Mailbag: Girardi, Betances, Otani, Maitan, Yelich, Gardner

Only seven questions in the mailbag this week because we’ve got a ton of ALCS preview content coming, and I wanted to keep it short. And also preserve my sanity. This is a busy time of year and I have enough on my plate. As always, RABmailbag (at) gmail (dot) com is where you can send us your questions each week.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Steve asks: T/F: in a weird way, aside from “The Blunder (TM)” in Game 2, Girardi has actually been the best he’s ever been this postseason. Starting with the WC game, he’s consistently used his best guys in the right spots and put his foot on Cleveland’s throat. Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

True. The non-challenge was bad. Joe Girardi‘s worst moment with the Yankees, I believe. Aside from that though, I think he’s done a fantastic job with the bullpen overall, using his best relievers in the biggest spots. You could argue he should’ve taken out a struggling Chad Green before he gave up the grand slam to Francisco Lindor, or that he should’ve stuck with CC Sabathia longer in that game, but that stuff happens. If Green doesn’t, you know, give up a grand slam, no one is talking about it. Watching the other postseason series, as other managers continually bring inferior relievers into big spots, has made me appreciate Girardi more. Now I just wish he could wave his managerial magic wand and get one of the DH options to start hitting.

Bob asks: What is your definition of a number 1, 2, and 3 pitcher? Do you feel Gray is higher than a number 3?

I try not to look at pitchers as No. 1 or 2 or 3 starters. I usually drop them into one of three buckets: an ace/frontline starter, a mid-rotation guy, or a back-end guy. Or a sixth starter/swing man. Those guys exist too. I don’t think it’s worth spending time arguing what is a No. 2 or No. 3 starter when, on a lot of days, a No. 2 pitches like a No. 3 and a No. 3 pitches like a No. 2. Look at Jordan Montgomery. Some starts this year he pitched like a someone you’d see near the top of the rotation. Other days he looked very much like a rookie. Those are my three classifications. Ace, mid-rotation, or back-end. Easy enough.

As for Sonny Gray, he definitely fits in that frontline starter bucket for me given his overall career to date. I know his last three starts in particular haven’t been good, mostly because he’s been walking everyone, but it happens. His stuff looks as good as ever and once he settles in, I expect Gray to be very good for the Yankees. It almost seems like the move from the Oakland Coliseum to Yankee Stadium spooked him a bit. Gray ran into some home run trouble a few weeks back and now seems to be trying to locate precisely on the edges rather than aiming for a section of the plate and letting his natural stuff do its thing. I’d for sure project Gray to pitch better than a No. 3 going forward.

Steve asks: What do you think a reasonable return for Betances would be for the Yankees if he’s put on the trade block? And yes, your trade proposal sucks.

Dellin Betances‘ trade value is down for two reasons. One, he can’t stop walking people. It was a season-long problem and he has a history of control issues, which makes it scarier. This isn’t something that popped up out of the blue. And two, he’s now only two years away from free agency. The closer you get to free agency, the more your trade value goes down. That’s just the way it is.

The bullpen market is not what it was when the Yankees traded Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. We haven’t seen anything close to those trades since. One year of Wade Davis was traded straight up for Jorge Soler. A year and a half of Ryan Madson and three and a half years of Sean Doolittle fetched a meh big league reliever (Blake Treinen) and two non top-100 prospects (Jesus Luzardo, Sheldon Neuse). Heck, look at what the Yankees gave up to get David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle. It wasn’t a monster package.

I’m not quite sure what the Yankees could get for Betances right now given his control issues and the reliever market in general. Could he get a Blake Rutherford caliber prospect plus a secondary piece or two? I have no doubt many teams out there would happily take him on. The question is how much do they want to give up to get him, and what other relievers could they get at that price? It’s difficult to gauge Dellin’s trade value right now.

Anonymous asks: With the limited remaining international free agent money available, do you prioritize Otani (assuming her declares) or Maitan?

Kevin Maitin, a top international prospect who signed with the Braves last year, could be declared a free agent once MLB completes its investigation into the team and their international signing practices. Jeff Passan reported on it recently. The Braves broke the rules rather severely, and there is precedent for a player being declared a free agent after an improper signing. It happened to the Red Sox with some international prospects last year.

MLB.com currently ranks Maitan as the 38th best prospect in baseball and says he “has been compared to Miguel Sano and his ceiling has been put side-by-side with the likes of Miguel Cabrera and Chipper Jones,” and, uh, wow. At the same time, he’s a 17-year-old kid who just hit .241/.290/.340 (72 wRC+) with a 27.8% strikeout rate in rookie ball this year, so Maitan got humbled a bit in his first taste of pro ball.

Between Shohei Otani and Maitan, I think you have to go Otani because he’s big league ready. You can stick him in your rotation and/or lineup next season and he’ll help you win games. Maitan still has a lot of development ahead of him and is years away from contributing. Otani can help right now, and if you’re the Yankees, with this young core in the big leagues, you want to get them as much help as possible. Give me Otani over Maitan. It’s not like Shohei lacks upside.

Yelich. (Mike Zarrilli/Getty)
Yelich. (Mike Zarrilli/Getty)

Andrew asks: With Denbo going to the Marlins and his familiarity with our system, you think this increases possibility of any Yanks/Marlins deals? I’m still dreaming over a Clint Frazier led package for Yelich.

