Winning at all (bullpen) costs

(Patrick McDermott/Getty)

I’m going to start by repeating something I said this morning, but it’s worth it: the season is not on the line in Game Three tonight but it might as well be. Coming back from a three games to none deficit in a best-of-seven series is not unprecedented, but it is incredibly difficult. For all intents and purposes, a loss tonight would be a one-way ticket to the offseason. That’s the situation the Yankees have played (really hit, I have a hard time blaming the pitchers for anything) themselves into.

Because of this, Joe Girardi has to manage tonight like it is a Game Seven, particularly with his bullpen in relief of Phil Hughes. There’s little reason to hold anyone back for tomorrow or later in the series. This isn’t the regular season anymore, there’s no point in worrying about keeping guys fresh in the long-term when the offseason could be two days away. Girardi typically does a great job of keeping his bullpen rested during the summer, but all of that should go out the window now.

Thankfully, the core late-game relievers are well-rested. Not only did Monday’s travel day give everyone a day off, but David Robertson and Rafael Soriano also had Sunday’s game off as well. They didn’t even warm up. Furthermore, CC Sabathia is scheduled to start Game Four on normal rest tomorrow night, and he’s one of the very few pitchers who can be counted on to go out and soak up seven or more innings without thinking twice. Sabathia should make everyone, including Girardi, feel a little bit better about using the bullpen heavily tonight.

If push comes to shove in Game Three in a few hours, multiple innings from both Robertson and Soriano should be on the table. Soaking up nine total outs in a close game seems like a given, maybe even more if things get really messy. Both guys are rested, Sabathia is going tomorrow, and the game is of paramount importance. This is when a team needs to rely on its top bullpen arms and the Yankees are lucky enough to have two dynamite right-handers capable of getting both lefties and righties out. They’re a luxury who will be a necessity tonight.

ALCS Pitching Preview: Justin Verlander

Up two games to none in a best-of-seven series with the best pitcher on the planet scheduled to start Game Three is one hell of an enviable position. Unfortunately the Yankees are on the other side of that coin, down two-zip in the ALCS and slated to face Justin Verlander in his home ballpark tonight. That ain’t pretty.

Verlander, 29, put together another brilliant regular season — 2.64 ERA and 2.94 FIP in 238.1 innings — and seems to have gotten the postseason monkey off his back with a dominant ALDS showing. He came into 2012 with a 5.57 ERA in eight starts and 42 playoff innings but held the Athletics to one run in 16 total innings last week. Verlander was the worst possible matchup for the free swinging and strikeout heavy A’s, a description that unfortunately fits the Yankees’ offense at the moment as well.

2012 Performance vs. Yankees

Date Tm Opp Rslt Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA BF Pit
Apr 27 DET @ NYY L,6-7 6.0 7 5 4 0 4 2 0 2.41 26 102
Jun 3 DET NYY L,1-5 L(5-4) 6.1 9 5 3 4 4 2 0 2.67 30 114
Aug 6 DET NYY W,7-2 W(12-7) 8.0 9 2 0 1 14 0 0 2.51 35 132
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/15/2012.

The Yankees saw Verlander in all three series against Detroit in the regular season, beating him twice before that career-high strikeout total-tying performance in August. That game broken a stretch of six consecutive starts (playoffs included) against New York in which the right-hander allowed at least one first inning run.

The Yankees have actually hit Verlander harder than any other AL team in his career, a span of 13 starts and 345 batters faced. The problem is that his career started in 2005 and most of that information is irrelevant. The Yankees managed to hang five runs on him twice this year, but that still isn’t encouraging. Even if the offense was clicking on all cylinders at the moment, beating Verlander would still be a tall order. Now that they’re mired in a team-wide mega-slump, it seems like generating offense off him with take a miracle.

Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)

There is no mystery here. Verlander gets ahead with his mid-to-high-90s fastball (he famously adds velocity in the later innings) and puts hitters away with his knee-buckling upper-70/low-80s curveball. He’ll also throw a mid-80s slider to righties that breaks more down-and-away (like Joba Chamberlain‘s) than side-to-side. Verlander’s mid-80s changeup has morphed in a knockout pitch against lefties because he throws it with the same arm speed as his fastball. Felix Hernandez might have something to say about it, but there’s a very strong case to be made that the Detroit right-hander has the best pure stuff in the business. Two top of the line pitches in the fastball and curveball plus two other above-average offerings in the slider and changeup. Just filthy.

