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)

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 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.

2017 ALDS Game Five: Yankees at Indians

2017-alds-logoSo here we are, once again. The Yankees are playing for their season tonight. They’ve done that three times within the last eight days and won all three times. Now they have to do it again, against a very good Indians team and a very good Corey Kluber. No one said winning the World Series would be easy.

The ALDS started about as poorly as possible. The Yankees were shut out in Game One, then blew a five-run lead in Game Two, thanks in part to the non-challenge. They rebounded to win Games Three and Four at home, and the Yankees have won pretty much every type of game imaginable this postseason:

  • Wild Card Game: Beat the other team’s ace and win a battle of the bullpens.
  • ALDS Game Three: Win a super close pitchers’ duel.
  • ALDS Game Four: Beat up on a pitcher you’re supposed to beat up when he’s on short rest.

So … what’s left? A blowout win? Man I’d sign up for one of those in a heartbeat. Not getting my hopes up though. Chances are Kluber won’t struggle the way he did in Game Two again. The Yankees do have their top relievers locked and loaded though, so if they get a lead in the middle innings, they’re set up well to close it out. Here are the starting lineups:

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. DH Jacoby Ellsbury
9. 3B Todd Frazier
LHP CC Sabathia

Cleveland Indians
1. SS Francisco Lindor
2. CF Jason Kipnis
3. 2B Jose Ramirez
4. DH Edwin Encarnacion
5. 1B Carlos Santana
6. LF Austin Jackson
7. RF Jay Bruce
8. C Roberto Perez
9. 3B Giovanny Urshela
RHP Corey Kluber

It is a cool, cloudy, and humid night in Cleveland. Similar weather to the last two games in New York. It rained earlier today, though it cleared out a while ago and it’ll stay dry the rest of the night. Tonight’s game will begin at 8pm ET and FOX Sports 1 has the broadcast. Enjoy the game.

The optimal bullpen usage for yet another winner-take-all

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

The Yankees will play on Wednesday just their sixth game of the postseason, yet it will be their second winner-take-all. Unlike the first one, this game will likely ride more on the starting pitchers with the performances of CC Sabathia and Corey Kluber looming large.

However, with the way Joe Girardi has managed his bullpen over the last eight days, we have seen a variety of different game options after the starter. In their last two wins, it’s been ‘Rely on the starter and then go to the big guns.’ The win over the Twins was the routine ‘Get 26 outs of top four relievers’ game. You know, basic stuff we see all the time.

And we’ve also gotten a taste of every reliever in this series outside of Jordan Montgomery, who will likely be the long man in late extra innings on Wednesday.

So with that in mind, here’s my take on the optimal use of the pen.

1. Make the same decision with CC as in Game 2: Girardi caught flak for many things after Game 2. Rightfully so. But pulling Sabathia early wasn’t as big a mistake. You only have to go back to the last Monday of the regular season for a game where Sabathia was left in a little too long and let the opposing team back in the game.

And this time, the Yankees have a more rested bullpen to get the final few innings, especially if Sabathia can get two times through the order. Once you’re into the fifth or the sixth, CC should probably be batter-to-batter except in the extremely unlikely case of a 6+ run lead.

2. If Chad Green warms up early, he needs to come in early: This one is simple and worked to a tee in the Wild Card Game. Girardi got Green hot in the first and then went to him and rode him into the third. With four days off, Green should be able to do something similar if the situation calls for it.

But if Green gets hot in those first few innings, he better come in or he likely goes to waste. Green warmed up in the second and third innings in Game 2 but didn’t come in until the sixth. That’s a good 80-plus minutes or so after sitting down. It’s no wonder he seemed off.

We saw the same thing with Alan Busenitz in the Wild Card Game. I know, I know, not nearly as reliable a reliever. But the Twins got him warm in both the first and second inning and he didn’t come in until there were bases loaded and two outs in the seventh. That’s a lot of downtime and it thus makes sense that he threw four straight balls to walk in a run.

So hopefully Girardi doesn’t repeat this mistake. It’s better off skipping Green if he warms while CC gets out of early trouble than having Green warm, throw a ton of warmup pitches over the course of a few innings and then sit, just to come in off of his game.