Not necessarily. I expected a flurry of minor Yankees-Angels trades once Billy Eppler left, but that didn’t happen. Eppler just signed a bunch of ex-Yankees prospects as minor league free agents and claimed them on waivers. I’m certain Gary Denbo has personal favorites in the farm system. How could he not? It’s human nature. Denbo is the player development guy though, not the general manager, so he’s not making the calls.

I’m a huge Christian Yelich guy. Has been years. If you’ve read RAB long enough, you know that. Yelich actually had the worst offensive season of his career in 2017, hitting .282/.369/.439 (115 wRC+) with 18 homers, but he remains an above average hitter who takes walks (11.5%) and doesn’t strike out a ton (19.7%), runs the bases well, and plays great defense. A left-handed hitter with some power and lots of patience to go with speed and defense is worth acquiring. Plus he’s owed only $58.3M through 2022. I’m a big Frazier guy, but I’d have no trouble trading him for Yelich at all.

Bob asks: I really enjoy watching Brett Gardner play baseball but, am aware that every off season there are rumors about his availability. He may be the Yankees most complete player and brings so much to the team. Don’t you think it would be a mistake to move him while he is still this productive?

There are two ways to look at this. One, Gardner is still very productive and an important glue guy in the clubhouse, plus there’s only one guaranteed year remaining on his contract, so it’s not like he comes with long-term risk. So keep him. And two, Gardner is now 34 years old and he plays all out, all the time, and that could lead to him declining soon. Plus the Yankees have Frazier looming and need to open a spot, so trade Gardner now before it’s too late.

Honestly, I think there is a perfectly valid argument to be made on both sides here, trade him or keep him. My preference is to keep Gardner. He’s still productive, he’s the unofficial captain, and as we saw the other night, he can be a monster from the leadoff spot with the way he grinds pitchers down. And there’s just one guaranteed year on his contract, so if does decline next year, you move on. Ideally the Yankees would move Jacoby Ellsbury this winter and go into next season with Gardner, Frazier, Aaron Hicks, and Aaron Judge as the four-man outfield rotation.

Denzil asks: How much does ownership make per home game in the playoffs?

It’s impossible to say, exactly, but the answer is millions. Tens of millions, really, when you consider the inevitable uptick in future attendance and merchandise and ticket sales. Back in 2012, Wendy Thurm estimated postseason revenue for each club and had the Yankees at a little more than $10M. They were swept in the ALCS that year and had five home postseason games total (three in ALDS and two in ALCS). This year the Yankees will have at least five home postseason games (Wild Card Game, two in ALDS, two in ALCS), and we’re talking about five years of inflation here, so that $10M for five home games in 2012 could be what, as much as $20M in 2017? For what it’s worth, Mike Ozanian estimated the non-challenge in Game Two could’ve cost the Yankees upwards of $30M had they not won the ALDS. I don’t know the exact answer to Denzil’s question, but generally speaking, the answer is several million dollars per home game.

Thursday Night Open Thread

Off-days feel so much better following a comeback from down 0-2 in the ALDS against the best team in the league, don’t they? The Yankees have moved on to the ALCS and will open the series tomorrow night against the Astros. And since they’re in Houston, Andy Pettitte will visit the team, according to Joel Sherman. He might even throw batting practice. Think Andy could still get out lefties? The Yankees could use a left-on-left reliever. Anyway, make sure you check out Grant Brisbee on the Yankees rebuild. That’s the good stuff.

Here is an open thread for the night. The Cubs and Nationals are playing Game Five of the NLDS (8pm ET on TBS) tonight, plus there’s Thursday Night Football (Eagles vs. Panthers). That’s pretty much it. Talk about those games, the ALDS win, the upcoming ALCS, or anything other than religion and politics right here. Have at it.

Tanaka, Severino, Sabathia will start Games 1-3 of ALCS

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Earlier this evening, the Yankees announced Masahiro Tanaka will start Game One of the ALCS tomorrow night in Houston. He will be followed, in order, by Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, and Sonny Gray.

Here are the pitching matchups for ALCS:

  • Game One: Tanaka vs. Dallas Keuchel
  • Game Two: Severino vs. Justin Verlander
  • Game Three: Sabathia vs. TBA
  • Games Four: Gray vs. TBA

Both Tanaka and Severino will be on normal rest for their first ALCS starts. The Yankees trusted Sabathia with their ALDS Game Five start and, if the ALCS goes seven games, he’d get the ball in Game Seven as well. Gray has had some walk problems lately, so it’s not too much of a surprise the Yankees are pushing him back.

I thought maybe the Yankees would try to push Tanaka back to Game Three so he could pitch at home given his big home-road splits, but I’m glad they didn’t. Does Tanaka give you the best chance to win Game One given the available options (Tanaka, Gray, or Severino on short rest)? Yes, he does. Then start him.

As for Gray, his Game Four start will come 12 days after starting Game One of the ALDS. Joe Girardi said Gray will throw a three-inning simulated game today to stay sharp, and it’ll also allow him to work on anything. That means he won’t be available in relief in Games One or Two, however. Gray can’t go 12 days between throwing though. The simulated game is a must.

The Tanaka vs. Keuchel game is of course a rematch of the 2015 Wild Card Game. That one didn’t go so well for the Yankees. Not because of Tanaka specifically — he allowed two runs in five innings in that game, which isn’t terrible — just in general. The 2017 Yankees are better than the 2015 Yankees, thankfully.

After brutal ALDS, Aaron Judge could benefit from being more aggressive in the ALCS

(Jason Miller/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

Thanks to their historic comeback from an 0-2 deficit in the ALDS, the Yankees are heading to the ALCS to the face the Astros. It’s only the eighth time in 59 total opportunities that a team came back to win the LDS after losing the first two games. And the Yankees did it against the best team in the American League. A satisfying series, it was.

