Tag: 2019 Postseason Page 1 of 8

The Offseason Can Wait One More Day

Juan Soto: Hold My Bat. (Screenshot)

The Yankees took the Astros nearly to the brink. The Nationals are taking things one step further.

For the fourth time since 2014, we get a Game 7 in the World Series. Regardless of the participants, that’s tremendous. After the Nats were 15 outs from elimination Tuesday night, it’s that much sweeter.

What a game Tuesday was. For as snore-worthy the first five games were at times, Game 6 didn’t lack for drama. Alex Bregman and Juan Soto’s dueling bat carries. The Eaton and Soto homers to vault Washington ahead of Verlander and Houston. Whatever that was with the interference call in the seventh inning before Anthony Rendon homered.

The manager of the winning team got ejected!

So the season comes down to Game 7. Dare I say it, the Nationals should be favored. They have Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Anibal Sanchez, Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson ready to go while Houston has Zack Greinke, a tired Gerrit Cole and their bullpen. Still, picking against Houston might be a fool’s errand.

You might be thinking, “This should be the Yankees.” You wouldn’t be wrong. They had their chances to beat Houston — holding them to .179/.281/.318 batting line and fewer home runs in the six-game series — but they came up short. That loss is going to sting for a while, whether or not the Astros win the title.

If you haven’t been watching this World Series for that reason, it’s time to put that to the side. Game 7 doesn’t have to be about hate-watching the Astros. Instead, you can take joy in the marvelous run the Nationals are on. Watch Scherzer give his all after enduring “ungodly pain” in his neck just a couple of days ago and flash his ungodly intense stare towards the batter’s box. Appreciate Zack Greinke’s super-slow-mo curveball.

Oh, and Soto. Has there been a more fun player to watch this postseason (non-Yankee edition)? He’s only 21, in case you missed it.

Soto has a chance to become the youngest World Series MVP ever if the Nationals claim the series and Stephen Strasburg didn’t clinch it last night. Both Soto and Strasburg deserve it for clutch hitting and pitching, respectively, throughout the run, from the Wild Card Game to NLDS Game 5 to Tuesday. I’m dying to see Soto come up with another dinger in Game 7. He seems made for those moments.

Even if you hate both teams, tonight is the last baseball for a while. There are Yankees Classics to take you through February, but the live games are what it’s all about, even if weird umpire calls and the wrong team reign. The offseason can wait for one more day.

Enjoy Game 7. And Go Nats.

Requiem for the Next Man Up

The motto of a team from the past. (Steven Tydings)

The Yankees lost a chance to reach a World Series they could have won. Goodness, that’s still hurts to write.

Matt already summed it up in one word yesterday: Almost. The Yankees almost danced on a razor’s edge and sneaked past the best team in baseball using DJ LeMahieu, guile and their bullpen. But they didn’t and that’s why I’m writing a post mortem for the Yankees’ season instead of talking about how well the team matches up with the Nationals.

Plenty went wrong in that ALCS. We, unfortunately, will cover that from front to back in the coming days and weeks. (We’ll also have everything else, too, from season reviews to free agency previews to wild, off-the-rails features that we thought up while bored this summer. Get excited.)

But the Yankees came up short in a season where they could have done so at just about every turn. From the open of Spring Training on, they were shorthanded. A back injury here, a Tommy John recovery there and a mysterious shoulder ailment stretching to September.

Still, there was the Next Man Up. No one player fully embodied that spirit as it was truly a collective in the Bronx. Mike Tauchman, Gio Urshela and Cameron Maybin came out of nowhere for career-redefining seasons. DJ LeMahieu turned into more than just a superutility player. Mike Ford took just about every pitcher deep for a month straight.

It’s going to be remarkable 10 days from now and 10 years from now that the 2019 Bombers recovered from significant injuries to Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Hicks, Miguel Andújar, Luis Severino, Edwin Encarnación, Luke Voit, Didi Gregorius and Gary Sánchez, just to name a few, and still won the American League East running away. That’s an all-time accomplishment, clinched into the record books with their franchise-best home run total and franchise-worst injured list totals.