Performance & Results

vs. RHB 420 0.265 3.06 23.6% 6.0% 44.1% 35.7% 20.3% 7.8%
vs. LHB 536 0.266 2.86 26.1% 6.5% 40.8% 35.5% 23.7% 8.7%

Well, I hope you weren’t looking for a platoon split because Verlander dominates everyone. Maybe right-handed batters have a slightly better chance against him because he strikes out a touch fewer, but … nah. The guy is a machine and any team that faces him should run their very best lineup out there and forget all about platoon splits. The problem is that the Yankees don’t have a very best lineup right now, at least nothing outside of Mark Teixeira and Raul Ibanez in the middle of the order. The only thing I have to add here is that Verlander will let you steal a base, so anyone who reaches base tonight should be thinking about a stolen base as soon as possible.

Phil Hughes and stealing Game Three

(Alex Trautwig/Getty)

The season is not on the line tonight, but it might as well be. The Yankees are down two games to none in the best-of-seven ALCS, so a loss in Game Three tonight might as well be the final nail in the coffin. Yeah, a comeback is always possible, the Yankees and their fans know that first hand, but it would extremely unlikely. A baseball miracle if there ever was one.

The Yankees opted not to bring CC Sabathia back on short rest for the start tonight, meaning Phil Hughes will get the ball against Justin Verlander. It’s a matchup so lopsided that you hope the theory of “reverse lock” comes into play, and in fact the Yankees did win a Hughes-Verlander meeting in Comerica Park earlier this season. That was Phil’s complete game in early-June, his best start of the season. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean anything now as much as I wish it did.

“I don’t really feel like I can feel any added pressure just because of the circumstances,” said Hughes yesterday. “I just have to go out there and pitch, that’s all it boils down to, not really worry about being down 0-2; that Verlander is on the mound; that we don’t have our captain. Those sort of things are going to be wasted energy, and all I really want to focus on is the Detroit Tigers lineup and doing the absolute best job I can do … Obviously we don’t want to go into the series over there down 0-2, but there’s nothing we can do about that now. I just have to go into Detroit, put together a good start and trust our guys are going to score some runs. I do enjoy that pressure and the opportunity, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Hughes turned in a rock solid start against the Orioles in the ALDS last week, allowing just one run while striking out eight in 6.2 innings. He was on nearly two weeks rest though, which may have put some life back into this right arm after throwing 191.1 innings in the regular season. If he turns in another performance like that against the Tigers tonight, the Yankees might lose. Their offense has been struggling that much and Verlander is that good. Hughes is really going to have to come up huge in what amounts to the second biggest start of his career behind Game Six of the 2010 ALCS.

One way or another, the Yankees have to win four of their next five games to advance to the World Series, and at least one of those four wins will have to come in a game started by Verlander. There’s no way around it. If they want to have a realistic chance at making this a competitive series, Hughes has to steal tonight’s game against Verlander and hand the ball off to Sabathia with a chance to tie things up tomorrow. The odds are against it and everyone is (really) down on the club right now, but stealing Game Three behind Phil would be a major lift going forward. Some much-needed faith would be restored.

Lifeless: Tigers shut Yankees out in Game Two

The Yankees have become a broken record of great pitching and abysmal offense. Sunday afternoon’s Game Two loss put them in a 2-0 hole in the best-of-seven ALCS as things now shift to Detroit. Not for nothing, but getting out of Yankee Stadium is probably a good thing.

(Bruce Bennett/Getty)

#HIROKtober Doesn’t Need Rest

The decision to start Hiroki Kuroda on short rest in Game Two was anything but a slam dunk as valid concerns about the 37-year-old’s workload were abound for the last month or so. Instead of wilting under the innings total and struggling as many expected, Kuroda turned in a masterpiece. He took a perfect game into the sixth and ultimately lasted 7.2 innings that should have been a full eight had second base ump Jeff Nelson not blown a call — Nick Swisher threw behind the runner at second on Austin Jackson’s single and Robinson Cano applied the tag for the third out with ease. Nelson blew the call — here’s proof he was out — and Kuroda’s night was over.

All told, the veteran right-hander allowed three runs in those 7.2 innings, but two of those runs scored after he left the game and the B-relievers took over. Boone Logan allowed a hit to a righty (surprise surprise) and Joba Chamberlain allowed a hit to Miguel Cabrera. Kuroda allowed just five hits (four singles), didn’t walk anyone, and struck out a season-high eleven. Ten of his 12 ball-in-play outs were on the ground. He was dominant, looking more like the midseason version of himself than a guy pushing 240 innings. It’s unbelievable that the Yankees haven’t converted these pitching performances into wins.


This Offense Creates The Wrong Kind Of Runs

Three singles, three walks (one intentional), and a double. That was the New York offense on Sunday. Mark Teixeira (double) and Raul Ibanez (walk) reached base with two outs in the first and Ichiro Suzuki made it to third base with two outs in the seventh, but no runs crossed the plate. Ibanez singled to leadoff the fourth but was erased on a botched hit-and-run with Russell Martin at the plate, a clear sign that the Yankees are getting desperate to generate offense.