Two things stand out about the ALDS comeback. One, the Yankees could’ve won that series 4-1. They had a five-run lead in Game Two, and it slipped away in part due to Joe Girardi‘s non-challenge. The Indians had not lost three straight games since July — they’d lost just four of their final previous 39 games as well — then the Yankees went out and beat them in three straight. Hot damn.

And two, the Yankees won the series and completed the comeback even though Aaron Judge, their best player and a legitimate MVP candidate, was pretty much a non-factor all series. He went 1-for-20 with 16 (!) strikeouts in the five games. The one hit was a big one, it was that two-run double against Trevor Bauer in Game Four, but still. The Indians did an incredible job keeping Judge in check.

“I haven’t been doing my job there at the top of the order, and my teammates came up big for me this series. Now it’s time to regroup and get ready for the (ALCS),” said Judge to Bryan Hoch and Dan Martin following last night’s win. “It’s not tough for me. I’ve been through this before. Everyone has. Guys were able to pick me up when I wasn’t able to get the job done.”

On one hand, the Yankees managed to win the series despite Judge’s performance, which is evidence of how good and deep they are. On the other hand, they probably can’t count on that happening again. The Yankees need Judge to contribute. Not necessarily monster homers every at-bat, though I’d take them. Quality at-bats, base hits, walks … something more than strikeouts.

Judge, to his credit, did work the count in the ALDS. He didn’t go up there, flail at three pitches for the strikeout, then head back to the dugout. He saw 138 pitches in his 24 plate appearances in the series, or 5.75 pitches per plate appearance. That’s ridiculous. We also saw a Judge take a lot of called strikes in the ALDS. Here are the pitch locations and pitch types of Judge’s called strikes in the series, via Baseball Savant:

aaron-judge-alds-called-strikes

First things first, yes, Judge did get hosed on some called strikes both down below the zone and off the edges of the plate. The called strike three on the strike ’em out, throw ’em out double play last night was particularly bad. Umpires are going to make bad calls sometimes. It happens. With Judge, it seems to happen down at the knees more than anywhere. Umps haven’t adjusted to a 6-foot-7 hitter’s strike zone, I guess.

“He’s been a little more emotional … I think sometimes young kids are afraid to say something. But I definitely wouldn’t have a problem with it,” said Girardi to Mike Mazzeo when asked whether Judge should argue balls and strikes more often. “He’s extremely respectful. But I don’t necessarily think arguing for yourself is being disrespectful if you do it in the right way. It could hurt him, too. It could go the other way, too. So it’s a fine line. You really don’t know.”

And secondly, there are more than a few hittable pitches on that plot. Breaking balls that stayed up and fastballs over the plate and in the bottom half of the strike zone. They’re not meatballs, but they were pitches he might’ve been able to do something with. Judge crushed pitches basically everywhere during the regular season. Up, down, inside, on the outer half, you name it here. Here is his regular season isolated power zone profile, via Baseball Savant:

aaron-judge-2017-iso

Those pitches down in the zone and over the middle of the plate — not the pitches down and away — Judge can handle those. He did all through the regular season. The Indians did a tremendous job keeping Judge off balance in the ALDS — by Game Two it was clear he was going to see a steady diet of breaking balls — but there definitely appeared to be some instances in which Judge let a hittable pitch go by.

The best way to avoid strikeouts? Don’t get into two-strike counts. And after an ALDS that featured lots of deep counts and also some passivity, the best way for Judge to get back on track could be being more aggressive at the plate, and jumping on those early count pitches in the zone. That isn’t to say he should be reckless and swing at everything over the plate, but look for something hittable early rather than waiting for the perfect pitch, and trying to work a long at-bat. Jump on ’em early, you know?

Fortunately for Judge, he no longer has to face the Indians pitching staff. The Astros have a great staff too! But they don’t have Corey Kluber’s slider, or Trevor Bauer’s curveball, or Carlos Carrasco’s slider, or Andrew Miller‘s slider, or Cody Allen’s curveball. Those are nasty, nasty pitches. Justin Verlander’s curveball is obviously great, as in Ken Giles’ slider, otherwise the Astros can’t bury Judge with elite breaking balls. That’s not their staff.

That doesn’t mean they won’t attack Judge’s weaknesses, of course. They’re still going to throw him breaking balls because breaking balls are harder to hit than fastballs, and anything you can do to limit how often this guy makes contact is a plus. Judge is still a threat to hit a ball off the scoreboard at any moment. Other teams don’t feel comfortable with him in the box. Judge had a rough ALDS and the Yankees won anyway. To have their best chance to beat the Astros, the Yankees will need Judge to do more at the plate, and the best way to do it may be swinging early in the count.

“He was going up against some amazing pitching,” said Brian Cashman to Hoch last night. “Turn the page and now focus on Houston. Reggie (Jackson) always talked about, ‘If you have the bat in your hand, you can change the story.’ Thankfully, he’ll have the bat in his hand for another series. He’s one of the reasons we got this far, but it takes a village. Other people were able to pick it up and find a way to carry us through.”

Yankeemetrics: Kings of the Comeback (Wild Card & ALDS)

(AP)
(AP)

Wild, wild win
From a nightmare start to a very happy ending, the Yankees used their relentless power bats to overcome a debacle on the mound in a crazy Wild Card Game victory. With the win, the Yankees snapped a five-game postseason losing streak, which was tied for the second-longest in franchise history.