Remember when Nestor Cortes Jr. and a wad of gum held together a rotation spot for months on end? That doesn’t happen for a normal, run-of-the-mill team. Only a team with tremendous depth to fill in for its already strong depth and a dash of the spectacular could accomplish something like the 2019 Yankees did, and that shouldn’t be forgotten at the end of it all.

Holding up the Next Man Up were five arms that remained steadier than the rest, the five men at the back of the bullpen. Though Chad Green had a lackluster April, the five horsemen were nails from there on out. There was no need for a Next Man in the bullpen…

… Until there was a need at the worst moment. Five became four and four became exhausted. The offense cratered in a way all-together foreign to the rest of the season’s body of work. It was, and I quote, not what you want.

Still, the Next Man Up came back around. After months of the Yankees patching center field for Aaron Hicks, Hicks relieved his struggling pals with the biggest hit of the season to that point, injecting the team with new life. When mistakes added up to the team being two outs from defeat, LeMahieu wiped the slate clean with a nearly-unforgettable blast.

Yet there’s nothing to wipe away that hanging slider. That’s permanent. It’s going to be etched in the fanbase’s collective psyche like 2001, 2004 and just after midnight on Oct. 13, 2012. Baseball once again hoodwinked and schemed to make us believe fully that this was it — this was our year — and erased doubt until the Astros walked off with the pennant. That sting of failure, deserved or not, hangs over everything for now.

It’s gonna be an offseason of deep stares into the mirror, sighs and perhaps a tearful goodbye to a fan favorite or two. On this site, season reviews will turn into season previews and we’ll once again believe a little too strongly in the catharsis of Opening Day.

But before anyone can move on, it’s time to appreciate what the Yankees’ had, even if it came up short. The Next Man Up doesn’t get a ring, but that doesn’t deprive him of accomplishment and a grip on our memories, one win over the Orioles, comeback against the Rays and Maybin hug at a time.

DJ LeMahieu joins Alfonso Soriano in forgotten homer history

I yelped.

The Yankees had been dead for about an hour, give or take a double play, and now was just the formality, the part where Roberto Osuna put the finishing touches on the ALCS.

DJ LeMahieu wasn’t playing that game. Fighting off pitch after pitch, he worked the count and got a pitch to drive. The result? The most important home run of his career, a game-tying two-run shot to knot ALCS Game 6 with the Yankees down to their final two outs.

Let’s rewatch it for old time’s sake:

Like many of you, I jumped up and down. Did that really happen, I thought. With new life for the Bombers, your mind instantly turns to what could be, a chance to actually topple the juggernaut Astros in their own building.

Here’s the thing: LeMahieu’s spot in history was robbed mere minutes later by Jose Altuve’s series-ending blast. Instead of a moment for the pantheon of Yankees’ history, LeMahieu instead will have to settle for a footnote to another team’s signature highlight.

It was just about the perfect homer, too. Not an elegant, no-doubt blast like Altuve. Instead, it was a ball teetering in your mind between whether it would stay in play in Houston’s diminutive right field.

LeMahieu’s reaction was muted, but the iconic photo would have been George Springer sprawled out over the fence while trying to steal the ball, coming juuuuust short of the crowd-hushing home run.

So close.

Yet the Yankees didn’t take the lead, merely tied it, and that left the door open for Altuve to finish things in style. That’s not LeMahieu’s fault; He was the Yankees’ most consistent hitter all regular season and into the postseason as well. The prototypical leadoff hitter.

Even in the positive moments we’ll remember from this postseason, LeMahieu gets overshadowed. His first home run in ALDS Game 1 came sandwiched between Gleyber Torres’ go-ahead double and Brett Gardner’s second-deck tater. LeMahieu’s solo shot to tie ALCS Game 5 was forgotten four batters later when Aaron Hicks hit one to the literal sticks.

LeMahieu has company in possessing an earth-shattering blast turned trivia question. Alfonso Soriano came through with two of the most clutch hits in Yankees history during the 2001 World Series. Soriano hit a walk-off single to end the Yankees Classic Game 5 and homered off Curt Schilling to put the Bombers ahead in Game 7.

