The Runner Sports

Poor Decisions Plague Yankees In First Two Games Of ALDS, But Masahiro Tanaka Plays Hero In Game 3

The New York Yankees trailed the Cleveland Indians 0-2 in the ALDS heading into Sunday’s game. After losing in 13 innings in a grueling Game 2 matchup, the Yankees were left to have to win three straight against arguably the best team in baseball. Though they won Game 3, it is still a tall task. Dellin Betances is looking at recent history to back his beliefs in the Yankees being able to come back in the series. In a tweet from Yankees’ reporter Bryan Hoch, Betances said “They went to the World Series last year, they were up 3-1. So hopefully we can win three games like the Cubs did.” While some may appreciate the optimism, it is hard to believe that the 2017 Yankees (especially the ones seen in the ALDS) will be able to do what the Chicago Cubs did last year. Why? Simply put, the Yankees are being stupid. However, last night was a good first step.

Before breaking down the terrible managing that took place in the sixth inning of last night’s game, the Yankees were showcasing poor mental play from Game 1 of the ALDS. While nothing in Game 1 quite matched the mind-boggling decisions made by manager Joe Girardi, there were still mental flaws on Thursday night. After all those bad decisions, the Yankees snapped back into it with a nerve-racking Game 3 win. But first, time to break down the first two games of the ALDS.

Game 1

Adjust to the Umpire

Trevor Bauer pitched excellently in Game 1. He used his curveball effectively and pitched like an ace. Holding the Yankees scoreless through 6.2 innings, Bauer also racked up 8 strikeouts (with Aaron Judge being responsible for three of them). I want to take nothing away from Bauer. However, the Yankees refused to accept that home plate umpire Vic Carapazza had a big strike zone. Early on, the team could have an excuse. But by the middle innings, the Yankees needed to recognize it.

Was it a bad zone? One could argue that. However, it was consistent all night and for both teams mostly. When it comes to umpires, consistency is most important. While every player wants an umpire who is 100% accurate, they will accept a wide or tight zone as long as he is consistent. Carapazza had a consistently wide zone. So why were the Yankees hitters taking borderline pitches with two strikes? They can argue the legitimacy of whether the pitch actually went through the zone, but when the umpire has been calling it a strike all game, there is no excuse not to foul it off. That is a bad approach to have at the plate. An MLB player should be able to make the adjustment within the game.

Judge and Sanchez Refuse to Sit on the Curveball

Once again, Bauer pitched tremendously. He had a game plan for the night and followed it beautifully. To Judge and Gary Sanchez, the plan was simple: throw all curveballs. Between the two sluggers, Bauer might have thrown them five fastballs all night. Against Judge, he did not throw more than one fastball per at-bat. First time up to the plate, it might catch the young players by surprise. However, someone (if they do not realize it themselves) has to tell them that Bauer is essentially exclusively throwing them curveballs.

In Judge’s second at-bat, he took a hanging curveball for strike one. Why is he taking that pitch? After his first at-bat where he saw nothing but curveballs, his approach should have changed to sit on the curveball until proven otherwise. I am not saying that Judge would have for sure crushed that pitch, but if he is sitting on it, he has a chance. The curveball is the easiest pitch to hit a long distance. While it does not provide the velocity a fastball does, the spin of the ball out of the hand sets itself up for good backspin off of the bat. That causes a ball to travel further. This is why hanging breaking pitches are dangerous for pitchers.

Meanwhile, Sanchez rolled over in two consecutive at-bats on “get me over” curveballs. If he had the right approach, he would have at least let the ball come to him more. To be fair, Bauer has a great curveball that he disguises well. But, a hitter can recognize spin quickly. If those two guys sat on the curveball, they might have had better success.

The Adventures of Joe Girardi in ALDS Game 2

Game 2 of the ALDS infuriated me. Not as a writer covering the New York Yankees or even as a fan of the team itself. It infuriated me as someone who loves baseball and how it should be played. My opinions on the new age of baseball with sabermetrics is well documented on this website. Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi at times finds himself caught up with the new school thoughts and does not let his baseball knowledge do the thinking. At other times, his baseball knowledge/experience brings out questionable (if not flat-out wrong) decisions. Friday night saw both of those things happen. In the same inning no less. Girardi’s poor decisions Friday might throw his managerial position into more of a question.

