Reviewing RAB’s ten bold predictions for the 2017 season

Thanks for making me look smart, Chad. (Bob Levey/Getty)
Thanks for making me look smart, Chad. (Bob Levey/Getty)

Sadly, the 2017 Yankees season came to an end Saturday night, with a loss to the Astros in Game Seven of the ALCS. On one hand, falling one win short of a World Series spot sucks always and forever. On the other hand, the 2017 Yankees were a pretty awesome team. I haven’t had this much fun following the Yankees in a long time. I won’t forget this season.

Back in March, four days before Opening Day, I made ten bold predictions for the 2017 Yankees season. And now that the season is over, it’s time to go back and see how I did. One thing this exercise taught me: I need to go bolder next year. Most of this year’s bold predictions were more mild than bold. Eh, whatever. This was my first crack at this. Now I know better for next season. To the bold predictions review!

1. Pitchers not currently on the 40-man roster will combine for 30+ starts.

Yeah, I probably should’ve gone with something like 50+ starts instead of 30+ starts if I wanted to be bold. Here is the games started leaderboard among players who were not on the 40-man roster as of the bold predictions post:

  1. Jordan Montgomery: 29
  2. Sonny Gray: 11
  3. Jaime Garcia: 8
  4. Caleb Smith: 2

That is 50 starts — 50 starts! — by pitchers who weren’t on the 40-man roster at the end of Spring Training. Nearly one-third of the season. The Yankees had some serious questions at the back of their rotation this year, though I figured guys like Luis Cessa, Bryan Mitchell, and Chad Green would get most of the chances to fill in since they were already on the 40-man. That didn’t happen. Cessa, Mitchell, and Green combined for seven starts this season — five by Cessa and one each for Mitchell and Green.

2. Judge finishes in the top three of the Rookie of the Year voting.

Well, technically we don’t know the answer to this yet since the awards haven’t been announced yet, but yeah. Aaron Judge is going to be named AL Rookie of the Year. It should be unanimous, but you never know. The rookie WAR leaderboard:

  1. Aaron Judge, Yankees: +8.2
  2. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers: +4.0
  3. Paul DeJong, Cardinals: +3.0
  4. Matt Chapman, Athletics: +2.7
  5. Jordan Montgomery, Yankees: +2.7

If Judge doesn’t win AL Rookie of the Year, it’ll be a travesty.

3. A pitcher other than Tanaka, Betances, and Chapman makes the All-Star Team.

I am 3-for-3 so far. Luis Severino made the All-Star Team this season. And he made it clean. He wasn’t an injury replacement or a Final Vote guy or anything. He was an original member of the AL All-Star roster. In the bold predictions post I guessed Michael Pineda would be the pitcher other than Masahiro Tanaka, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman to make the All-Star Team. I don’t know why anyone listens to me.

4. Green emerges as the next great Yankees reliever.

I am proud of this one. I believed Green had the tools to be a very effective reliever, mostly because his fastball generated so many swings and misses, even as a starting pitcher last season. His slider is just okay and his changeup basically doesn’t exist. I figured he’d eventually end up in the bullpen at some point, impress while airing it out for an inning or two at a time, and eventually enter the Circle of Trust™. That is pretty much exactly what happened. I’d be lying if I said I expected Green to be this good, but I had a feeling there was a potentially dominant reliever hiding in there somewhere. This is why people listen to me, I guess. Every once in a while I luck into looking smart.

5. Neither Sanchez nor Bird will lead the Yankees in home runs.

Remember Greg Bird‘s Spring Training? He was a monster and it looked like he was about to have a huge season. That’s why I included him in this bold prediction. Obviously the ankle injury changed things. Gary Sanchez was ridiculous during his two-month cameo last year, and pretty much everyone expected him to be the team’s best hitter this summer. The 2017 Yankees home run leaderboard:

  1. Aaron Judge: 52
  2. Gary Sanchez: 33
  3. Didi Gregorius: 25
  4. Brett Gardner: 21
  5. Matt Holliday: 19

In the bold predictions post I picked Starlin Castro to lead the Yankees in homers in 2017. For real. Here’s what I wrote:

I’m boldly predicting Sanchez and Bird will finish second and third on the Yankees in home runs, in either order. Judge could sock 25+ dingers, which would probably be enough to lead all rookies, though I don’t think he’ll lead the Yankees either. Not Matt Holliday or Chris Carter either. My pick? Starlin Castro. Boom. Castro turned 27 last week and is at the age where maximum power output could be reasonably expected. He set a career high with 21 dingers last year, and now that he’s entering his second year with the Yankees and is presumably more comfortable with things, I’m saying he’ll get to 30 this year.

Castro finished sixth on the team with 16 home runs, though he spent two stints on the disabled list with hamstring injuries. Otherwise he would’ve cleared 20 homers easily, maybe even 25. And he still wouldn’t have been even halfway to Judge. Yeah, technically I got this bold prediction right, but the Castro pick is kinda embarrassing. I’m ashamed.

6. The Yankees do more buying than selling at the trade deadline.

Remember when we were all talking about the Yankees as sellers? Good times. The Yankees sold at last year’s trade deadline, and they weren’t projected to be all that good this season, so of course we thought they might sell again. Tanaka, Betances, Holliday, Gardner, and others represented potentially tradeable pieces.