Soriano’s place in history was all but assured — Roger Clemens had World Series MVP on lock, but the homer would live on — until fate, an errant throw and a bloop single conspired to erase that home run and give the D-backs the series.

After a replacement level 2001, Soriano broke out in 2002 as he nearly joined the 40-40 club and took over as one of the Yankees’ best hitters. LeMahieu doesn’t need to break out because 2019 was his moment, likely the peak season for the tight-lipped infielder who anchored the Bombers’ lineup.

LeMahieu’s season won’t be forgotten any time soon. The under-the-radar signing made himself indispensable and a borderline MVP candidate in the Bronx. He was clutch from the start with his impressive numbers with the bases loaded, as well as two walk-off hits during the season, and his unwavering focus steadied him for a strong October.

That being said, despite hitting one of the most dramatic home runs possible, LeMahieu’s standout moment was all for naught. Its memory will remain enclosed in the pain of watching Altuve blast an Aroldis Chapman slider into smithereens and thus can’t have the spotlight to itself. Baseball has room for only one victor and to that team goes both the spoils and the moments staked into history.

Thoughts Before Game 6 of the ALCS

The Yankees won last night to keep their season alive. Win again tonight and the season lives for at least another 24 hours. I am not yet ready to say goodnight to the 2019 Yankees, so I say they should go out there and defeat the Astros of Houston in Game 6 of the ALCS. Sound good? Good.

Anyway, tonight is the (new) biggest game of the season. Here’s what’s swirling through my mind as we anxiously await 8:08 pm.

1. Resilience and Determination: Say what you will about the New York Yankees, but you cannot say that they are not a resilient, tough team. Even if they go out with a whimper tonight, which is possible, they answered the call last night. I am impressed but not surprised. The team looked positively atrocious on Thursday night, committing four errors while blowing opportunity after opportunity at the plate. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it was the worst performance of the season. It had all the feeling of an elimination game, except it wasn’t. The Yankees reminded us of that last night, even with a putrid start to the game–a misplayed grounder, a passed ball, and a wild pitch that led to a run. But that was all Houston would get, because it’s all the Yankees would give them. Again, I am not surprised, but I am impressed.

After all, it’s in line with the makeup of these Yankees. The current Yankee run began in earnest in 2017. Consider some situations that they’ve found themselves in during the postseason in that span and how they’ve rallied:

Every time their backs have been up against a wall, they have stepped up and either: 1) rallied to win the game/series or 2) showed more heart and determination than was expected of them. I know they couldn’t get the job done in Houston in 2017 nor against Boston last year, but when expected to fold, they just didn’t. They were in it to the very end despite the fact that Houston and Boston (to say nothing of 2017 Cleveland) were clearly superior teams.

That trend has continued this year as the team has fought through an astounding amount of injuries and again rallied after a demoralizing loss at home in a huge playoff game. They never say die. No matter what happens tonight, I think it’s fair to say that the Yankees will keep it interesting and if they go down, they will go down swinging. That is their way.

2. To the Sticks, Aaron Hicks: I don’t think I’ve ever been so wrong about anything since Views started as I have been about Aaron Hicks. I was originally very skeptical that he’d be able to be a productive player upon his return to the ALCS, not because I doubted Hicks or his talent–he is incredible–but because it was such a long layoff. So what has he done? He’s come back to have the best at-bats on the team on a consistent basis, twice in games started by Gerrit Cole or Justin Verlander, and registered the biggest hit of the season with his 3-run home run last night.

The story behind it, as you all know by now, is even more outrageous. Here’s what he told reporters last night, courtesy of our pal Mike Axisa:

So, a few things. One, it sounds like Hicks was told he needs Tommy John surgery. That raises a few questions, namely if he will get the operation after the season. My guess, right now, is no, but I honestly have no idea. Who knows? This situation is crazy. But if he did get it he’d be on track to return around July. Two, what a story. It’s the perfect sports story– a guy is sitting at home, plays catch with his friend, shoots an iPhone video, sends it to the team, returns to have the biggest hit of the season for the New York Yankees. At their core, sports are drama and entertainment, and it doesn’t get much more dramatic or entertaining than that.

