ALCS this afternoon with a possible injury. The trainer came out to talk to him in the fourth inning after he windmilled his arm and grabbed for the rosin bag, then, later in the inning, Severino was hit in the left wrist area by a hard comeback chopper. So who knows what exactly is wrong with him.

Throughout the start, Severino’s stuff look fine and there was no drop-off in velocity after the trainer came out to talk to him. I’m pretty sure it’s the wrist, though. I hope it is, anyway. The comebacker got him good and Severino grimaced. He was pretty clearly in pain. Severino threw 62 pitches in four innings before exiting the game.

If the injury is anything serious, a) aw crap, and b) the Yankees can replace Severino on the ALCS roster. If they do that though, he will not be eligible for the World Series roster should the Yankees advance. The Yankees have not yet announced an update on Severino, so stay tuned.