Ultimately, the Yankees bought at the trade deadline with two big trades and one smaller deal. A quick recap:

Don’t forget about the Tyler Webb for Garrett Cooper blockbuster. All buying, no selling.

7. Ellsbury, not Gardner, is the outfielder traded away.

Nope. Neither was traded away. The outfielder traded away was, uh, Fowler? Poor Dustin. His injury was definitely the worst moment of the season. Once the injury happened, part of me hoped the Yankees would make the postseason and invite him to throw out the first pitch at some point. That would’ve been cool. The Yankees traded him instead. This business is cruel.

8. Rutherford will take over as the No. 1 prospect in the organization.

Nope. Rutherford was traded too, so he can’t be the No. 1 prospect in the organization. That said, even if he hadn’t been traded, he wouldn’t have taken over as the top prospect, even with Gleyber Torres blowing out his non-throwing elbow and needing Tommy John surgery. Rutherford did not have a good season overall:

  • With the Yankees: .281/.342/.391 (113 wRC+) with two homers, 18.1 K%, 8.2 BB%
  • With the White Sox: .213/.289/.254 (63 wRC+) with no homers, 15.4 K%, 9.6 BB%
  • Overall (all at Low-A): .260/.326/.348 (98 wRC+) with two homers, 17.3 K%, 8.6 BB%

I certainly wouldn’t give up on Rutherford based on a disappointing first full season as a pro. The kid is still incredibly talented and it could click next year. He’s not a better prospect than Torres though. This bold prediction didn’t come true. (MLB.com currently ranks Gleyber as the top prospect in baseball with Rutherford sitting at No. 39, for what it’s worth.)

9. The Yankees will have the most productive DH spot in baseball.

For the first two and a half months of the season, this one was looking pretty good. Holliday had a fantastic start to the season. Then he got sick and just stopped hitting in mid-June, two things that may or may not be related. Here is where the Yankees ranked among the 15 AL teams in DH production:

  • AVG: .235 (11th)
  • OBP: .327 (4th)
  • SLG: .429 (5th)
  • OPS+: 105 (3rd)
  • HR: 28 (5th)

The Mariners had the most productive DH spot pretty much across the board thanks to Nelson Cruz. They were first in AVG (.288), first in SLG (.547), first in OPS+ (148), first in homers (39), and second in OBP (.374). Only the Indians were better in OBP (.391).

10. The Yankees will spend more days in first place than last year.

I kinda cheated with this one. The Yankees spent zero days in first place last year. They didn’t win the AL East this season, though they did spend 62 days in first place, more than 2013 (17 days), 2014 (24 days), and 2016 (zero days) combined. (They spent 100 days in first place in 2015.) I closed the bold predictions post with this:

Even with the questions at the back of the rotation, I believe this team is better than last year, and it’ll show when they get off to a better start in April. They’ve had some trouble keeping their head above water early on the last few seasons.

The Yankees went 15-8 with a +43 run differential in April, the best record in the AL. And off they went.

Thoughts following the 2017 ALCS

(Robert H Levey/Getty)
(Robert H Levey/Getty)

The ALCS is over and the Yankees are back home in New York, or wherever home is for the guys. The ALCS ended three days ago now, but I needed some time to catch my breath and unwind a bit. This is a busy time of year. Fun, but busy. Anyway, I have a bunch of thoughts, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Clearly, the first order of business this offseason is re-signing Brian Cashman. It would be insane to let him go given the job he’s done the last few years, and I don’t expect him to go anywhere. I’ve seen some speculation Derek Jeter could try to lure Cashman to the Marlins, but nah. Jeter and Cashman were never all that close as far as I know. Remember, when Jeter was up for a new contract years ago, Cashman played the bad cop and ownership played the good cop during negotiations. Cashman told Derek to go find a better offer if he thought there was one out there. Not sure Cashman to Miami is a realistic possibility. Before the Yankees can move forward with their offseason business, they have to bring back the guy calling the shots, and that’s Cashman. I don’t think he wants to leave and I don’t think the Yankees want to move on either. I expect Cashman to sign a new contract pretty soon, and he’ll probably end up with a salary in the $7M to $10M per year range. That’s the going rate for a top baseball operations executive as set by Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman. At this point I trust Cashman implicitly. That doesn’t mean every move will work out, but he’s earned the benefit of the doubt every time in my book.

2. Following the Game Seven loss, CC Sabathia was very emotional in the clubhouse and he made it crystal clear he wants to remain with the Yankees. “This is my home. I want to see this thing through. I want to come back here and finish things off,” he said. As far as I’m concerned, bringing Sabathia back is an easy call. He’s not going to cost much — the going rate for a veteran innings dude is one year and $12M or so, though I could see Sabathia pushing for two years — and there’s always a need for pitching depth. Sabathia is still effective, he’s a leader in the clubhouse, and there’s no concern about how he’ll adjust to New York. Don’t get me wrong, there are some very good reasons to let Sabathia walk. His age (37) is a good one. So is his troublesome knee, and the fact he doesn’t pitch deep into games anymore. It just seems to me that, when you’re filling out the back of your rotation, you’re going to end up with a flawed pitcher anyway. At least Sabathia has shown he can be effective in New York and Yankee Stadium, and you know he’s a major presence in the clubhouse. Bringing him back is a no-brainer. It’s such a perfect fit for both the Yankees and Sabathia — they get a reliable complementary starter and Sabathia gets to stay home with a team that gives him a chance to win another ring — that I think there’s a chance this gets done rather quickly, perhaps even before the start of free agency. Assuming Cashman gets signed soon, that is.