3. Ride Robertson, Kahnle and Chapman (duh): At this point, I have no idea what the Yankees can get out of these three, but they need to seize every last drop in Game 5. A Houston series or beyond is irrelevant right now.

Here are their lines through five games:

  • Robertson: 3 G, 5.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K, 87 pitches
  • Kahnle: 3 G, 5 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 6 K, 59 pitches
  • Chapman: 3 G, 4.2 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 9 K, 81 pitches

Kahnle’s thrown fewer pitches (and those numbers!) but also pitched most recently. Are two days off enough for full throttle Robertson and Chapman? You have to figure Chapman can get you at least three outs. Robertson, too. Between the three, they should be able to get the last four innings. Maybe five.

How do you tell who’s up for what? That’s gotta be a gut feel for Girardi, who needs to be willing to pull them too early rather than too late. You’ve still got Adam Warren, Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray after them if needed. But we should see at least Chapman at some point and probably all three of these big guns.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

4. Avoid Betances: Dellin Betances can’t come into this game. He just can’t. It’s tough to see Betances struggling like this. His command just isn’t there and he needs to be at the very back of the bullpen. Probably behind Montgomery and Jaime Garcia. Would you feel comfortable with him in extras? Not ahead of Warren or one of the starters.

The Baseball America podcast brought up the question of whether he should even be on a possible ALCS roster and it’s unfortunate that it’s a valid question to raise. But until the ALCS roster is something worth discussing, Betances shouldn’t be pitching, even in a blowout.

5. Get by without the starters until extras: It’s really tempting to go with Tanaka after how he looked on Sunday. However, you never know how someone who hasn’t relieved will react to that situation. With the depth of this bullpen, the Yankees can survive without finding out what they can get from Tanaka or Gray (or Severino) until extra innings. If Sabathia struggles, Green and Warren are fine long men to get you to the fourth/fifth. Once you’re in extras, it’s all hands on deck in a pure scramble.

Thoughts prior to Game Five of the 2017 ALDS

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

Once again, the Yankees will play with their season on the line tonight. It’ll be their fourth elimination game in the last eight days. Not sure I need this much baseball-related stress in my life right now but whatever. Game Five is tonight. Yankees vs. Indians, winner faces the Astros in the ALCS and the loser goes home. Lets get to today’s thoughts.

1. I don’t know about you, but I am oddly zen about this whole series. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel the nerves once the game gets underway. That’s unavoidable. But I don’t live and die with every pitch like I did when I was younger. Maybe it’s just a function of getting older, or maybe it has to do with the fact the Yankees have wildly exceeded expectations this season, and I feel fortunate they’ve gotten this far. I’m enjoying the ride. That’s all. This has been the most fun Yankees season for me in quite some time. It’s been better than 2009 in a lot of ways. In 2009, the Yankees were expected to win, and when they did, it almost felt like a relief. This is nothing like that. The Yankees are (a lot) better than I expected, the team is ultra-likeable, and they’re just a lot of fun to watch play. Whatever happens tonight, win or lose, I’ve enjoyed the heck out of this season. It’s been a very long time since a Yankees team made me feel this way.

2. Against a guy like Corey Kluber, who is legitimately one of the five best pitchers on the planet, it can be easy to get caught up in the “work the count, raise his pitch count, get him out of the game as fast as possible” mentality. Of course you want to do those things. You want to do that against every pitcher. But I also think there’s something to be said for hunting a certain pitch (a fastball, usually) early in the count and taking a big rip if you get it. Kluber’s not going to give you many hittable pitches. If you happen to get one first or second pitch, you don’t want to pass it up for the sake of working the count. The downside here is that if you do hunt those early count fastballs and don’t do damage, you might look up in the sixth inning and see Kluber cruising at 65 pitches. At the same time, if you take pitches and try to drive up his pitch count, Kluber’s going to be ahead in the count 0-2 on a lot of guys, and that’s no way to hit. The Yankees have several smart, patient hitters in the lineup — Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro are the only real hackers — so I trust that they’ll work the count against Kluber, and also jump on that hittable early count fastball should it present itself.