Luis Severino produced one of the worst playoff starts ever, becoming the third starter in franchise history to give up three or more runs while getting pulled before recording two outs in a postseason game. The others were Art Ditmar in the 1960 World Series and Bob Turley in the 1958 World Series.

Down 3-0 before even swinging a bat and your ace is in the showers? No big deal for this Yankees team: they had the second-most wins when their opponent scored first during the regular season (36). Yet still, this victory was nearly unprecedented in major-league history. Only once before had a team won a postseason game in which their starter lasted 1/3 of an inning and allowed at least three earned runs – the Pirates in Game 7 of the 1925 World Series against the Washington Senators.

The game quickly became a battle of the bullpens and the relief crew responded with a historic performance. Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman allowed just one run while striking out 13, the most strikeouts ever by a bullpen in a winner-take-all playoff contest.

Robertson’s epic outing deserves a couple #FunFacts. He’s the first Yankee reliever to throw at least 3 1/3 scoreless innings and strike out five guys in the playoffs since Mariano Rivera in Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS, and just the third reliever in major-league postseason history do that in a winner-take-all game. The other two? Pedro Martinez (1999 ALDS) and Walter Johnson (1924 World Series).

Aaron Judge put an exclamation point on the comeback with a two-run laser shot into the leftfield seats that gave the Yankees a 7-4 cushion in the fourth. Adding to his ever-growing legendary rookie campaign, he became the youngest player in franchise history to go deep in his first career postseason game. Judge also became the second-youngest Yankee to homer in a sudden-death playoff win; the other dude was a 20-year-old Mickey Mantle in Game 7 of the 1952 World Series. #NotClutch

(Newsday)
(Newsday)

Overmatched in Cleveland
The Yankees offense was a complete no-show in Game 1 of the Division Series as they were dominated from start to finish by the AL’s best team. Not only were they blanked, 4-0, but they had only three hits, the seventh postseason game all-time that the Yankees were shut out on three hits or fewer.

Adding in the 14 strikeouts, and the Yankees entered the MLB record books – in the worst possible way. This was the fifth time in major-league playoff history that a team scored zero runs, had no more than three hits and struck out at least 14 times. The Yankees are the owners of two of the five games: Thursday night and 2010 ALCS Game 3 vs Rangers. Welp.

Trevor Bauer used his nasty fastball-curve combo to throw one of the most dominant playoff pitching performances ever against this franchise. Bauer, Pedro Martinez (1999 ALCS Game 3) and Cliff Lee (2010 ALCS Game 3) are the only starters to allow no runs and two hits or fewer while striking out at least eight Yankees in a postseason game.

While the Yankees bats went M.I.A., Sonny Gray was a mess on the mound. He really struggled with his command, issuing four walks, hitting a batter and throwing a wild pitch. Only one other Yankee pitcher crammed all that into a single playoff appearance: Jack McDowell in the 1995 ALDS.

Even worse, Gray gets our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series with this #NotFunFact: only one other starter in major-league postseason history walked four guys, hit a guy and tossed a wild pitch while pitching fewer than four innings: Ramon Ortiz (Angels) in the 2002 ALDS … against the Yankees.

(Getty)
(Getty)

No challenge, no win
Speechless.

The Yankees have suffered plenty of heart-breaking and frustrating losses this season, yet somehow Game 2 managed to top them all, zooming to first place in the W.L.O.T.S. (Worst Loss of the Season) standings. How improbable was this loss?

  • The five-run blown lead was tied for their second-largest in the postseason; the last time they gagged a five-run lead in the playoffs was the 2002 ALDS (Game 3) against the Angels. And it was the first time ever the Indians erased a deficit of five-plus runs to win a playoff game.
  • Scoring eight runs, fueled by three homers, should have been enough offense to win this game. Before Friday’s loss, the Yankees were 14-0 all-time in the postseason when scoring at least eight runs and going deep three times in a game.
  • It was just the second time the Yankees lost a postseason game on the road in the 13th inning or later. It’s probably best to not mention the other one (Game 5 of 2004 ALCS vs. the Red Sox). Sorry.

And still, sometimes, baseball is predictable. This was the third extra-inning playoff contest between these two teams — and the Yankees have now lost all three.

Obviously the major pivot point of the game was the non-challenge by Joe Girardi in the sixth inning. Before we get to the numbers, Girardi’s non-challenge was clearly an inexcusable mistake given the circumstances. Anyways, here’s a couple stats related to the at-bat.

First, Chad Green had faced 190 left-handed batters in his career entering Game 2, and had hit exactly one of them (Chris Davis last year). And Francisco Lindor’s grand slam was the first extra-base hit that Green had allowed with the bases loaded in his career. Second, the Yankees challenged six hit-by-pitch calls in the regular season, which was the most of any team (they ranked 13th in total challenges with 42). And overall, the Yankees 75 percent success rate on all challenged plays this season was the best in the majors.

Now that The Ugly chapter of this game has been written, let’s finish off with The Good. Remember, the Yankees pummeled the likely AL Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, for six runs and seven hits. Gary Sanchez kick-started the offense with a two-run homer in the first inning. The 24-year-old is the youngest Yankee catcher to homer in a postseason (a 22-year-old Yogi Berra homered in the 1947 World Series as a pinch-hitter).

Aaron Hicks then sent Kluber to the showers with a three-run bomb in the third inning that put the Yankees ahead 6-3. That gave us a nice #FunFact: he joined Bernie Williams and Mickey Mantle as the only Yankee centerfielders to hit a tie-breaking, multi-run homer in the playoffs.

