Last night felt like a must win, though tonight is actually the Yankees’ first must win game of 2019. It’s do or die. Win or go home. You know all the clichés by now. Let’s get some more of the obvious out of the way: the Yankees need James Paxton to pitch like he did down the stretch in August and September. But more importantly, they also need the offense to snap out of its funk. The savages we grew to love over the summer have suddenly disappeared.
Tonight, the bats will have to wake up against Justin Verlander, which is no easy feat. And at this point, with the team having scored six runs in the last three games, a little shake up may be necessary. Nothing drastic or out of desperation, but there are clearly a number of things simply not working. Namely:
It’s hard to win any game, let alone a best-of-seven, when five lineup regulars have turned into pumpkins. A few in this group probably need to be relieved for Game 5, because they either haven’t performed and/or have had horrific at bats while doing so. Here are a few things the Yankees may try:
Giancarlo Stanton needs to play – if not, he needs to be replaced
Aaron Boone said before yesterday’s loss that he envisioned Stanton as a designated hitter option for tonight’s affair. Well, it’s now or never. Edwin Encarnación has looked terrible this series and could sit tonight (though Gio Urshela’s situation could change that – more on that shortly). JV carved up EE in Game 2, and as I wrote earlier this week, it’s not totally surprising.
On the left is Edwin’s xwOBA based on pitch location. On the right is how Verlander pitched EE in Game 2. The only ball Edwin put into play was a weak fly out on a pitch up and out of the zone. He’s just a bad matchup against Verlander (not that many hitters are good matchups for him).
Stanton had a strong Game 1 and had a good approach during the ALDS. Who knows how much his quad is affecting him, but I have to imagine he’s going to be in the lineup tonight. And if he can’t, the Yankees really need to plug in Luke Voit or Mike Ford. I really don’t want to lose Giancarlo if the Yankees can stage a comeback from down 3-1, but at this point, the Yankees can’t wait any longer if he’s still hurting.
If Stanton has to be shelved, do they go to Ford or Voit? I think Ford has a really strong case over Voit, despite the limited major league track record.
|Player||wOBA vs. >= 95 MPH||xwOBA vs. >= 95 MPH|
Ford’s numbers and zone charts point to him being a favorable matchup against a hard-thrower like Verlander. Plus, there’s the short porch at Yankee Stadium that he can take advantage of.
Bench Gio Urshela
The Gio we knew and loved from the regular season has really cratered this series. He stung some balls in Game 1, including a homer, but he’s generally looked awful ever since. We know how great he is with the glove, but at this stage, the Yankees need to prioritize offense over defense. And I say that the day after the team had an embarrassing game in the field.
Sitting Urshela means that DJ LeMahieu would have to slide over to third base. It would also mean that Edwin Encarnación (or Ford or Voit) would have to play first base. I know I just wrote about how badly EE has looked at the plate in the previous section, but I’d still rather see the slumping established veteran play over the struggling limited track record guy.
Sit Gardner for Cameron Maybin or move Gardy down in the lineup
This suggestion isn’t a must by any means, but I think there’s a sliver of upside. Even though Gardner has run out of steam (has the de-juiced ball hurt him?), I still trust him to deliver productive at bats. Last night’s first inning bases loaded walk was one of them. Nonetheless, the Yankees should consider starting Maybin over Gardner.
Maybin’s very good against high velocity pitches and pitches up in the zone as I outlined earlier this week. Since 2017, Maybin has a .383 wOBA and .382 xwOBA against pitches greater than or equal to 95 MPH. Gardner is just at .364 and .312, respectively. Both singled off Verlander in Game 2, for whatever that’s worth (nothing).
To be honest, I doubt we see this swap. It’s an idea, but I’m not sure if it’s a good message to send to the team to suddenly bench its longest tenured player. But, at the minimum, Gardner should be moved down. He’s probably better suited hitting in the bottom third of the order than the middle third.
Ideally, here’s the lineup I’d run out tonight:
- DJ LeMahieu, 3B
- Aaron Judge, RF
- Aaron Hicks, CF
- Gleyber Torres, 2B
- Giancarlo Stanton , DH
- Gary Sánchez, C
- Edwin Encarnación, 1B
- Didi Gregorius, SS
- Brett Gardner, LF
Forget about “lanes”. Put your five most recently successful hitters one through five and hope six through nine wake up. Hopefully, Sánchez’s dinger last night was a start (and don’t you dare mention Austin Romine). As for the rest of that bottom portion – something’s gotta go in their favor eventually. It just has to come tonight, or else.