The futility, as you know, runs up and down the lineup. Cano took an 0-for-4 and is now hitless since the first inning of Game Two of the ALDS, a span of 26 at-bats. That is the longest playoff hitless streak in team history. The bottom four hitters in the order went a combined 2-for-17 (singles by Alex Rodriguez and Swisher) with a walk (Curtis Granderson) and nine strikeouts. Ichiro reached base on an error once in four plate appearances in his first day as Derek Jeter‘s replacement in the leadoff spot. Joe Girardi semi-tore into his club for not making adjustments after the game, a problem that they simply may not have enough time to fix.

(Bruce Bennett/Getty)


Girardi got ejected for arguing with Nelson following the blown call at second — his fifth ejection of 2012 and fourth in a game against the Tigers — and went a big instant reply rant after the game. He basically said what most fans have been thinking, that it’s ridiculous that the technology exists and is not being used. That said, Girardi made it clear that he does not blame the call (or yesterday’s blown call on Cano at first base) for the two losses to open the series. He was just stating the obvious.

Detroit scored their first run in the seventh after Kuroda nearly pitched his way out of a first and third situation with no outs. The speedy Quintin Berry was on third, the slow-footed Cabrera on third. He threw five straight splitters to Prince Fielder to strike the lefty slugger out, then Delmon Young bounced a routine double play ball to short. Fill-in shortstop Jayson Nix shuffled the ball to Cano for the first out, but he bobbled the transfer and that was that. Young was safe at first without a throw and Berry scored. Kuroda was so close to escaping the jam unscathed, but his defense betrayed him. Between that and the utter lack of run support this season, the guy must hate his teammates.

The Yankees have scored a total of 20 runs in their seven playoff games, including just eleven in the five games at home. The scored four runs in the two games against the Tigers this weekend, and all four came in one inning off the combustible Jose Valverde. In fact, non-Valverde pitchers have thrown 40.1 consecutive scoreless innings for Detroit, which is ridiculous. And I thought the Yankees were getting great pitching.

Box Score & WPA Graph has the box score and video highlights. I suppose the good news is that the Yankees have been down 2-0 in a best-of-seven playoff series eight times in their history, and they’ve rebounded to win the series four times. The most recent was, of course, the 1996 World Series against the Braves. Who will be the 2012 Jim Leyritz? For some reason Martin seems too obvious, so I’ll say Nix. Anyway, the last team to come back from a 2-0 deficit in a best-of-seven was (sadface) the 2004 Red Sox.

Source: FanGraphs

Up Next

Monday is a travel day, so the Yankees (and their fans) will get a much needed day off. These two teams will reconvene at Comerica Park for Game Three on Tuesday night at 8pm ET. Phil Hughes is scheduled to get the ball against Justin Verlander in a mismatch that already went New York’s way once this season. Check out RAB Tickets if you want to catch the game.

ALCS Game Two Thread: Tigers @ Yankees

For the first time since Game Six of the 1981 World Series, the Yankees will play a playoff game today without either Derek Jeter or Mariano Rivera on the active roster. Rivera’s season came to an end due to a knee injury months ago, but Jeter fractured his left ankle just last night and will miss the remainder of the postseason. The Game One loss by itself was demoralizing, but adding the Captain’s injury on top of that pushed yesterday into contention for the worst baseball day ever.

Alas, no one will feel sorry for the Yankees. They lost Game One not because Jeter got hurt, but because the offense again failed to capitalize on numerous opportunities. Jose Valverde’s meltdown spared them the embarrassment of being shutout, though I think getting shut out would have been preferable to everything that happened after the Yankees tied the game. The pitching has been fantastic, the offense not so much. I’ve run out of words to describe them, so I’ll just stick with “maladroit” today. Here are the starting lineups…

Detroit Tigers
CF Austin Jackson
LF Quintin Berry
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Prince Fielder
DH Delmon Young
LF Andy Dirks
SS Jhonny Peralta
C  Alex Avila
2B Omar Infante

RHP Anibal Sanchez (9-13, 3.86)

New York Yankees
LF Ichiro Suzuki
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixeira
DH Raul Ibanez
Russell Martin
3B Alex Rodriguez
CF Curtis Granderson
RF Nick Swisher
SS Jayson Nix

RHP Hiroki Kuroda (16-11, 3.32)

It’s beautiful and surprisingly warm in New York today, so it’s a good day for baseball. First pitch is scheduled for 4pm ET and the game will be broadcast on TBS. Try to enjoy.

Ticket Update: If you want to catch any game in this series, either in New York or Detroit, make sure you check out RAB Tickets for some sweet last minute deals.