Finally, Greg Bird extended the lead to 8-3 with a towering shot to rightfield in the fifth. Bird and Sanchez became the second set of Yankee teammates under age 25 to homer in a postseason game. Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller also did it in Game 3 of the 1939 World Series.

(Getty)
(Getty)

It ain’t over ’til …
The Yankees staved off elimination with a dramatic 1-0 win in Game 3 on Sunday night, showing off their Fighting Spirit once again in this rollercoaster, never-say-die season.

It was the sixth 1-0 win in franchise postseason history and the third in a potential elimination game (also 2001 ALDS Game 3 and 1962 World Series Game 7). Their only other 1-0 playoff win in the Bronx was in Game 1 of the 1949 World Series against the Dodgers.

In contrast to the rest of this run-happy postseason, Game 3 was a classic – and unprecedented – pitchers duel. It was the first postseason game in major-league history where each starter allowed zero runs, no more than three hits and had at least five strikeouts.

Masahiro Tanaka delivered an ace-like performance for the Yankees, carving up the Indians lineup with his nasty, dive-bombing splitter and late-breaking slider. Considering the magnitude of the game, Tanaka’s gem becomes even more impressive and historic. A worthy #FunFact for our ‘Hiro: he is the first Yankee pitcher ever to toss at least seven scoreless innings, strike out seven-or-more guys and give up three hits or fewer in a potential postseason elimination contest.

Aroldis Chapman also came through in the clutch with a white-knuckle, five-out save to seal the win. Since saves became official in 1969, the only other pitcher in baseball history to record a save of at least five outs in a 1-0 win with his team facing postseason elimination was Mariano Rivera in Game 3 of the 2001 ALDS.

As brilliant as Tanaka and Chapman were, the Yankees couldn’t have won the game without the heroics of Greg Bird and his solo homer in the seventh off Andrew Miller. Two other Yankees have gone deep in the seventh inning or later of a postseason contest to break a 0-0 tie — Tommy Henrich in the 1949 World Series (Game 1) and Charlie Keller in the 1939 World Series (Game 4).

Finally, another #FunFact for the Birdman: he is the first player in major-league history to snap a 0-0 tie with a homer in the seventh inning or later and his team on the brink of being eliminated from the playoffs.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Stayin’ Alive
The never-say-die Yankees forced a winner-take-all Game 5 with a convincing 7-3 win at the Stadium on Monday night. The Yankees broke out of their mini-offensive slump with seven runs and were helped out by a sloppy Indians defense that led to six of them being unearned. This was just the second postseason game where a Yankee opponent allowed six or more unearned runs; the other was in Game 2 of the 1960 World Series against the Pirates.

Gary Sanchez added an insurance run in the sixth inning with a solo drive to right-center for his second homer of the postseason. Power-hitting young catchers shining in October is special; only four other backstops under age 25 have hit multiple homers in a single playoffs: Johnny Bench (1970, ’72), Javy Lopez (1995), Brian McCann (2005) and Yadier Molina (2006).

While the offensive fireworks were cool, the star of this game was Luis Severino. He bounced back from his disastrous Wild Card game outing with seven superb and gutty innings. Sevy is the second-youngest Yankee with nine strikeouts in any postseason game (trailing 22-year-old Dave Righetti in the 1981 ALDS). And he is only the fourth pitcher – of any age – in franchise history to win a potential elimination game while striking out at least nine guys. CC Sabathia (2012 ALDS Game 5), Bob Turley (1958 World Series Game 5) and Vic Raschi (1952 World Series Game 6) are the others.

(Getty)
(Getty)

#LoveThisTeam
The Yankees are Kings of the Improbable Comeback, winning Game 5 to become the 10th team in baseball history to overcome a two-games-to-zero deficit in a best-of-five series. Combined with their similar rally in the 2001 ALDS against the A’s, they joined the Red Sox as the only franchises to achieve this incredible feat twice.

Making this amazing victory even more impressive is that it came against a 102-win Indians club that was the AL’s best in the regular season. The Yankees are now 9-2 in postseason series against 100-plus-win teams, and their only losses were to the Reds in the 1976 World Series and the Cardinals in the 1942 World Series.

They’ve been at their best with their backs against the wall this entire season and especially in the playoffs, improving to 4-0 in potential elimination games and 2-0 in winner-take-all games in this postseason. It is the first time in franchise history they’ve won four games when facing elimination in a single postseason, and the first time they’ve won multiple winner-take-all games in a single postseason.

(New York Post)
(New York Post)

Didi Gregorius had a performance for the ages, lighting up the scoreboard early and often, with a solo homer in the opening frame and then going deep again in the third inning. He joined Jason Giambi (2003 ALCS Game 7) and Yogi Berra (1956 World Series Game 7) as the only Yankees with multiple homers in a winner-take-all postseason game. And … he’s the first shortstop in franchise history to go yard twice in any playoff game.

While Didi provided the power, Brett Gardner brought the grit. He won a grueling 12-pitch battle with Cody Allen in the ninth inning, lacing an RBI single into right field to give the Yankees a three-run cushion with three outs to go. Remarkably, it was the longest at-bat of his career that G.G.B.G. ended with a hit.

CC Sabathia was lights-out through four innings before getting into trouble in the fifth, but still finished with nine strikeouts. That matched his career postseason high that he set in the deciding Game 5 of the 2012 ALDS. Sabathia is just the fourth pitcher in major-league history to whiff at least nine guys in a winner-take-all game twice in his career. The others? Bob Gibson, Curt Schilling and Justin Verlander.

