Well that was insanely disappointing. The Yankees laid an absolute egg tonight, falling to the Astros 8-3. They played sloppy defense, wasted plenty of offensive opportunities, and looked awful. It prompted a lot of soul-searching on my Twitter timeline, so let me remind you: this was NOT an elimination game. It wasn’t good, and the Yankees will now have to beat both Cole and Verlander 2 out of 3 nights (with 2 games coming in Houston), but they live to play another day. They trail in this series 3-1.
With this awful backdrop in mind, let’s get right to the takeaways.
1. Masahiro Tanaka was Not Sharp: Game 1 Masahiro Tanaka was as impressive a performance as you could ever imagine. He was sharp, lived on the corners, elicited swings and misses, and didn’t make any mistakes. To do so on the road in Minute Maid Park against this Houston Astros lineup was just incredible. Expecting a repeat performance was probably too much, and it turns out that it was. Tanaka was not nearly as sharp tonight. Here is his line: 5+ IP, 4 H, 4 R (3 ER), 2 BB, 1 K. He threw 82 pitches and just 51 (62%) went for strikes. Here’s how that looks:
A lot way off the plate, a lot over the plate, and not much on the corners. It was evident from the very first at-bat that Tanaka wasn’t as sharp as he was last weekend, at least to me, and it felt like he was walking on eggshells the entire start. In the top of the 3rd inning, after a walk to 8th hitter Robison Chirinos and base hit to 9th hitter Josh Reddick, Tanaka finally paid the price. George Springer came to the plate and he did this:
That was just Springer’s second hit of the ALCS, but I’m sure you remember the other one. That sucked the life out of the Stadium and put the Astros ahead 3-1. It was a very bad pitch from Tanaka, too. A hanging splitter. Check it out:
Yeah, that one is begging to be crushed. Oh well. Not much we can do about it now. With that being said, though, Tanaka really bore down after this. After Altuve beat out an infield single and Brantley followed suit, he got Alex Bregman to ground back to him, though the Astros managed to advance, again, in a rundown. But Tanaka retired the next two batters on fly balls–one including a missile from Judge to hold the runner–to hold the Astros to just the one big fly. He would then get through 5 innings.
It was not a bad performance by any means, and it showed a lot of Tanaka’s trademark steel. It makes the one mistake he did make to Springer all the more frustrating, though.
Interestingly, Boone opted to send Tanaka out for the top of the 6th. I did not like the move. It felt like he was trying to steal an additional inning from Tanaka–who, admittedly, looked sharper than he had at any point in the game in the prior two innings–but he removed him right after Alex Bregman hit a cueball that DJLM misplayed at first. Oh well.
2. The Super Bullpen That Wasn’t: In each of the last three games, the Yankee bullpen has come up short when it counted. Before you yell at me in the comments, let me be clear: they have been, by and large, utterly fantastic. Nearly 8 fantastic innings in Game 2, kept the game mostly within reach in Game 3, et cetera. But for the second time in three seasons–the Yankees were just utterly outclassed in every regard last year–some flaws of the super-bullpen approach are becoming clear. It is extremely difficult to rely on the same 4-5 pitchers every single game against the same lineup in a short series.
The strategy relies on each pitcher bringing their A+ game in a high-leverage situation every single night, and it is exacerbated when only one starter can complete 5 innings. Tonight was again an example. Here are the lines from the big relievers:
- Chad Green: 1.0 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 1 K
- Tommy Kahnle: 1.0 IP, 1 BB
- Adam Ottavino: 0.0 IP, 1 H, 1 R
Chad Green has been outstanding. He really has been. I don’t think there’s any question that he has been the most reliable reliever in the Yankee pen in the postseason, but when called on every single day, you’re bound to run out of gas at some point, and tonight he looked gassed. He surrendered this blast to Carlos Correa:
Tommy Kahnle was good, as usual. Adam Ottavino was not. He has been completely useless over the last several weeks and the rigidity of “we need 4+ every night out of our bullpen” means that Aaron Boone had to keep using him. I don’t blame Aaron Boone for this. The team was constructed with this strategy in mind. It is simply untenable with just 3 reliable relievers, so you have to at least try to get Ottavino right. It just didn’t happen. Here is a stat that you probably don’t want to see:
I believe in these guys. I really do. They have been championship-caliber. But if the Yankees are going to pull this thing off, they are going to need to be spotless. They certainly can be.
3. Can I Get A Hit with RISP: All season, the Yankees were dominant with runners in scoring position. It was their calling card all year. It was the big difference between 2018 and 2019. But through four games in the ALCS, that ability has simply vanished. Again tonight, the Yankees left the bases loaded in the 1st inning–though they did score a run on a bases-loaded walk from Gardner. This one really hurt because Greinke did not have it at this point, the Stadium was energized, and it felt like an opportunity to really end this one early. It did not come to be.
They left the bases loaded again in the 5th, down just 3-1. Gleyber Torres and Edwin Encarnación both struck out. And on, and on, and on I could go. Overall, the Yankees went 0-7 with RISP tonight, which is not going to get the job done. And it was a group performance. Removing DJLM, this was the Yankees line: 3-30 (.100) with 1 HR, 2 RBI, 6 BB, and 13 strikeouts. It was a brutal offensive performance. Again, if the Yankees are going to do this thing, that’s going to have to change, and it’s going to have to change tomorrow.
- The End for CC Sabathia: So, that’s the end for CC Sabathia, isn’t it? After the game was mostly out of reach, CC Sabathia came on in the 8th inning. There was nobody up behind him in the pen. At the very least, the 8th was his, and if I had to guess, the 9th was, too. Only CC’s body had other plans. After throwing a pitch to George Springer, CC came up limp. It was clear that his body–either his knee or his shoulder, it wasn’t immediately clear and I was too sad to really care–had given up on him. He tried to fight his way back into the game, of course, but Steve Donahue wouldn’t allow it. That was the end for CC. An injury forced him out of a miserable game, which is in some ways the saddest possible exit for the big man, but it was also fitting. CC was a warrior. He gave it his all and I will forever love him for it. CC Sabathia forever.
- Embarrassing Defense: The Yankees’ defense tonight was truly embarrassing. They made four errors, three of them after the 7th inning, and it was a truly putrid performance. The stellar defense from the ALDS feels like a lifetime ago, and frankly, the defense was fine even early in this game. The shifts worked and they ate up some hard hit balls. But that fell apart really quick, with the normally sturdy defenders in Torres and DJ LeMahieu both making errors that led to runs. When it rains, it pours, eh?
- Home Plate Umpiring: Home Plate umpire Dan Bellino did not have a great night. He was consistently inconsistent, and it impacted both teams. It felt like there were several pitches that weren’t even close that were called strikes or that were clearly strikes that were called balls. Just as an example, a 1-0 pitch to Aaron Judge in the bottom of the 6th inning completely changed the at-bat when it was called a strike. In the bottom of the 7th, proving that this worked both ways, a pitch that was clearly a strike to Aaron Hicks was called a ball. This on top of what felt like a very wide zone for Zack Greinke. I don’t like to complain about the umpires, but this did not feel like a good performance from the man in blue.
The Yankees will take on the Astros in an elimination game tomorrow night at 7:08 pm in the Bronx. James Paxton will take on Justin Verlander. I know tonight feels like an elimination game, but it was not an elimination game. I can think of no pitcher more satisfying to start a huge comeback against than Justin Verlander. Let’s get it done, shall we?