3. The Yankees lost the ALCS because they scored three runs in four road games at hitter friendly Minute Maid Park. That’s the single biggest reason right there. The Yankees went 6-0 at home and 1-5 on the road this postseason — the one road win was Game Five of the ALDS — and what does that mean? Does it mean anything? The Yankees were much better at home (51-30) than on the road (40-41) during the regular season, though keep in mind they had a +62 run differential on the road. How do you outscore your opponents by 62 runs in 81 road games and finish one game below .500? Good grief. That’s what all those one-run losses and blowout wins will do to you. The Yankees were third in runs (407) and fourth in wRC+ (101) on the road this season, so it’s not like scoring away from Yankee Stadium was a problem all year. It just happened to be a problem in the ALCS, and facing Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander three times in those four ALCS road games surely contributed to the offensive woes to some degree. I dunno. I don’t think there’s some sort of fatal flaw that prevented the Yankees from scoring on the road in the ALCS. It was just one of those random baseball things. The Astros are 6-0 at home and 1-4 on the road this postseason. Should they be worried?

4. Something tells me the 2017 ALCS will not be the last time the Yankees and Astros meet in the postseason. Both teams have very strong young cores with more prospects on the way, and a good mix of win-now veterans. They’re both set up to contend for a while and that will inevitably mean more postseason meetings. Like when the Yankees played the Rangers and Indians all the time in the late-1990s, and then the Athletics and Twins in the early-2000s. These two clubs aren’t going away anytime soon. Get used to seeing the Astros folks.

5. Now, that said, do not take this year’s success for granted. Success can be fleeting in baseball, even for teams with a great young core and money to spend. The Yankees were one win away from the World Series this season and they might not get that close again anytime soon. Baseball is hard, man. Plus weird things happen in the postseason. No one wanted to face the Indians in the ALDS going into the postseason. Remember that? Then the Yankees came back from down 0-2 in the series. Cleveland went from unbeatable to playing golf in a heartbeat. A few bounces here and there can change a short postseason series dramatically. The best team doesn’t always win. Yes, the Yankees appear to have a very good young core and a strong foundation to remain in contention going forward. So did the Mets in 2015. You just never know what’ll happen though. The Yankees exceeded expectations and had a fun season in 2017. It definitely stings that they fell one win short of the World Series though. You just never know when they’ll get this close again.

6. As fans, we tend to compare things to the past. Melky Cabrera was the next Bernie Williams. Jordan Montgomery is the next Andy Pettitte. So on and so forth. And in the last few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of “the 2017 Yankees remind me of the 1996 Yankees” talk going around our comments and on social media, and I get it. The 1996 Yankees had some great young players in their first full MLB seasons as well as several lovable veterans who helped the team to surprising success. Then the Yankees lost the ALCS and all that talk became “the 2017 Yankees remind me of the 1995 Yankees” because of the postseason exit. For me though, the 2017 Yankees remind me most of the 2015 Cubs. The Cubs had been rebuilding for a while and were starting to get their best young players to the big leagues, then bam, they reached the postseason and made it to the NLCS. Epstein even admitted afterward the Cubs were a year ahead of schedule. The Yankees feel like a team ahead of schedule. That doesn’t mean they’ll in the World Series the very next season like the 2015 Cubbies, though the roster construction (many great young players) and quick ascent reminds me of that 2015 Cubs team. You could see the talent coming and the potential for a juggernaut, then it arrived much earlier than anyone expected. That’s the 2017 Yankees.

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

7. So can we put the idea of a bullpen game being a smart plan to bed yet? The Yankees did the bullpen thing out of necessity in the Wild Card Game — Luis Severino recorded one (1) out before being removed — and their bullpen was a mess basically the entire rest of the postseason. David Robertson could only give the Yankees nine ineffective pitches in Game Three of the ALDS, five days after the Wild Card Game, because he was so worn down. You gotta do what you gotta do to win in the postseason, and in the Wild Card Game that meant pushing the bullpen to its limit. Imagine doing that on purpose though? No way. Run through your bullpen in the Wild Card Game and you put yourself at an even bigger disadvantage in the LDS. The Yankees had one of the deepest bullpens in baseball this season and we still went into a few too many postseason games wondering how they’d get outs.

8. When the Red Sox fired manager John Farrell a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but wonder whether he’ll wind up with the Yankees in some capacity. Not as a coach or manager, necessarily. In the front office. The Yankees have yet to replace Gary Denbo as their farm system head and Farrell was the Indians’ director of player development from 2002-06, before getting into the coaching ranks. Cleveland had one of the most productive farm systems in baseball from 2002-06 and they were consistently ranked near the top of the various organizational rankings. Farrell has experience running a player development operation and the Yankees have an opening, so maybe he’s a fit. Probably not though. The Yankees tend to promote from within and grow their own executives, not hire someone from outside the organization and stick them in a prominent position. Another name to watch as the Yankees look for a Denbo replacement: Trey Hillman, who is currently managing the SK Wyverns in Korea. He and Cashman are close, and Hillman spent several years working in the Yankees farm system during the 1990s and early 2000s. He also ran the Rangers’ player development system for a while, so he has experience in that role.