Aroldis Chapman sealed the win with two near-perfect innings and entered the record books with this remarkable #FunFact: He is the first pitcher in postseason history to save a winner-take-all game by throwing at least two hitless innings and striking out four or more guys.

************
We will see you Friday night!

Thoughts following Game Five of the 2017 ALDS

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

How’s this for a rebuilding season? The Yankees erased an 0-2 series deficit in the ALDS and clinched a spot in the ALCS with last night’s Game Five win over the Indians. What a remarkable comeback. Not gonna lie, I thought they were done after Game Two. I really did. Shows what I know. Anyway, here are some thoughts following that memorable ALDS win.

1. The Yankees just beat the best team in the American League — the Indians led the league with 102 wins and had baseball’s best run differential at +254 during the regular season — in the ALDS even though their best player was a non-factor and they lost the first two games. Amazing. Heck, the Yankees could’ve won that series 4-1 given the way Game Two played out with the non-challenge. Baseball is weird and the best team doesn’t always win a short series, but man, if you had any doubt about these Yankees being a bonafide contender, they’re answered now. They gave away Game Two. Gave it away. And they still rallied from down 0-2 in the series. They went two-to-toe with the best team in the league, got punched in the face in Game Two, then got back up and won the series anyway. I think this is now year three of the Fighting Spirit gag, but man, it has never been more appropriate. This team never goes down without a fight.

2. Speaking of the Yankees’ best player being a non-factor, yeesh, what an ugly series for Aaron Judge. He went 1-for-20 with 16 strikeouts in the five games and had three four-strikeout games. Like I said, yeesh. I suppose the good news is Judge did rob Francisco Lindor of that two-run home run in Game Three, so he did make an impact in the field. Also, the one-hit was that two-run double against Trevor Bauer in Game Four, which actually drove in the game-winning run. Still, a brutal series for Judge. And the Yankees won anyway! I wouldn’t count on that happening again though. The Yankees need Judge to get back on track as soon as possible, and I think he will get back on track, the same way he did after his slump after the All-Star break. The Indians have a fantastic pitching staff and Cleveland buried him with elite breaking balls. The Astros have a very good pitching staff, though it’s not as good as the staff the Indians run out there. Example: Cleveland’s third starter was Carlos Carrasco and Houston’s is Brad Peacock. Yeah. Awful series for Judge. He needs to be better in the ALCS.

3. Man, what a ballplayer Didi Gregorius has become. Gregorius hit the two home runs last night and also started that big fifth inning double play, after David Robertson replaced CC Sabathia. And don’t forget about his game-tying three-run home run in the Wild Card Game either. I was a Didi doubter. I was. I knew he’d play the hell out of shortstop, but I wasn’t sure he’d ever hit enough to be a starter on a championship caliber team, and now here he is hitting third for an ALCS bound club, and swatting dingers (plural) against the likely Cy Young winner. Gregorius has become a really good hitter in addition to being a great defender, plus he’s so damn likeable and such an important player in the clubhouse. Joe Girardi called him the captain of the infield the other day. Two years ago Didi was the only player under 30 in the Opening Day lineup. For real. He was the first real member of the position player youth movement, and he’s gotten better and better each season. It’s been a lot of run to watch. He is a very worthy heir to Derek Jeter‘s throne at shortstop.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

4. The Yankees held the Indians to five hits or fewer in four of the five ALDS games. Every game except Game Two, which went 13 innings. The bullpen allowed six runs in 20 innings in the series, and five of the six runs came in Game Two. So, aside from that ugly Game Two meltdown, the pitching staff kept a very good Indians offense in check. Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino were brilliant in their starts, and Sabathia pitched well in his two outings even if he didn’t pitch all that deep into the game. When Sonny Gray is your least effective postseason starter, you’re doing pretty great. The pitching staff was incredible in the ALDS and they had to be, because the offense overall wasn’t that great. Only 21 runs in the five games, with eight of them coming in Game Two. This has been an under-the-radar story, I believe. The Yankees had one of the top pitching staffs top to bottom during the regular season, and now that they’re into the postseason, they can lean on their top arms a little more, making them even more dangerous. The story of this series was great pitching just about each game, and timely hitting. And the Indians making seven errors and allowing six unearned runs in Games Four and Five combined. Thanks for that.

5. So Corey Kluber isn’t healthy, right? Something is up and I think that’s one of the reasons they pushed him back to Game Two rather than have him start Game One. You just don’t see a pitcher that good — again, Kluber is likely going to win the Cy Young this year — have a postseason series that bad. He gave up four homers in 6.1 innings. Come on. “I don’t feel like I need to get into details right now. I was healthy enough to go out there and try to pitch,” said Kluber to Travis Sawchik following last night’s game. Hmmm. Brian Cashman told Adam Kilgore he is “not sure Kluber was right. I’m sure something is going on there.” Whatever it is, the Yankees took advantage. Beating up on Kluber twice in the ALDS is pretty much the last thing I expected. The Yankees got a little lucky here. It seems Kluber isn’t 100% physically, which cost him location and cost his team on the scoreboard. I’m glad the Yankees were able to make him pay.