Why Take C.C. Sabathia Out?

After Aaron Hicks’ go-ahead three-run home run in the third inning, C.C. Sabathia started cruising. Sabathia had three straight 1-2-3 innings starting with the third inning. With the Yankees up by 5 in the bottom of the sixth, it looked as if C.C. was going to pitch through the sixth inning. He walked the leadoff batter. Not great, but there is still a big cushion. Then, Sabathia gets Jay Bruce to weakly line out for the first out of the inning. At 77 pitches, all is looking well. However, Joe Girardi came out to replace Sabathia with Chad Green. What?

Before getting to the events with Green, the decision to remove Sabathia is mind-boggling. The hitters who were due up after Bruce were Austin Jackson, Yan Gomes, and Giovanny Urshela. They were a combined 1-5 off of Sabathia with each of them striking out in their last at-bat against the big southpaw. Where was the concern? At worst, Sabathia would give up a two-run home run to Jackson (if he faced him) and the Yankees would still be up by three. However, Sabathia was cruising. I understand that the bullpen is the new sexy thing in baseball, but it is common knowledge to leave the starter in if he is cruising. That is especially true when you are up by five runs.

Now, if Sabathia struggled against Jackson or let up a hit to have first and second with one out, then bring in Green. That is more of an ominous situation where the game could be busted open. However, Girardi still should have stuck with postseason veteran Sabathia over postseason rookie Chad Green. It was Girardi over-managing the game to his finest.

Rhythm Over the Third Out

After getting Jackson to fly out and giving up a double to Gomes, Green had an 0-2 count of Lonnie Chisenhall. The 0-2 pitch grazed Chisenhall and found itself in the glove of Gary Sanchez. Home plate umpire says that he was hit by a pitch as Sanchez is already signaling to the dugout to challenge. What happens next might cost Girardi his job. Instead of taking a minute to make sure they might have a challenge (or simply trusting Sanchez on his word), Girardi allowed Green to pitch to Francisco Lindor with the bases loaded. Lindor hits a grand slam, Tribe are now down by one, and the entire stadium is rocking again.

Why Joe? Why not challenge the call? If you were hoping for an explanation to ease your tension (if you are a Yankees fan), Girardi did not have that for you. According to Girardi, he did not challenge the call because:

There was nothing that told us that he was not hit on the pitch. By the time we got the super slow-mo, we are beyond a minute. They tell us we have the 30 seconds. They will take longer in replay. And probably being a catcher, my thought is that I never want to break a pitcher’s rhythm. That’s how I think about it.

Now, if Green had come into a bases-loaded situation with no outs and struck out the first two guys he faced, I would be more understanding. However, and I cannot stress this enough, Green had given up a double to the previous batter. Sure, he was 0-2 to Chisenhall when he hit him. But the Indians are great with two strikes. Challenge the call Joe! If Sanchez did not catch the ball, perhaps it is a different story as well. But Sanchez did. It would have been a foul tip strikeout for Green. I do not think Green would have cared about his rhythm over that result. The fate of the ALDS now rides on that awful decision.

Leaving In Robertson Too Long

This decision was not as egregious as the sixth inning fiasco. But, it is still a questionable decision. Yes, Robertson pitched 3.1 innings on Tuesday during the Wild Card Game. He threw 55 pitches in that outing. Robertson easily could have pitched a clean eighth inning and the Yankees go on and win the game. However, there was still Tommy Kahnle, Aroldis Chapman, and Dellin Betances in the bullpen. Why not use one of them in the eighth? Kahnle came in for Robertson after the first out of the inning. But it is odd that Girardi would not use a fresh arm rather than dragging Robertson out there for another inning.

Robertson was going back out from the dugout for a second time in the game. While he did it in the Wild Card game, he needed to do that more than last night. Kahnle or Betances (or even Chapman for the lefty) would have been a better idea there. Especially when all three of those pitchers could offer something that Robertson cannot: 100 MPH fastballs. Kahnle especially, who mixes a great change-up with his heat to be effective against left-handed hitters. This might be a hindsight situation, but it is a baffling decision.

