2017 ALCS Game Three: Astros at Yankees

2017-alcs-logoOnce again, the Yankees return home in a postseason series down 0-2. And, once again, they’re faced with having to make a big comeback against a 100+ win team. The Yankees made that comeback against the Indians in the ALDS. Can they do it against the Astros in the ALCS? I mean, sure, of course they can. Will they? That’s another matter.

This season the Yankees had the AL’s best home record at 51-30, so it would seem it is advantage Yankees that these games will be played in Yankee Stadium. Then again, the Astros were tied for the AL’s best road record 53-28, so maybe not. But! The Astros were tied with the Indians for the best road record, and we know what happened in the ALDS.

More than anything, the Yankees need to get their offense going. They scored one run in Game One and one run in Game Two, and botched several chances due to poor baserunning decisions. The Astros aren’t exactly firing on all cylinders either. How much longer will that continue, realistically? It would behoove the Yankees to snap out of their team-wide funk soon, as in tonight. Here are the starting lineups:

Houston Astros
1. CF George Springer
2. 3B Alex Bregman
3. 2B Jose Altuve
4. SS Carlos Correa
5. DH Yulieski Gurriel
6. C Evan Gattis
7. 1B Marwin Gonzalez
8. RF Josh Reddick
9. LF Cameron Maybin
RHP Charlie Morton

New York Yankees
1. LF Brett Gardner
2. RF Aaron Judge
3. SS Didi Gregorius
4. C Gary Sanchez
5. 1B Greg Bird
6. 2B Starlin Castro
7. CF Aaron Hicks
8. 3B Todd Frazier
9. DH Chase Headley
LHP CC Sabathia

It is a cold and windy night in the Bronx. Playoff weather. If you’re at the game, I hope you dressed warm. Tonight’s game will begin at 8pm ET and FOX Sports 1 will have the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Luis Severino (shoulder) doesn’t need further tests, it was determined. He played catch today and they’ll check on him again tonight just to be sure everything is fine. If (when!) there’s a Game Six, Severino will be the starter.

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.

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.

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!

Despite all the attention on the bullpen, the Yankees forced Game Five with great starting pitching

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

Incredibly, the ALDS is going back to Cleveland. The Yankees, after dropping Games One and Two at Progressive Field — Game Two in particularly gut-wrenching fashion — rallied to win Games Three and Four at Yankee Stadium to force a decisive Game Five tomorrow night. This team, man. They don’t go down with a fight. We’ve seen it all year.

The Yankees are in the ALDS because their bullpen bailed out Luis Severino in the Wild Card Game last week. Severino recorded one (1) out before a parade of relievers held the Twins to one run in 8.2 innings. The Yankees didn’t build a deep power bullpen for that reason, but it sure came in handy. New York’s bullpen is their greatest weapon.

And yet, the Yankees did not force Game Five with their bullpen. More than anything, they’re going to play for an ALCS spot tomorrow night because they received great starting pitching from Masahiro Tanaka and Severino in Games Three and Four. The bullpen, particularly Aroldis Chapman and Tommy Kahnle, helped along the way, as did some timely hitting, but the starters were the stars of the show.

  • Tanaka in Game Three: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 7 K
  • Severino in Game Four:  7 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 9 K

The Indians did touch Severino up for two home runs in the middle innings last night, but he finished very strong and completed seven innings to give the gassed bullpen a rest. Considering his miserable Wild Card Game start last week, that was a monster performance for Severino. What a great rebound.

“Part of it is the steps I’ve seen him take this year. You’ve seen players continue to take that step and he’d done it all year,” said Joe Girardi after last night’s win. “I told him after the game, he grew up a lot today. He started to get tired after the six innings and it was the part of the lineup giving him trouble and he was able to get the extra inning, which was good for our bullpen. To me, that’s growing up.”

Even after that Wild Card Game performance, the Yankees were never going to stave off elimination in the ALDS without quality starting pitching. Riding the bullpen in the postseason is one of those ideas that sounds great, and works a lot of the time, but isn’t practical on a daily basis. You can’t pitch Chad Green and David Robertson every single game. Chapman can’t get five-out saves day after day. It can’t be done. Thees guys are human and they get tired. They’re not robots.

The Yankees, especially after getting crummy starting pitching performances in the Wild Card Game and Game One of the ALDS, were going to need great starts from Tanaka and Severino in Games Three and Four. Not good starts. Great starts. The Indians are too good to beat with bad starting pitching. Every team in the postseason is too good to beat with bad starting pitching. The Yankees needed more from their starters and Tanaka and Severino provided it.

“I think every win starts in the pitcher’s hand,” added Girardi. “Your starting pitcher and how he does and how he goes out and attacks the hitter and gets them out and gives you a chance to win.”