9. I’m curious to see what happens with the DH spot next season. Even if the Yankees were to unload Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury, they’d still have four outfielders (Gardner/Ellsbury, Aaron Hicks, Aaron Judge, Clint Frazier) for three spots, plus other young players who will soon need MLB at-bats. Miguel Andujar, Tyler Wade, Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney, and so on. And what happens if the Yankees sign Shohei Otani? He might need DH at-bats too. I get the sense letting him hit will be one of his demands when picking a team, should he come over to MLB. Because of all this, I don’t see the Yankees signing a set DH like Matt Holliday again. If they sign a veteran bat, it’ll be someone who can play a position(s) in addition to getting DH at-bats. Maybe that means re-signing Todd Frazier? That’s something we can discuss at another time. I’m not too keen on the idea, personally, but it’s worth discussing. Anyway, yeah, I get the feeling we’re heading for a revolving DH next season, mostly as a way to get young players (and maybe Otani!) in the lineup regularly and rest the veterans.

10. This has been said before and it’s worth repeating: Cashman has made some phenomenal buy-low moves the last few years. Didi Gregorius is the most notable, obviously. Getting Hicks has turned out very well too. Even if you aren’t a Hicks believer, what he did in the first half makes that trade a big win considering how poorly John Ryan Murphy worked out for the Twins. And Starlin Castro too. He’s frustrating as hell, believe me I know, but the Yankees got him cheap and he has been the club’s best second baseman since Robinson Cano by a mile. Even Sonny Gray would qualify as a buy-low situation in my book. Without those injuries last year and early this year, no way do the Yankees get him for two prospects rehabbing from major surgeries and a third whose stock has been slipping for two seasons now. The prospects and seller trades get all the attention and understandably so. Those buy-low trades contributed big time to the Yankees success this season though, and they’re a not insignificant part of the youth movement.

11. It will be pretty easy for me to pull for the Dodgers in the World Series. I want Clayton Kershaw and my main man Curtis Granderson to get World Series rings. Part of me wants Carlos Beltran to finally get a ring too, but I’m pulling for Kershaw and Granderson more. Also, the Astros represent basically everything I hate about the way baseball teams are run these days. I hate seeing hard tanking rewarded. Screw losing on purpose forever and forever. Carlos Correa, the franchise cornerstone shortstop, is making the league minimum this season because the team renewed him after he had the audacity to ask for a modest raise over the winter. Second straight season that happened. To hell with that. Dodgers in six. Corey Seager wins World Series MVP.

Glow and Grow

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Before we begin, a sincere thanks to you, dear readers, for following along during the season and the playoffs. We all appreciate your day in, day out support and couldn’t do any of this without you. Please continue to read, share, and support the–frankly–great work that goes on here. Yankees Only. 

Reflection and feedback are key to our growth in anything we do. Whether we’re students or professionals in whatever field, we don’t move forward unless we take stock of what’s happened, how it happened, why it happened, and what to do next. When the Yankee organization goes through this process, they’ll have plenty to be happy about.

I said it all year. You said it all year. Everyone said it all year. This was not supposed to be ‘the year’ for the Yankees. This was supposed to be a year in which they won 85 games if everything clicked right. Everything clicked way right and they won 91 games and took one of the two best teams in the AL to seven games in the ALCS. Despite the repetition, I don’t think this can be said enough. What the Yankees did this year is nothing short of shocking in the best possible way.

They led the league in homers. They were second in runs. Top three in AVG/OBP/SLG. Their pitchers were third in ERA and fourth in strikeouts.

Aaron Judge? An MVP type season. Gary Sanchez? A 24 year old catcher with 30 homer power and the ability to throw out nearly 40% of base stealers. Luis Severino? A Cy Young caliber season. Chad Green? The next Dellin Betances. Greg Bird? A great playoff run to inspire hope for 2018. Clint Frazier? Forced his arrival early and showed flashes of brilliance in his cup of coffee.

What was the worst thing that happened to this team? Michael Pineda‘s injury? As sad as it was to see Big Mike go down, they didn’t miss him. Matt Holliday‘s second half of doom? It didn’t sink the team. Chris Carter? Total disaster, but they recovered.

2017, in so many ways, was glowing for the Yankees. They do have things to improve, mainly Dellin Betances remembering he’s Dellin damn Betances and fixing whatever ailed him for the last month or so of the season. They have to figure out their third base situation and the outfield logjam.

For this team, there is room to grow. For this team, the future is bright. We got an unexpectedly great taste this year, and hopefully, this is just the appetizer. While baseball will break your heart more often than not, this team looks to be set up for long-term success.

The World Series or bust mentality has certainly gone away in the last few years, and that’s a good thing. Despite that, expectations were the lowest for this team than they had been in years. Not only did the Yankees beat those expectations, they shattered them. If anyone–friend, family, foe–tells you that this year was a disappointment, a failure, laugh at that person. This was probably the most fun season the Yankees have had since 2009 and there should be many more just like around the corner.

