Alright, we’ve seen this before. Down 2-1 in the series but a win tonight would tie it up. Gotta win few more games in a row from here on, right? Well, the Yankees could do that (again), but if only it were that simple. Winning three against a team like the Indians after being down 2-0 is pretty incredible. Asking for another similar task against the Astros… well, this team is certainly capable of it. We just don’t know the odds.
Game Four begins soon and I have some thoughts about the outlook going forward.
1. Lance McCullers Jr., eh?
I was fully expecting the Astros to go with Brad Peacock as the Game 4 starter (or Dallas Keuchel on a short rest) but they went with Lance McCullers Jr. instead. That is… an interesting decision.
McCullers had an up-and-down year. He had a great first-half (7-2, 3.05 ERA) that got him an All-Star nod. However, his second half was marred by a back injury and his performance was, well, not great (0-2, 8.23 ERA in 6 starts). For what it’s worth, he pitched in relief in the Game 3 of the ALDS versus Red Sox and went 3 IP, 2 ER while walking 2 and striking out 4. Eh. I don’t know if that would assure me enough to rely a postseason start on him.
The upside in McCullers Jr. is clear though. As mentioned, he was an All-Star this season and has been garnering attention as one of the best up-and-coming young pitchers in the MLB for awhile. If his health is fine and he can turn the right buttons perchance, he can dominate. It should be noted that McCullers has one of the nastiest curveballs in the game and dude throws it a lot (47.4% of his pitches in 2017) – like, more frequently than his fastball (40.4%). It will be interesting how that could give fits to guys like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, who have struggled with laying off the breaking ball in this postseason. The current Yankee roster hitters have hit only .241/.290/.310 cumulatively against him, which is not great. However, that does not mean a lot when predicting a one-game outcome. If McCullers can’t bring his A-game tonight, the Yankees could very well hit him.
All things considered, the decision to start McCullers Jr. is fascinating. It’s a bit of an unknown factor for now. I would not be surprised if they only have him out for three to four innings and put in Brad Peacock to absorb more.
2. The Astros starters after Game 4?
At first, I was wondering if there was a chance that the Astros could start Peacock on the Game 5 instead of Keuchel but 1) they probably want to start Keuchel on the normal rest 2) Keuchel has owned the Yankees, you know that. The goal for either team is not get to the Game 7 – it’s to end the series with a win as soon as possible. It does not matter for Keuchel whether he’s pitching in Minute Maid Park or Yankee Stadium – the lefty has a measly .446 OPS allowed at YS3 in his career. Yeesh.
I think Peacock would be a bullpen guy for Game 4 if McCullers Jr. departs early. In case you were wondering, Peacock had a breakout 2017 season. The Houston pitching coach Brent Strom has a reputation of working wonders on talented arms. The righty went 13-2, 3.00 ERA while striking out 10.98 batters per 9 innings pitched. He also went back forth between rotation and bullpen so it would make sense to ask him to absorb multiple innings if McCullers doesn’t work out.
If the series goes back to Houston, Game 6 would most definitely feature Justin Verlander. He started after Keuchel and dominated the Yankees in Game 2. What will be interesting, however, is if the series goes to Game 7. Do the Astros start Charlie Morton again? He flashed electric stuff last night but this industry is about the results – Morton allowed 7 ER in 3.2 IP and took the loss. I can see them give a nod to Collin McHugh, who pitched 4 scoreless last night in long relief and has a 3.55 ERA in 12 starts in the regular season. However, just like the Yankees, I’d expect the Astros to be ready to empty the tank on bullpen if they need to. Well, we’ll see if the series goes to that extent in the first place but gosh, that would be some drama.
3. Sonny Gray
It is easy to forget how excellent Sonny Gray has been in his career. As a Yankee, during the regular season, he had a 3.72 ERA in 11 starts. It’s not bad but there were some peripherals that are worrying. First off, after allowing only 8 home runs in 97.0 IP with the A’s, Gray allowed 11 in 65.1 IP in the pinstripes. That’s a jump from 0.7 HR/9 IP to 1.5. He also allowed walks more frequently – 2.8 BB/9 IP in Oakland to 3.5 in New York.
However, here’s something to keep in mind. In 8 out of 11 regular season starts as a Yankee, Gray allowed 2 ERs or less. He went 6 IP or more in 6 of those starts as well. Because of recency bias (9 ER, 8 IP, 3 HRs, 9 walks in the previous two starts. Yikes), it is okay to be wary of how he will do later tonight.
Here’s a positive that could just be a small sample size thing: he was pretty great after a long rest (6 days or more) this season – only .170/.255/.295 allowed in 4 starts. What the Yankees would hope is that he’ll be out there refreshed and mentally charged for this crucial, crucial matchup. So many things could go wrong – he’s had trouble avoiding long balls with the Yankees and will be pitching in the YSIII while facing the powerful Astros lineup. However, if he throws a solid start, he can catch multiple rabbits at once by instilling more faith in him going forward and giving the Yankees a chance to win today.
Depends on how things go with the bats, I would be happy with a five inning outing with maybe 2 runs allowed from Gray. The bullpen is rested and can take it from there. Chad Green, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman should be able to throw multiple innings – Tommy Kahnle maybe an inning or less.
4. Again with the dumb luck
Back in ALDS, I talked about how there were significantly more lucky bounces going the Indians’ way in their first two wins of series. Well, what do you know – some of it came to the Yankees’ side to help them win the series.
The first two games of the ALCS has featured an array of moments that favored Houston – not a lot of 344 feet liners turn into homers but that’s what Carlos Correa made happen. Aaron Hicks could have given Yankees a 2-0 lead in Game 2 but the ball fell right in front of the wall. Brett Gardner could have been safe at third. Gary Sanchez could have fielded Didi Gregorius’s throw from second and tagged Jose Altuve out easily, etc. A lot of these happened from inches to few feet’s worth of difference to resulting in very different outcomes. Who knows how the series’ momentum could be by now had many more little things gone the Yankees’ way?
It’s impossible to predict or project luck. The Yankees could get bad breaks here and there and could still win the series – it just would be very hard to work around them. Make no mistake about it – the players on both teams are very skilled and that’s why they are playing for a league title in the Major League Baseball. But sometimes, luck plays that x-factor that can really separate the winners from losers – and the Yankees could, again, really use some bounces go for them the next few games. We’ll see.