With the season on the line, the Yankees have to be ready to use Severino in relief in Game Three

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

For the second time in five days, the Yankees will play a win or go home game at Yankee Stadium tomorrow night, in Game Three of the ALDS. It didn’t have to be a win or go home. The Yankees blew an 8-3 lead in Game Two last night, with Joe Girardi‘s non-challenge of the Lonnie Chisenhall would-be inning-ending foul tip strike three dominating headlines, and rightfully so. It was a bad, bad decision.

The task ahead is extremely daunting. To advance to the ALCS, the Yankees have to beat the Indians three straight games, and this is an Indians team that a) has not lost three straight games since July, and b) has lost only four of their last 39 games overall. Rough. You have to win one before you can win three though, and tomorrow night the Yankees will try to win that one.

And, given their current situation — a loss tomorrow ends a season that has been so fun no one wants it to end — Girardi and the Yankees need to be prepared to do basically whatever it takes to win, and that includes using Luis Severino in relief. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The bullpen is gassed. A bullpen game in the Wild Card Game sounds great until your top relievers are running on fumes in the ALDS. Chad Green looked worn down yesterday and David Robertson has to be feeling it after throwing 77 high stress pitches the last four days. Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman both went multiple innings in Game Two as well.
  2. He might not pitch in the series otherwise. If the Yankees do not use Severino in relief in Game Three, it is entirely possible they lose the ALDS without their best pitcher throwing a single pitch. That can’t happen. He is one of the team’s best weapons and he has to be used, especially with the season on the line.

So, what’s the plan here, exactly? Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled start Game Three tomorrow, and I’d say the plan should be Tanaka for as long as possible, Severino out of the bullpen for as long as possible, then hopefully Chapman to close it out. If the Yankees have to use other relievers somewhere along the line, so be it. Severino has bullpen experience. We know he can do it, and he’d be on normal rest tomorrow following his short Wild Card Game start.

The alternative here would be simply starting Severino in Game Three tomorrow, and hey, that’s a great idea. Like I said, he’d be on normal rest, so that’s not a problem. My concern here is that it doesn’t help the bullpen at all. Tanaka does have some bullpen experience — he closed out Game Seven of the 2013 Japan Series, and also pitched in relief early in his career — though it has been a while, and besides, do you want him doing that given The Elbow™?

I think starting Tanaka and letting Severino be the first guy out of the bullpen gives the Yankees the best chance to win Game Three tomorrow, at least on the pitching side of things. It’s unclear how much Green and Robertson (and Betances and Chapman) can provide right now. It might not be much based on last night. So, the options are a) continue to ride those fatigued relievers, b) rely on lesser relievers, or c) use Severino in relief. Give me (c).

If the Yankees use Severino in relief tomorrow and actually win, they’d then need to come up with a starter for Game Four on Monday, and that’s a bridge you cross when you come to it. Maybe Jordan Montgomery gets the ball? Or Jaime Garcia following his solid relief work in Game One? Sonny Gray on short rest could be an option. I hope this is a decision the Yankees have to make, because that means the season will not have ended tomorrow.

The Yankees right now have to treat every game like a Game Seven, because it is a Game Seven. One more loss and they’re going home for the winter. And in Game Seven, using Severino in relief — Girardi said Severino was available yesterday had the game gone deep into extra innings — is such an obvious move. He gives you the best chance to win. With their bullpen gassed and their season on the line, using Severino out of the bullpen tomorrow is a no-brainer.

Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia will start first two games of ALDS

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

Following tonight’s optional workout at Progressive Field, Joe Girardi announced Sonny Gray and CC Sabathia will start Game One and Game Two of the ALDS, in that order. They did not announce the rotation beyond that.

Not much of a surprise Gray is starting Game One. He’d been lined up for that game for a little while now. Sabathia starting Game Two over Masahiro Tanaka seems to be based on home-road splits (and overall performance).

Sabathia at home: 4.20 ERA (4.54 FIP)
Sabathia on the road: 3.18 ERA (4.33 FIP)

Tanaka at home: 3.22 ERA (3.45 FIP)
Tanaka on the road: 6.48 ERA (5.35 FIP)

Luis Severino threw only 29 pitches in last night’s dud outing, and my guess is the Yankees did not announce their rotation beyond Game Two because they are considering using him in relief in Game One. If they need him in Game One — their bullpen will be short tomorrow — he won’t start until Game Four. If he isn’t need in Game One, then he’ll go in Game Three. We’ll see.

Gray will be opposed by Trevor Bauer, not Corey Kluber, in Game One. Sabathia will face Kluber in Game Two. That’ll be all sorts of fun. Current Indians ace vs. former Indians ace.

Update (8:47pm ET): Girardi announced Tanaka will start Game Three and Severino will start Game Four. Severino is not a bullpen option in Game One, apparently. Hmmm.