Thoughts prior to Game Seven of the 2017 ALCS

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

For the fifth time in the last 18 days, the Yankees will play with their season on the line tonight. They are a perfect 4-0 in elimination games this postseason, and tonight’s Game Seven with the Astros will determine who moves on to face the Dodgers in the World Series. I am weirdly not nervous. I’m sure I’ll want to puke during the game, but I’m excited more than anything. Anyway, let’s get to some thoughts.

1. I thought Justin Verlander did a real nice job changing the game plan in Game Six. I mentioned yesterday he threw a ton of first pitch fastballs in Game Two, so it would make sense for the Yankees to hunt them in certain spots. In Game Six Verlander threw a first pitch fastball to 18 of the 27 batters he faced, so that’s nine who got a non-fastball. In Game Two he faced 32 batters and threw only six non-fastballs on the first pitch. A few Yankees took ugly hacks against first pitch breaking balls and changeups last night. Also, Verlander broke out his curveball and slider earlier in Game Six than he did in Game Two. Last night he came out of the gate firing everything. In Game Two he held back a bit on the curveball and changeup. Verlander had eight strikeouts last night: three on fastballs, two on sliders, two on changeups, one on a curveball. He was getting outs with everything. Verlander is tough as it gets. When he comes out with a different game plan than the first time you saw him in the series, he’s even tougher.

2. I said this in the recap last night and it bears repeating: I really did not like letting Luis Severino face Jose Altuve in the fifth inning. I didn’t even want Severino facing Josh Reddick, the previous batter, but Reddick popped out, so no big deal. Except that quick pop-up — Reddick popped up on the third pitch — is probably the reason Joe Girardi let Severino face Altuve. Had Reddick put together a longer at-bat and given Severino a chance to fall behind in the count (again), he might’ve been out of the game after that, even if Reddick eventually popped up anyway. There were plenty of indications Severino was losing it. I mean, three walks in the inning should set off alarm bells, right? Anyway, I’m harping on this because I thought it was a bad mistake. Aside from the non-challenge against the Indians, I think Girardi has had a great postseason overall. I’ve liked his bullpen usage and his lineup decisions. That decision last night, letting a fading Severino face Altuve for the third time with the bases loaded in a one-run game, stands out as a bad one. Probably Girardi’s worst move (or non-move) in the postseason behind the non-challenge. At that point Severino was not the best man to get that very important out. Chad Green, who was hot in the bullpen, was. Alas.

3. David Robertson really didn’t look good last night. His stuff was flat and the four Astros hitters he faced were on everything. The exit velocities on the four hits he allowed, in order: 93.3 mph, 107.2 mph, 102.2 mph, 98.4 mph. The Altuve homer had the lowest exit velocity. Go figure. Robertson just looked worn down to me, which is understandable, I think. Going into Game Six he’d throw eleven postseason innings — all intense high-leverage innings — in eleven games spanning 17 days. That’s an awful lot work. Robertson has thrown 79.1 total innings this season, easily the most of his big league career. It’s easy to understand why he’d look as worn down as he did last night. Of course, that isn’t good news for the Yankees, who figure to need their bullpen tonight since CC Sabathia rarely pitches deep into the game. I wonder if Tommy Kahnle, not Robertson, will be Girardi’s go-to setup option tonight given how run down Robertson looked last night. We’ll see. I suspect Kahnle will be the first guy out of the bullpen to put out any Sabathia created fire. Figure the rest out after that.

4. It goes without saying Game Seven is an all hands on deck game. It would not surprise me at all to see Dallas Keuchel come out of the bullpen at some point for the Astros. I’m pretty sure Lance McCullers Jr. will be the first guy out of the bullpen for Houston. For the Yankees, this means what? Sonny Gray in relief? Maybe Masahiro Tanaka? The Yankees always play it extremely safe with Tanaka, but two things. One, it’s a win or go home game! And two, tomorrow might be his final game as a Yankee. As callous as it sounds, Tanaka’s long-term health might not be the club’s biggest concern if they’re planning to let him walk once he triggers his opt-out. In a perfect world, the Yankees score a zillion runs and go Sabathia to Kahnle to Chapman tonight. Things rarely go according to plan though. My guess is we’ll see Robertson be asked to get some big outs (again), even after a tough outing last night. I don’t think we’ll see Gray or Tanaka unless Sabathia gets knocked out early or the game goes into extras.

5. Since the LCS became a best-of-seven in 1985, 15 teams have won Game Six when trailing 3-2 in the series, thus forcing a Game Seven. Of those 15 teams, 13 (!) went on to win the series. That is pretty crazy. History is not on the Yankees side tonight. Then again, if you’ve been reading RAB long enough, you know I’m not big on using history as a predictive tool. What happened in the past, those 13 teams that went on win the series after trailing 3-2, has no bearing on the 2017 Yankees. Besides, this Yankees team has been defying the odds all season. Why can’t they do it again? If nothing else, these Yankees have shown they are very resilient. They get knocked down — and there were a lot of knockdowns this season, plenty of bad losses to go around — and they get right back up and keep fighting. I expect more of the same in Game Seven tonight. The Yankees may lose and their season could end tonight. But I do not expect them go down without a fight. It’s not in their DNA.