The Pain of Game 2 Loss

The most frustrating part of blowing the five-run lead is the fact that the Yankees handled Corey Kluber. Scoring 6 runs in under three full innings is not something that teams do against Kluber. Even if the Yankees win Game 4 of the ALDS, what are the odds that Kluber has another outing like that? This is where the genius of Indians’ manager Terry Francona shines. If home field advantage is fully played out, the Yankees now have to face Kluber in Game 5 back in Cleveland. Now, Game 2 was supposed to be more of a pitching-dominated outing. The Yankees’ offense jumped on Kluber early. However, the smart money would be on Kluber performing at his Cy Young caliber level again in a potential Game 3.

Game 3

After the crushing defeat of Game 2, the Yankees needed a hero in Game 3. In a postseason where Yankee starting pitchers are averaging less than 3 innings per start, the Yankees placed their hopes in the inconsistent Masahiro Tanaka for Game 3. Who was he paired up against? Carlos Carrasco, one of three pitchers tied for the MLB lead in wins.

Starting Pitching is Important

With all the hype for “super bullpens” and strong relief outings, the importance of starting pitching has become lost. Despite the Kansas City Royals being the only team in the past decade to win the World Series with a mediocre rotation, the new age of thinking swears by the bullpen. Well, how well did that work out for the Yankees in Game 2? In Game 3, however, both Tanaka and Carrasco were at their best. Tanaka went 7 strong, striking out 7 as he kept Cleveland’s hitters off-balanced all night long. His splitter was working well, using it effectively against lefties. Meanwhile, Carrasco matched Tanaka pitch for pitch essentially. He was pulled after 5.2 innings of scoreless baseball.

Tanaka had the longest start of any starting pitcher this postseason, which was huge for the Yankees. Saving the bullpen for the rest of the series, the Yankees’ “super bullpen” is at almost full strength for tonight. Aroldis Chapman might be unavailable after throwing 34 pitches. Bullpens are important, do not get me wrong. However, the value of a starting pitcher being able to pitch deep into games is greatly forgotten about. Even if a team has a deep bullpen, how much better does it feel to have a starting pitcher go past the sixth inning?

Judge a Defensive Hero, Greg Bird is the Word

Have you ever witness a more nonchalant robbing of a home run? I thought the Mookie Betts over the shoulder grab in Game 3 of the Astros-Red Sox series would take that prize. But Aaron Judge topped that Sunday night. With a runner on first with one out, Mr. ALDS Yankee killer Francisco Lindor golfed a ball to deep right field off of Tanaka. Judge strolled on back to the wall, put his glove up, hopped three inches off the ground, and stole a home run. For such an important and incredible play, the reaction by Judge himself was one of slight indifference. He simply threw the ball back in and smiled.

Moving on to the bottom of the seventh where Andrew Miller was doing the pitching for the Indians. Leading off the inning was Greg Bird, the player who has missed over 100 regular season games and batted sub .200 for the season. As John Smoltz was saying that left-handed hitters might have a bigger advantage over Miller than right-handed hitters, Bird crushed a ball into the upper deck of Yankee Stadium. After such a rough season, Bird has come up huge for the Yankees. In three games in the ALDS, he has two home runs. None were bigger than this one.

Looking Ahead to Game 4

The matchup is set: Trevor Bauer vs. Luis Severino. There are so many questions heading into this game. Will Severino bounce back from his awful AL Wild Card Game start? Can Bauer repeat his excellence from Game 1? As a tip for Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge, sit on the curveball! That might be the most important aspect of this game. The Yankees should know what to look for tonight against Bauer. He will use his curveball almost half the time, especially to Judge and Sanchez. If the Yankees learned anything from Game 1, they should be able to muster up more offense than Game 1. Expect short leashes for both starters in this game. The X-factor for the Yankees will be Aaron Judge. He has to break out of this slump at some point.

Griffin Fuller
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Griffin Fuller

Former Division 1 pitcher at Stetson University with an immense passion for the game of baseball. Grew up playing baseball from the age of 3. Student of the game of baseball in every aspect.Located out of Debary, Florida.
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Griffin Fuller
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