Three, let’s give a special shout out to the Minnesota Twins. The Yankees acquired Hicks for John Ryan Murphy and all he’s done since the start of 2017 is hit .250/.359/.464 (123 wRC+) with a 14.4% walk rate on top of fantastic center field defense. Hicks, to the sticks, indeed.

3. Big Game James (Paxton): I said a lot of this last night, so I am not going to spill too much ink on it here, but my word what a performance from James Paxton last night. I can’t say enough about it. It was exactly what the doctor ordered and the importance of the fact that he rallied from the inauspicious first inning to provide the Yankees 6 innings of one-run ball just can’t be overstated.

It allowed the Yankees to rest Green, who I imagine will start tonight (more on that in a bit), and meant that they only used three relievers: Kahnle, Britton, and Chapman. Britton pitched in Game 3 and not Game 4 and Chapman hadn’t pitched since Game 2. Moreover, each of them were fairly efficient, which means there should be no issues tonight. And it’s all possible because James Paxton rallied last night and bore down when the going got tough. It was an ace-like performance from a pitcher that the Yankees acquired to be an ace.

If they continue to rally in this series and somehow win two in Houston, the Yankees will need James to repeat that performance in the World Series. If he pitches like that, the Yankees feel a lot different, don’t they?

4. The Battle of the Bullpens: Tonight is Game 6 of the ALCS with a pennant on the line and both teams, who are both clearly the best teams in the American League, will not be using a starting pitcher. It is so bizarre. I like to think of myself as a forward-thinking baseball fan, but this is really so weird. But whatever. Like it or not, the Yankees and Astros will battle tonight in bullpen games. The Yankees were actually pretty good in such games all year but it’s a strategy the Astros haven’t employed much.

I don’t know how to line it up, but I expect to see Green for at least two innings to start the game unless he really blows up. Let Green get through the first two, and then you figure it out from there for innings 3, 4, and 5. Go matchup-by-matchup, whatever. They’ll have Happ ready to go, though the idea of him running through the meaty part of the Astros lineup is giving me agita already. Same for Loaisiga, though I am a known Loaisiga stan and am a believer in his stuff. Maybe you let him rock for an inning or two against the bottom part of the order, see how his command is, and ride him if he’s on. He does throw 99 mph+ with a 2,800 rpm curveball, after all.

It’s very possible that every Yankee reliever pitches tonight depending on how things shake out. I’m confident in the Yankee pen and think they should be okay, though it still makes me anxious. But I’m going to be anxious no matter what today. That’s the beauty of the ALCS.

As for Houston, a lot of innings will likely be soaked up by Brad Peacock and rookie José Urquidy, who throws a mid-90s fastball alongside a change, slider, and curve. The Yankees have never faced him. If I were a betting man, I’d say that if the Yankees are going to win tonight, it’s because they pounded Urquidy. So let’s make that happen.

5. Wake Up, Offense, Wake Up: Finally, both offenses have struggled so far in the ALCS. It’s really been a series dominated by pitching, pitching, and more pitching. In fact, each game has really been defined by one key hit and little else. With the Astros mixing up looks and throwing their bullpen at the Yankee lineup, I really hope tonight is the night that the Yankee bats wake up. And they need to.

So far in the series, seven batters not named DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks, or Gleyber Torres have come to the plate for New York. Those seven hitters have gone 13-100 (.130) with 3 HR against 7 walks and 36 strikeouts. For those keeping track at home, that’s a 36% K rate and a 7% walk rate. Yikes! Only Giancarlo Stanton (0.2) and Cameron Maybin (0.2) have contributed a positive WPA, which is remarkable. That’s a lot of weight carried by DJLM, Judge, and Torres to say nothing of the pitching staff.

The good news is that each of these hitters can wake up at a moment’s notice, and I think tonight is the night they finally do. One might say that several of them are “due”, as we always hear in baseball parlance. Why the hell not? We should all hope so, anyway. Tonight should be a wild ride. I’m ready for the game to start already.