Thoughts following Game Five of the 2017 ALCS

(Getty)
(Getty)

The Yankees are one win away from going to the World Series. I can’t believe it. They’ve turned an 0-2 series deficit into a 3-2 series lead for the second straight series. Three wins were enough to beat the Indians in the ALDS. The Yankees still need one more win to get to finish off the Astros in the ALCS. What a fun season. Anyway, I have some thoughts on the off-day, so let’s get to ’em.

1. Can’t say enough about Masahiro Tanaka‘s performance last night. His entire postseason, really. It was difficult to expect the Yankees to score a lot of runs given their history against Dallas Keuchel — Joe Girardi played the infield in in the second inning! — so Tanaka was going to have to match zeroes to keep the Yankees in the game, basically. Fortunately, the Yankees roughed Keuchel up and gave Tanaka some breathing room. He kept hanging zeroes on the scoreboard anyway. The Astros only squared him up a handful of times. The Yulieski Gurriel double in the second inning, which eventually led to the infield being drawn in. That’s about it. Tanaka held the Astros to an average exit velocity of 81 mph. That’s nothing. His average exit velocity during the regular season was 87.7 mph. It was 88.2 mph last season, when he finished seventh in the Cy Young voting. Tanaka is a stone-cold assassin on the mound. He stays cool and composed, but he competes like hell and will show some emotion when he gets a big out. What a start last night. What a postseason.

2. What a series for the pitching staff in general. The Yankees have held the Astros to nine runs and 22 hits — only eight of those 22 hits have gone for extra bases (seven doubles and one homer) — in the five games so far. Houston scored eight runs in Game One of the ALDS against Chris Sale and the Red Sox. Then they scored eight more runs in Game Two against Drew Pomeranz. The Yankees have held them to nine runs total in five games. Incredible. And this is not isolated to the Astros either. Here are the runs allowed by game this postseason: 4, 4, 9, 0, 3, 2, 2, 2, 1, 4, 0. That works out to a 2.45 ERA in eleven games and 99.1 innings. In the AL with the DH, against the very good Indians and Astros, and with six of those eleven games being played at hitter friendly Yankee Stadium. Incredible. We all knew the bullpen would be good, and aside from Game Two of the ALDS, it has been. The starters have really come through huge though. Aside from Luis Severino in the Wild Card Game, the Yankees are getting a quality outing every game right now. That’s why they’re one win away from the pennant.

3. The bats have finally come alive. Aaron Judge is 3-for-6 with two doubles and a homer in the last two games, and that doesn’t include his Game Three homer. Gary Sanchez is 3-for-7 with a double and a homer in the last two games. Chase Headley is 4-for-5 in the last two games. Those three guys — well, the two young guys and the DH spot — were really dragging down the offense earlier in the series. Judge and Sanchez were strikeout machines in Games One and Two, and the DH spot had done nothing all postseason until Headley poked a well-placed ground ball back up the middle the other night. I’ve said it several times within the last week and I’m going to say it again: the Yankees have no chance to beat the Astros without Judge and Sanchez contributing. They’re too important to the offense. Over the last two games, they’ve started to contribute, and that’s why the Yankees are now going back to Houston with a 3-2 series lead.

(Getty)
(Getty)

4. We don’t talk about Didi Gregorius enough. As much as we talk about him, it’s still not enough. Gregorius is 6-for-20 (.300) in the series and hitting .275/.383/.500 with more walks (seven) than strikeouts (six) in the postseason so far. He hit the game-tying homer in the first inning of the Wild Card Game and then hit two homers against Corey Kluber in Game Five of the ALDS. He also had a single during the four-run eighth inning rally in ALCS Game Four the other day. Plus Gregorius plays a mean shortstop. He makes everything so look easy when it is very not easy. Didi is similar to Robinson Cano in that he’s so smooth and in control in the field that it looks like he’s not even trying. I never in a million years envisioned Gregorius as a legitimate middle of the order hitter for a World Series contender, but here we are. Replacing Derek Jeter had to be a daunting task for the front office. Turns out they absolutely nailed it on the first try with Didi. What a ballplayer.

5. I know the Yankees won the last three games and have pitched so well and the offense is starting to heat up and they lead 3-2 in the series, but make no mistake, the next win will be the hardest one to get. The Yankees have to get that win in Houston against an Astros team that will be playing all-out to save their season. And they’re facing Justin Verlander tomorrow. This might sound silly because they’re so good, but do not underestimate the Astros. They are an excellent team, much better than we’ve seen in the series so far, and winning one of the next two games will not be easy. The easy part is over. Turning that 0-2 into a 3-2 lead will be nothing compared to nailing down this last win. If the Yankees are going to go to the World Series — I still can not believe this is a thing with a very real chance to happen — they’re really going to have to earn it. Winning one of two games at Minute Maid Park with Verlander set to toe the slab in one of them is no small order. Then again, no one said going to the World Series would be easy.

Thoughts prior to Game Five of the 2017 ALCS

(Getty)
(Getty)

So are we having fun this postseason or what? Once again, the Yankees have fought back from down 0-2 in a series to even things up 2-2. They did it against the Indians in the ALDS, and now the Astros are getting a taste of the Fighting Spirit in the ALCS. That win was amazing yesterday, but the series is far from over. You know that. It’s a best-of-three now. Anyway, let’s get to the thoughts.