3. A crazy idea that won’t and shouldn’t happen: Ronald Torreyes at DH. Or maybe Castro at DH and Torreyes at second. The idea is Torreyes in the lineup over the hodgepodge of unproductive DHs the Yankees have used this postseason. Kluber is super tough and it’s not just that hard contact is hard to come by, contact in general is hard to come by against him. Torreyes excels at putting the ball in play. That’s his thing. And hey, he sure as heck won’t let a hittable fastball go by early in the count. Chase Headley and Jacoby Ellsbury have contributed nothing this series and Matt Holliday hasn’t played in over a week. Putting him in the lineup for the first time in nine days in an elimination game against Kluber is asking for trouble. Torreyes hasn’t played much either, but he does get the bat on the ball, and maybe that’ll lead to something big in Game Five. Like I said though, this ain’t happening. It was just a thought.

4. Speaking of the DH, rumor has it Edwin Encarnacion will be back in the lineup tonight. Terry Francona hinted at the possibility yesterday, when Encarnacion ran in the outfield and took batting practice to test the ankle. They’re not paying this guy to run. As long as he is healthy enough to mash a baseball, the Indians will put him in the lineup, and live with the station-to-station baserunning. It’s not like he gives them that much more than that when healthy anyway. I can’t imagine Encarnacion is 100% physically right now — that was a really ugly ankle roll, they’re lucky the injury wasn’t worse — but I expect him to tough it out and be in the lineup tonight, and that’s unfortunate for the Yankees. Encarnacion changes the entire complexion of Cleveland’s lineup.

5. So I guess I need to make another prediction? I mean, I already predicted the Yankees in five, so I can’t go back on that. I also predicted Aaron Judge will have the big game-winning hit against Andrew Miller in Game Five, so I’m sticking with that too. Furthermore, I’m thinking this game will be low-scoring into the late innings thanks to two very different pitching performances — Kluber dominates while CC Sabathia pitches in and out of jams before giving way to the bullpen in the fifth inning — before the Yankees get the lead late. The final three outs? Painful. Tying run on base, middle of the order due up, something wild like that. Isn’t that always how these games go? I don’t foresee a quick 1-2-3 ninth inning with two ground balls and a strikeout on ten pitches. I’m expect a good ol’ makes-you-want-to-puke ninth inning in Game Five.

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.”

Thoughts following Game Four of the 2017 ALDS

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

The 2017 Yankees are not going down without a fight. Did you expect anything else? This team has been resilient all season. The Game Four win last night means a winner-take-all Game Five tomorrow night at Progressive Field. The Yankees are 3-0 in elimination games already this postseason, you know. Lets get to some thoughts, shall we?

1. This probably sounds lame as hell, but man am I proud of Luis Severino. He got smacked around in the Wild Card Game and was booed off the field, then he came back last night and shoved against the best team in the American League in a win or go home game. Yes, Severino did allow those two home runs in the middle innings, but he shook them right off and finished the game strong. He was throwing upper-90s in the seventh inning with his pitch count over 100 and showing no fear. Going right after hitters. Severino’s come a long way since just last season. Last year any little rally would snowball into something big and ugly. This year Severino limits the damage and goes back about his business. He’s matured so much as a pitcher and we saw it last night. He rebounded from that Wild Card Game start like a champ. I’m proud of the kid. I don’t care if it sounds lame.

2. Obvious statement is obvious: getting the top relievers a night off last night was huge. Chad Green and Aroldis Chapman did warm up during Game Four, though it was more like playing catch to get loose than getting on the bullpen mound intending to get hot and pitch in the game. A little catch is nothing. For all intents and purposes, Chapman and David Robertson will go into Game Five with two days of rest and Green will go into Game Five with four days of rest. Also, Sonny Gray was not needed last night, so he’ll be available in the bullpen tomorrow (with an extra day of rest) in case things go haywire. This works both ways — Andrew Miller will go into Game Five with two days of rest too — but I’m feeling pretty good about the bullpen situation right now. Chapman, Robertson, and Green should be as close to 100% as we could reasonably expect after the last week.

3. I’m a big Sonny Gray fan but I think the Yankees are 100% making the right call starting CC Sabathia in Game Five tomorrow. No doubt in my mind. They’re not going to ask him to dominate for eight innings, though they’d happily take it. Realistically, the Yankees need what, four good innings from Sabathia? They could piece together the final five innings from Green, Robertson, Chapman, and the suddenly untouchable Tommy Kahnle. You know Sabathia is not going to be overwhelmed by the moment and you know Sabathia is going to be motivated to beat his former club. Can you believe this? Sabathia was so terrible from 2013-15 and now here is, getting the ball in an elimination game in 2017 and pretty much everyone agrees he’s the right man for the job. What a time to be alive. By the way, the last time the Yankees won a full postseason series? The 2012 ALDS against the Orioles, when Sabathia threw a complete-game in Game Five.