CC Sabathia gave the Yankees everything he had

CC Sabathia gave it his all.

The Yankees’ heart and soul, the man who has thrown more than 2,000 innings for the team in the last 11 years, came back for a ring. Sabathia knew the end was nigh. His knee has been barking about a replacement and wouldn’t shut up. There were no more revivals after 2019.

And that appeared to reach an inglorious end in Game 4. In the most heartbreaking injury of a season filled with them, Sabathia threw a 1-1 pitch to Aledmys Diaz in the eighth inning Thursday night and was removed from the game following a warmup pitch. As Aaron Boone said after the game, it was his shoulder that forced his exit, not the ailing knee in a cruel twist of irony.

Rare is the player who gets to go out on his own terms, yet Sabathia is about as close as they come. He got to pitch a final season in New York, play in the cap he’ll likely don in the Hall of Fame and pursue a second World Series title on a team with realistic hopes.

This season, however, hardly went to script. The veteran lefty started the year on the injured list thanks to regular knee maintenance and the knee roared back to give Sabathia 10-out-of-10 pain on too many occasions. When he was able to pitch, somehow grinding his way through 107 1/3 regular season innings.

Even with the joy of baseball, not to mention the monetary compensenation that comes with it, Sabathia had to have been tested thoughout this season. In 2015, he discovered a knee brace that made him able to pitch with his degenerative knee condition, but there was still that condition, a constant presence in his life for too long. His ability to persevere while remaining an undeniable positive in the clubhouse displays why he’s worthy of admiration.

It’s also what makes Thursday night’s exit so difficult. Sabathia coming off distraught after a ball in a loss. His shoulder issues cropped up earlier in the season and nearly derailed his postseason, but if he were to exit with injury in his final appearance, one would have assumed it’d be the knee giving out once more.

CC’s pain walking off the mound was also the fan’s and his teammates’ pain. The crowd gave him an ovation through the tears, but the rest of the game was a slog with errors and uncharacteristic play, with a team devastated by the exit of its leader. It’s not an excuse, but it’s hard to imagine trying to play a high-stakes game from a significant deficit while shoving thoughts of Sabathia’s emotional exit from their mind.

When you really think about it, when you look beyond what appears to be his final pitches, you can see that Sabathia did get to exit on his terms. He got to pitch in the postseason one last time. Not in the World Series, but pitching against the Astros in the ALCS is as close as you get.

When I think of CC’s end on the field, I’ll think of him coming in as a LOOGY against Michael Brantley in the 10th inning of Game 2, getting the only man he faced and walking off to smiles and laughter across the infield. That was his opportunity to contribute in a high leverage spot, and he did.

When I think of CC’s end on the field, I’ll remember him shutting down the Rays in June, think of him cursing up a storm on R2C2, of him shutting out the White Sox in his season debut.

I’ll think of Sabathia’s countless postseason moments. His World Series title, his first start at the Stadium, his 2012 and 2017 ALDS performances. There’s so much more to Sabathia than his final game.

It’s worth going back to his initial press conference in New York after signing for seven years in the Bronx. That first contract came with an opt out after Year 3 in case he and his wife didn’t take to New York. But Sabathia also related a story of his first experiences after signing.

“Me and my wife were out house hunting yesterday and we were looking for a place and we were walking through a house and the guy says, ‘What team do you play for?'” Sabathia said. “I said the Yankees and it kind of gave me a chill. It gives me a chill right now just saying that, putting on this hat and being here.”

Those same chills he experienced are the same as the ones everyone got watching him do his thing. Watching him shut down the Red Sox or Orioles. Watching him tell the Rays what’s up (in so many words).

Later in that same introductory press conference, Sabathia was asked questions about why New York and whether he could handle the scrutiny there rather than go out west, where he grew up and where the media wouldn’t be nearly as tough.

His answer says it all.

“Coming here and being in the city and seeing the way people receive me, I definitely think I made the right choice.”

You did, CC. Thanks for everything.

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