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.