6. The Yankees will probably announce their ALCS pitching rotation later today, and if they want to, they could start Tanaka and Severino on normal rest in Games One and Two, respectively. I think the Yankees want to hold Tanaka back until Game Three though give his massive home/road splits this season:

  • Home: 3.22 ERA  (3.45 FIP)
  • Road: 6.48 ERA (5.35 FIP)

It wasn’t a coincidence Tanaka started Game Three at home in the ALDS rather than Game Two on the road. So I think the Yankees will go with Gray in Game One, Severino on normal rest in Game Two, then Tanaka and Sabathia in Games Three and Four. That would line Tanaka up to start Game Seven. Sabathia started the winner-take-all Game Five in the ALDS. Would the Yankees start him in Game Three of the ALCS to line him up for a potential Game Seven start? That would mean pushing Tanaka all the way back to Game Four. Eh. I don’t think you can line it up so Tanaka makes just one start in the ALCS. He’s too good. Alright, so all that said, I think the ALCS rotation ends up being Gray, Severino, Tanaka, and Sabathia in that order. We’ll probably get a definitive answer later today.

7. So what’s going to happen with the DH spot going forward? The DH spot went 0-for-16 with eight strikeouts in the ALDS. Including the Wild Card Game, the DH spot is 0-for-20 in the postseason. Yikes. That’s a big problem. The Yankees have a DH without the H. Dallas Keuchel is starting Game One of the ALCS for the Astros, and since he’s a finesse left-hander, I’d absolutely start Matt Holliday at DH. If you’re not going to start Holliday against Keuchel, a southpaw who won’t blow him away with velocity, then he serves no purpose. There’s no reason to have him on the roster in that case. Holliday can stay with the team and hang out in the dugout, and that’s cool because his veteran presence matters, but what does he contribute on the field that he needs to be on the roster? I say give him a chance against Keuchel, and if he shows basically any signs of life, run him out there against Justin Verlander in Game Two. Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley aren’t getting the job done and I think it’s time for something new.

8. I’m glad the non-challenge in Game Two can go away now. We can stop talking about it. It was ugly, Girardi admitted he made a terrible mistake, and the team picked up him. “This one’s for Joe. I’ll be honest with you. I told him, we got your back 100%,” said Todd Frazier to David Lennon after last night’s game. Girardi even took the ultra-rare step of going to the team and apologizing for the mistake. That never happens. Did you watch the FOX Sports 1 postgame last night? Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz, Keith Hernandez, and Frank Thomas were on the show saying that is unheard of it, and that it showed a lot of character and that Joe really cares. The Yankees overcame that gigantic blunder and won the series anyway, and when they come back to New York for Game Three early next week, I hope Girardi gets a huge ovation during the baseline introductions. He deserves it. People make mistakes and that was a very bad one that nearly cost the Yankees their season. The players went out and picked Joe up though. They care and Joe cares, and I care that they care.

Yankees 5, Indians 2: Didi & CC send the Yankees to the ALCS

Guys. GUYS. The Yankees are going to the ALCS. For real. They are going to the damn ALCS. After dropping Games One and Two of the ALDS, the Yankees officially completed the comeback to beat the best team in the AL in five games. Talk about Fighting Spirit, eh? The final score in Game Five was 5-2 on Wednesday night. Smell ya later, Indians.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Sir October
I’ve said this more times than I care to count over the years: I love first inning runs on the road. Score nice and early, force the other team to play catch-up right from the get-go. It’s great. In a game of this magnitude, scoring first felt that much more imperative. You don’t want to fall behind on the scoreboard against a guy like Corey Kluber.

Wednesday, the Yankees did score in the top of the first, and it was Sir Didi Gregorius who came through. Kluber missed badly with a fastball — catcher Roberto Perez was set up outside and Kluber missed way inside — and Gregorius hooked it into the right field seats for a solo home run and a quick 1-0 lead. Scoring first in this game felt so good. So good. Took the crowd right out of it.

Two innings later, Didi did it again. Brett Gardner started the inning with a leadoff single, then Kluber missed his location again badly, this time with a breaking ball. It hung up out over the plate and Gregorius again hammered it to right field, this time for a two-run home run. Through three innings, the Yankees led 3-0. Couldn’t have asked for a better start.

The Yankees chased Kluber in the fourth inning, which is ridiculous. That’s after chasing him in the third inning in Game Two. Kluber’s line for the series: 6.1 IP, 10 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 3 BB, 10 K, 4 HR. Four homers in 6.1 innings! You’ll never hit home runs against great pitchers in the postseason, they said. If you’d have told me Kluber would throw 6.1 innings in the series, I would’ve guessed the Indians won in three or four games. Instead, the Yankees knocked him around twice, and Gregorius gave his team a 3-0 lead.

Carsten Charles In Charge
As soon as Gregorius hit that first inning home run, we were all thinking the same thing. Shut it down, CC Sabathia. Have a quick first inning and get the offense right back on the field. Sabathia did that and more. He retired the side in order in the first on 14 pitches, and went on to retire the first nine batters he faced, and 13 of the first 14 batters he faced. Nine of those 13 batters struck out. Nine!

I get the sense Joe Girardi was ready to pull Sabathia at the first sign of trouble Wednesday night. It just so happens the first sign of trouble did not come until the fifth inning. Go figure. Austin Jackson, Jay Bruce, Roberto Perez, and Giovanny Urshela strung together four straight singles to put two quick runs on the board. Just like that it was 3-2. We’ve seen that a few times this year. Sabathia cruises for a few innings, then hits a wall and it unravels.