1. Now that the series is tied 2-2, the hard part begins. Mathematically, the Yankees have to do two things to win this series. They have to beat Dallas Keuchel or Justin Verlander, and they have to win a game in Houston. Can’t do it any other way. Today’s game is huge for both teams, because neither wants to go back to Houston needing to win Games Six and Seven. That’s true for the Astros, not just the Yankees. Because there’s an off-day tomorrow, I imagine Joe Girardi is ready to go all out with his bullpen to nail down a win today. In a perfect world Masahiro Tanaka would throw seven brilliant innings like he did in Game Three of the ALDS, when the Yankees were facing elimination. If not, Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson could both be asked to throw multiple innings. So could Aroldis Chapman if there are some stray outs that need to get got in the eighth. Girardi knows these guys will get to rest Thursday, and a win today in Game Five would make things so much easier going forward. Hopefully Tanaka continues to pitch well and takes the ball deep into the game. If not, I expect Girardi to use that bullpen aggressively.

2. Speaking of the bullpen, the Astros seem to have some issues down there, huh? Steven wrote about this last week. Ken Giles, last night’s blowup aside, has been pretty great all year. Chris Devenski and Will Harris have been very home run prone since the All-Star break though — Harris gave up Aaron Judge‘s three-run home run in Game Three — and neither Luke Gregerson nor Francisco Liriano inspire much confidence right now. There’s a reason neither see high-leverage work. The Yankees sent 15 batters to plate against Houston’s bullpen yesterday and none of the 15 struck out. That seems impossible. Could you imagine the Yankees bullpen going 15 batters without a strikeout? Keuchel and Verlander are workhorses of the first order. The Astros can reasonably expect them to pitch deep into Games Five and Six because they’ve been doing it all year. Now that the Yankees are seeing these guys a second time, hopefully they work the count a little more and not only be more effective against them, but also get into the bullpen a little sooner. The Astros have some issues down there right now, and I’ll take my chances in a battle of the bullpens any day of the week.

3. Man, how great was it to see Judge and Gary Sanchez play such huge roles in the comeback yesterday? Forget about their recent strikeout-filled slumps for a second. I’m just talking about two young cornerstone players getting huge hits in a postseason game. That is an awful lot of fun, isn’t it? These two are the faces of the franchise now. These are the types of hits and moments the Yankees are going to count on them to provide the next five or ten or however many years. And to see them do it now, in their first postseason and first full MLB season? Gosh that is awesome. Sanchez and especially Judge have looked more dangerous at the plate the last two games and it’s not a second too soon. The Yankees need those two to beat Keuchel and Verlander. I’m just glad they were able to snap out of their slumps and contribute in a huge way to that memorable win last night. That alone is really exciting and memorable.

(Getty)
(Getty)

4. Todd Frazier has been exactly the right player at exactly the right time for the Yankees. He’s been involved in basically every notable rally so far this postseason. He had the run-scoring double against Trevor Bauer in ALDS Game Four. He worked a nine-pitch walk in front of Brett Gardner‘s monster 12-pitch at-bat in ALDS Game Five. He slugged the three-run home run in ALCS Game Three the other day. Then, last night, he started that four-run eighth inning rally with a leadoff single. Frazier is a flawed hitter. He pops up a lot and it drags down his average. That’s just who he is. But, so far this postseason, Frazier has shown he’s not afraid of the bright lights and he embraces the biggest moments. And that’s on top of all the intangibles he adds. His teammates love him and he brings so much energy to ballclub. No one is having more fun than this dude. Given his role as a complementary player who bats near the bottom of the order, he’s been as good as the Yankees could’ve possibly hoped. Sometimes teams make a trade and that player just fits in perfectly. That’s Frazier.

5. Austin Romine catching Sonny Gray is absolutely going to be a thing now. Assuming the Yankees advance and Gray makes another start, of course. I hope he gets that chance. Following the game yesterday Gray said he and Romine were on the same page — he shook him off only once in five innings — and they had a good rhythm going. That sounds like more than enough for Girardi to justify keeping them together. Gray’s last four starts prior to yesterday were rough, mostly because he struggled to throw strikes, so I imagine anything that makes him comfortable and effective will remain in place going forward. That’s Romine. Gray said himself they were working well together. What can you do? I guess this is a thing now.

6. With each passing round this postseason, the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium has gotten better and better. The place was electric last night. The atmosphere was great during the Wild Card Game, it was even better during the ALDS, and now it’s better than it’s ever been since the new place opened. I went to postseason games in 2009. Aside from maybe Alex Rodriguez‘s game-tying home run against Joe Nathan, I don’t ever remember the ballpark getting as loud and as rowdy as it did during the eighth inning rally last night. It’s been amazing. Really amazing. This team is lovable — how weird is it that the most lovable team left in the postseason is the Yankees? — and fans are buying into it. The fact they’ve exceeded expectations makes it so much better. This has been such a fun ride, from the young players having so much success on down to being at the ballpark.

Thoughts prior to Game Four of the 2017 ALCS

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Now we’ve got a series on our hands. After dropping Games One and Two of the ALCS in Houston, the Yankees returned home to Yankee Stadium to win Game Three last night. They still trail the series 2-1, but according to the laws of sports momentum, they will go undefeated the rest of the postseason after last night’s win. Anyway, I have some thoughts.