Ouch. (Mike Stobe/Getty)
Ouch. (Jason Miller/Getty)

4. Know what’s had a big impact on this series? Edwin Encarnacion’s injury. That dude is a terror at the plate. He started slow this season — Encarnacion was hitting .199/.333/.356 (89 wRC+) as late as May 20th — yet he still finished the year at .258/.377/.504 (132 wRC+) with 38 home runs. He’s that good. Encarnacion has not played since rolling his ankle at second base in Game Two and Michael Brantley, who has stepped in at DH for the time being, has gone 1-for-11 with a walk and four strikeouts. Brantley returned from an ankle injury of his own very late in the regular season — he got three whole at-bats before the start of the postseason — and looks very much like a player who is still searching for his timing at the plate. And hey, maybe he’ll find it tomorrow. It can happen quick and Brantley is really good. For now though, the Indians lost their top power hitter and a very dangerous middle of the order presence. The Encarnacion injury has undeniably changed the series and helped the Yankees. Just think, how does Game Three play out if he’s in the lineup? I don’t even want to think about it.

5. Speaking of the DH, good gravy, I have no idea what the Yankees can do at that spot. Chase Headley went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts last night and the DH spot has now gone 0-for-18 in five postseason games. That’s bad. Real bad. I was on board with starting Matt Holliday last night because he’ll at least work the count and maybe pop a dinger, but tomorrow night, against Corey Kluber? Kluber will chew Holliday up. Holliday has been lost against righties the last few weeks, especially anyone with mid-90s gas, and Kluber is no ordinary righty. Starting Holliday at DH against Kluber in Game Five after having him sit on the bench for nine days seems doomed to fail. I dunno. I guess Jacoby Ellsbury is best DH option tomorrow. Neither he nor Headley have looked good lately, but, if nothing else, Ellsbury might be able to make something happen with legs. Force an error, beat out a double play, something like that. Headley gives you basically no shot at that. There’s no good DH solution right now, and if the Yankees do manage to advance to ALCS, they have to seriously consider dropping Holliday from the roster in favor of Tyler Austin or Clint Frazier, someone who can bring a little more to the table defensively while still being able to hammer a mistake.

6. Speaking of Kluber, his Game Two performance was an aberration as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think the Yankees have his number or have figured something out or anything like that. I think it was just an anomaly performance from a truly great pitcher. That said, if that Game Two performance gives the Yankees confidence and/or puts a little doubt in Kluber’s mind, great! I’m just not sure it actually means anything. Kluber struggled to locate from the get-go in Game Two and the Yankees took advantage. Sometimes great players have bad days. That’s all it was, probably. Kluber just had a bad day. The Yankees are going to have their hands full tomorrow. No doubt about that. Kluber is a monster. I wish that Game Two showing made me feel more confident.

7. I don’t normally put much stock in “they’re feeling the pressure!” and things like that, but geez, I have to think the Indians are starting to feel it a little bit, don’t you? They had a 2-0 series lead and couldn’t put it away in Games Three or Four, and now they have to play a decisive Game Five. Furthermore, this team blew a 3-1 series lead in the World Series last year, remember. And aside from Encarnacion and Jay Bruce, it’s basically the same group of players. The Yankees are the Yankees, it’s hard to consider them an underdog, but they absolutely are the underdog this series given everything that’s happened the last 18 months or so. Cleveland was the best team in the league this season, they had that AL record 22-game winning streak, and they were supposed to win the ALDS after winning Games One and Two. The Yankees were supposed to quit on Joe Girardi after the non-challenge in Game Two and that would be that. It hasn’t happened. If anything, the Yankees have rallied around Joe’s blunder, and now suddenly the Indians are left wondering how a 2-0 series lead turned into a decisive Game Five. The Yankees? This is all gravy baby. No one thought they’d last this long after Game Two. Enjoy the ride.