As I sat at home watching on television, I thought Sabathia should’ve been out after the Perez single. The Yankees had a 3-1 lead at the time, but the Indians had the tying run on base, and the bullpen was locked and loaded. Girardi decided to stick with Sabathia against Urshela, the No. 9 hitter, and it came back to bite him. The four straight singles ended Sabathia’s evening. His line: 4.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 9 K. Go CC. He’s still the man. The Man.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Hold On Tight
I love that Girardi went to David Robertson as the first guy out of the bullpen. He didn’t try to mess around with Chad Green or Tommy Kahnle because Robertson usually pitches late in the game. Girardi went to his best reliever right away, and Robertson replaced Sabathia with two runners on base and one out in that fifth inning. Two pitches later, Francisco Lindor banged into an inning-ending double play. Didi turned it beautifully.

Those two fifth inning runs got the Indians to within 3-2, which was uncomfortably close. Especially with four innings still to go. Andrew Miller and Bryan Shaw were keeping the bats quiet, and it wasn’t all that clear the Yankees would score again. They were going to have to make that one-run lead stand up. Robertson once again went multiple innings, tossing scoreless sixth and seventh innings following that fifth inning escape.

The 2.2 inning outing was made possible by a very low pitch count. Robertson got the inning-ending double play on his second pitch in the fifth, and he needed only seven pitches to cut through the 2-3-4 hitters in the sixth. He finished the outing having thrown only 29 pitches in those 2.2 innings. That was huge. Had the Indians run up Robertson pitch count, the Yankees might’ve had some trouble in the sixth or seventh inning.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Jason Miller/Getty)

That 3-2 lead was still intact in the eighth inning. I thought maybe Girardi would send Robertson back out and have him go batter-to-batter, but no, he went right to Aroldis Chapman for the six-out save. And I thought it was absolutely the right move. It was a one-run game and the top of the order was due up. That’s when you use your best reliever. The Yankees gave Chapman that $86M contract for that exact situation. One-run lead, meat of the order coming up in an elimination game. Those are the outs he was signed to get.

Fortunately, Chapman was able to keep his pitch count down like Robertson. He needed only 13 pitches in the 1-2-3 eighth inning. Three outs to go! Chapman would have to sit in the dugout for a while between the top and bottom of the ninth, however. The offense went out and scored him some insurance runs. Hooray for that. Aaron Hicks started the rally with a single to left, a single Jackson bobbled and turned into a double.

With Hicks on second and two outs, Todd Frazier worked a monster — and yet completely forgotten, it seems — at-bat against Cody Allen for a walk. He fouled away three two-strike pitches as part of a nine-inning at-bat to reach base and put two men on. Frazier’s at-bat was child’s play compared to what Gardner did next. Gardner, who was 2-for-4 up to that point, battled Allen for 12 pitches. 12 pitches! Look at this damn at-bat:

Best at-bat of the season? Best at-bat of the season. Best at-bat of Brett’s career, maybe. Gardner isn’t the greatest hitter, but that dude never gives an at-bat away, and with two outs in the ninth inning of Game Five in the AL-freaking-DS, Brett ground Allen into a pump. The single scored two runs — shout out to Lindor’s defense — and broke Allen’s spirit. “Every team in baseball could use a Brett Gardner,” Allen told David Waldstein after the game. Too bad. Gardner is ours and you can’t have him.

The two-run single gave the Yankees a more comfortable — but hardly safe, I’d say — 5-2 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. Chapman sat in the dugout a long time and coming out of that ninth inning with zero runs would’ve stunk. Thankful Gardner cashed in two. Chapman did walk the leadoff hitter in the ninth — that’s why sitting so long between innings was such a big deal — but otherwise got the final three outs without incident. Six-inning save to clinch the ALDS. Go Chappy.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty)
(Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Leftovers
Gregorius joined Yogi Berra (Game Seven of 1956 World Series) and Jason Giambi (Game Seven of 2003 ALCS) as the only Yankees to hit two home runs in an elimination game, if you can believe that. It was Didi’s third home run of the postseason too. Don’t forget that big three-run home run in the Wild Card Game either. I gotta say, I never expected Didi to develop into a legitimate middle of the order hitter on an ALCS bound team. What a trade.

More history: the Yankees are the first team in history to win a postseason game while striking out 16 times. Aaron Judge had four of those 16 strikeouts. He went 1-for-20 with 16 strikeouts in the ALDS. Yikes! Those are the most strikeouts in a postseason series in history, including seven-game series. Also, he’s the only player in history with three four-strikeout games in the postseason in his career. I still love ya, Aaron. He’ll snap out of it.

The Yankees had eight hits total. Three by Gardner, three by Gregorius, and one each by Starlin Castro and Hicks. Hicks, Frazier, and Jacoby Ellsbury drew walks. And! And Ellsbury reached on a catcher interference. How about that? Ellsbury is now the all-time leader with two career postseason catcher interferences. He holds the regular season and postseason records. Hey, the Yankees signed him to break records.

And finally, Gardner saw 34 pitches in his five plate appearances, and that includes a one-pitch at-bat in the first inning. So that’s 33 pitches in his final four plate appearances, or 8.25 pitcher per plate appearances. What a beast.

Box Score, WPA Graph & Standings
Go to ESPN for the box score and MLB.com for the video highlights. Here’s out Bullpen Workload page and here’s the win probability graph:


Source: FanGraphs

Up Next
What’s next? An ALCS date with the high-flying Astros. That series begins Friday night in Houston. Dallas Keuchel is starting Game One for the Astros. No word on who will start for the Yankees yet. I imagine it’ll be Sonny Gray. We’ll see. Thursday is an off-day, thankfully. I want to enjoy the hell out of this game and series for little while, and also maybe see my cardiologist.