1. Can we talk about the pitching so far this series please? I feel like it is completely flying under the radar. The Yankees have held the Astros to five runs and 15 hits in three ALCS games so far. That includes only three extra-base hits. Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa are 9-for-23 (.391) so far this series and the rest of the Astros are 6-for-66 (.091). There has been some great defense to rob base hits along the way — Aaron Judge saved two hits last night, one a double at the wall and the other a bloop in shallow right — but hey, that counts. You need pitching and defense to prevent runs, not just one or the other. The Astros have the kind of offense that can explode for four or five or six runs in an inning at basically any moment, so I’d be lying if I said I think the Yankees will continue to manhandle Houston’s lineup the rest of the series. The fact they’ve pitched so well and are still down 2-1 in the series is quite annoying. What can you do though? Overall, the pitching has been excellent so far in the ALCS, and really in the entire postseason. The guys on the mound are doing their job.

2. Man was it great to see Judge have a monster two-way game last night. He had the two great plays on defense and also hammered the three-run home run, which officially turned Game Three into a laugher. That doesn’t mean Judge is out of the woods yet — his slump didn’t end when he ripped that double against Trevor Bauer in Game Four of the ALDS, after all — but at least he contributed on both sides of the ball and could go home feeling pretty great about things. Judge is a pretty stoic dude who never seems to get too high or too low, though I’m sure the struggles and all the strikeouts were beginning to wear on him. How could they not? It’s only natural. The Yankees survived the ALDS with Judge doing basically nothing. I have a hard time thinking they can come back to beat the Astros in the ALCS without him contributing. He’s too important to the lineup and the team in general. Judge reminded us of all the wonderful things he can do on the field last night. Hopefully that was a sign of things to come the rest of the postseason.

3. The Yankees at home this postseason: 4-0. The Yankees on the road this postseason: 1-4. The one win was Game Five of the ALDS. Does that mean anything? The Yankees were a much better team at home than on the road this season, though I don’t think the postseason home/road record is indicative of anything. The two games in Houston were very winnable, and the Yankees were up five runs in one of the games they lost in Cleveland. They might’ve won that game had Joe Girardi challenged the hit-by-pitch. A bounce here or a borderline pitch call there could’ve changed that road record easily. I do, however, believe the Yankees are an extremely confident team at home. They’re built for Yankee Stadium and they know they can do serious damage at home. That doesn’t mean they lack confidence on the road or anything. I think this team believes they can beat anyone anywhere, and they should, because they can. At home though, I get the sense they feel invincible.

(Duane Burleson/Getty)
(Duane Burleson/Getty)

4. I was a bit surprised the Astros opted to start Lance McCullers Jr. in Game Four today rather than literally anyone else. Brad Peacock was the obvious alternative, though my hunch was they’d go to Dallas Keuchel on short rest. I guess not. As good as McCullers can be — his mid-80s (!) curveball is just filthy — it’s been a while since he’s been effective. McCullers had some back problems in the second half, and in his final seven starts of the regular season, he had an 8.53 ERA (4.14 FIP) with 46 hits allowed in 31.2 innings. That’s what a miniscule 15.7% soft contact rate will do for you. McCullers was getting squared up well down the stretch — he allowed two runs on three hits and two walks in three innings in his only ALDS outing, which came in relief — and hopefully he’s still not right when he takes the mound today, because when this kid is on, he’s untouchable. Also, another thing to keep in mind: McCullers has not thrown more than 83 pitches in a game since July. Work the count and he could be out of the game fairly early. After three or four innings or so.

5. At this point, I think the Yankees have to stick with Chase Headley at DH. The DH spot finally got into the hit column with his little seeing-eye ground ball single between the shift last night — the DH spot is now 1-for-30 (.033) in the postseason — but, more than anything, Headley seems to be starting to square the ball up more often. He had a line drive reeled in by Josh Reddick at the wall in Game Two and also had two other line drives go four outs the last two games as well. Headley has put balls in play at 96.1 mph, 96.2 mph, and 98.6 mph in the last two games, all of which went for outs. Exit velocity isn’t everything, but given the current DH situation, at least we’re seeing some signs of life here. Headley has squared some balls up the last few games and you might as well keep running him out there, and hope it continues. Eventually the hits will fall in if it does. That makes Jacoby Ellsbury a pinch-runner and Matt Holliday a … I don’t know what. A veteran mentor occupying up a 25-man roster spot.

6. Pretty good chance Dellin Betances threw his final pitch of the postseason last night. Maybe even the final pitch of his Yankees career, though I don’t think so. Girardi did the right thing by using him with the 8-0 lead. That’s exactly when you should be using a pitcher you’re trying to get right, even in the postseason. And Girardi did the right thing by yanking Dellin after the back-to-back walks. Unless the Yankees play a lot of blowouts the rest of the way, it’s hard to see how Betances toes the slab at all. Blowouts and extra innings — like extra extra innings — are about it. If the Yankees get to the World Series, they’ll have to consider leaving him off the roster. Hopefully for a bat but maybe it ends up being Chasen Shreve. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. The Yankees need to win three more games before we can begin thinking about the World Series roster. For now, Betances is an obvious mess, his confidence is shot, and there’s basically no way Girardi can use him in anything other than an emergency. What a shame.