ALCS Game 4: The One Where You Force Quit and Start the Game Over

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.

Leftovers

  • 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.

Up Next

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?

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10 Comments

  1. Kids, it’s baseball. You live with your ‘66 Yankees, ‘96-00 Yankees, ‘04 Yankees, ‘09 Yankees, and ‘19 Yankees. It’s just a game – actually, a very enjoyable one.

  2. I think this series is the end of my life long baseball fandom-I am completely sick of the ‘bullpenning’, the over reliance on the home run and walk, the enormous spike in K’s, and the misuse of statistics as ‘analytics’ to determine how a team will play a game.

    Tanaka wasn’t great last night but he had gotten through the 4th and 5th innings pretty easily, hadn’t thrown a ton of pitches, but HAD to be taken out because the Yankees (and Boone is a surrogate for the organizational plan to do this) decided not to let pitchers go deep into games, something that makes a travesty of baseball.

    Every time you bring in a new pitcher there is a chance that pitcher won’t have it, bring in 4 pitchers in 4 innings, with each having a 90% chance of success and there is a 34% chance that at least one will not have a good game.

    Green has been great recently but it’s never a sure thing and when he’s not good he gives up bombs, just like he did last night.

    Ottavino has been bad for 6 weeks, really bad, yet there he is in the 7th inning, once again.

    The Yankees deserve to lose this series, the Astros, who play the game the way it was designed overall, with starting pitchers going as far as they can (Grienke was clearly done when Hinch took him out last night), deserve to win it.

    I won’t watch the game tonight because I’m doing something else, the same tomorrow if there is a game, and won’t lose a minute’s sleep over the outcomes. I’m 72 years old, been a Yankees fan since 1953, and this is essentially the end for me, I’m out.

    • I see the point you’re trying to make but the Astros are one of, if not THE most analytical teams in all of baseball. Their starters go deep into games because their analytical departments helped make changes in their game that allows them to limit damage and go deep in games. They’re really good at it

      • I see your point but where were these analytics when Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, and Steve Carlton were routinely going 8+ innings in almost every start and seeing lineups 3 and 4 times without any change in the opposing OPS through the game?

        Analyzing pitching mechanics and helping players improve is great, I’m talking about over reliance on Sabremetrics (which are often misused and misunderstood) in terms of developing a strategy for winning a single baseball game, particularly in the playoffs. Having a strategy that prevents starters from ever seeing a lineup 3X out of fear is a recipe for disaster, as the Yankees are proving in this series.

        The Astros are really good, as are the Yankees-the Astros just have better starting pitching and the Yankees bullpen is really overrated, particularly since Ottavino has been awful for over a month and Betances missed the entire season.

  3. Sigh…I hate to say this but Verlander was spot on in his comments yesterday. A deep super bullpen is AWESOME and I’d much rather have one than not, but you’re basically asking the same guys to be 100% on every time, every day, which can burn you in the postseason.As we saw last night. Green looked like he was on FUMES. Having starters that give you 6+ innings consistently is so important.

    So much to be impressed with on this team this year but also sooooo so much to be frustrated with. If they get swept at home tonight I really hope they take a good long hard look at their decision making the past 2-3 years and make some changes. SPEND YOUR MONEY!

    • daryl bennett

      I get what you mean, but it’s not exactly a hot take that “workhorse aces are valuable”. Scherzer, Strasburg, Cole, and Verlander are worth about 1 billion dollars. Who else is that caliber? Degrom, Kershaw, madbum. It’s not like these guys are readily available. Heck, look at what sale, archer, and quintana cost. And sale is the top of that bunch…the others are jokes.

      Def could have used German and betances in BP.

      But we Need some tough mofos on our team, enough with the softness and nonsense, the happ’s, the ottavinos, the ee’s. Balance out the strikeout hr players with 1 or 2 more contact low K tough outs. And enough with sanchez. Hell, Astros talking smack (not even just to us). Verlander in TB said give me the ball, I’ll finish this crap. We haven’t had someone like that since 30 year old Sabathia.

      I hate to tell ya, but this isn’t happening without trading away a big name player AND spending huge. I think one of judge or sanchez needs to go, and we need to spend big. Otherwise, count on the same nonsense again (and expect red Sox to be big next year, so we will probably land 2nd wildcard…)

  4. Dani

    At least win another game, losing all 3 in the Stadium is something I don’t wanna experience.

    You know what’s crazy? OOTP’s simulation predicted the WS teams and champions right the last 2 seasons and it looks like they could do it for the 3rd straight year (they have Astros over Nats).

  5. Wire Fan

    I’m all for analytics, but good grief, at some point you have to deviate from the script and look at what is happening on the field.

    They may “need to get Ottavino right” but do they have to keep throwing him into games against the heart of the order? How about having him face a different part of the lineup?

    He was not needed in game 1 – except for the pre-game script that Tanaka can only face the order twice if they are winning. Tonight Tanaka was allowed to face the order a third time, ironically when he had lesser quality stuff going for him, and then was not allowed to face the bottom of the order a third time? He was good to face their best hitters a third time tonight, but not the lesser ones? And of course since it was the bottom of the order, the script says Green, and then bring in Otto when the heart of the order comes up.

    I get the numbers say a reliever is generally better than a starter seeing a hitter a 3rd time. But what happens when those relievers see the same hitters 3 or 4 games in a row? Or if one clearly seems to be struggling for a few weeks? The regular season statistics are large aggregates and generally involve a reliever seeing a team once, maybe twice in a series and often not the same hitters. Not 3 or 4 straight games (and counting), and often the same hitters in those games.

    I feel like the Yankees are at times too beholden to the #’s and a pre-game plan and don’t seem to adapt to what is happening on the field. I used to think it was Girardi and his binder a few years back, but now it clearly seems to be the analytics group who owns the binder, not the managers.

    /end rant

    • Bobby

      I generally think that they’ve done quite a nice job this October but I do agree with the gist of this. I didn’t get sending Tanaka back out last night when they didn’t do so on Saturday. It doesn’t make much sense to me, and I completely agree about the parts of the order they could have used Ottavino for. All of this really underscores the need for a top-shelf starter that can reliably go 6-7 innings each night, because that changes the usage here a lot. You can actually–and I know this is wild–rest a reliever on a night when you play a playoff game.

  6. RetroRob

    Well the good news is, uhh,?, errr?, ehh?…Ok, I got nothing.

    The loss is bad, although the team collapsing with the errors and dropped balls was embarrassing.

    CC? He gave it his all. I guess it’s fitting he gave everything he had until the end and left injured. I suspect we’ll see a new pitcher on the roster tomorrow.

    As a fan, I can say with confidence that I’ll be quite relaxed going into tomorrow’s game. I’m a realist, and know they’re down 3-1, the better team has taken it to the Yankees in their home park, and they’re now faced with having to win three straight against a team that won 107 games, and will have the likely Cy Young Award winner on the mound. That said, winning three straight can be done. If the Yankees beat Verlander, they then go back to Houston where they’ll play a bullpen game to even it at three a piece. That leads to game seven and facing Cole. Not pleasant, but if Sevy’s on, there’s a chance. It’s over, but it’s not. 86 teams have been up 3-1 and 13 of them have lost. Maybe the Yankees can make it 14!

    Relax and enjoy tomorrow’s game. Seriously. Hopefully the Yankees will relax too.

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