Tag: Justin Verlander

News & Notes: Sign stealing, the ones that got away, Tanaka, Reddick, Girardi

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I don’t know about you, but it feels like time has crawled since the end of Game 3. The rainout yesterday obviously hasn’t helped, but I can’t wait until it’s Tanaka time come 8pm or so. I’m exhausted from rehashing what went wrong in Games 2 and 3 and there’s been too much free time to do that. It probably hasn’t helped that the NLCS ended quite quickly; the Nationals sweep of the Cardinals hasn’t allowed for any distractions over the past couple of days. For now though, to kill some time between now and first pitch tonight, here’s a news and notes roundup.

The Yankees and Astros argued back and forth over Houston’s alleged sign stealing

Honestly, I’m so over talk of this and pitch tipping. Sure, the Astros have developed a reputation for this kind of gamesmanship, but I have a hard time getting up in arms about it. Especially because, as Andy Martino reported, the Yankees were enraged by Houston’s behavior in Game 1, when they handled the Astros with ease 7-0.

Sign stealing is part of the game, but apparently, Houston drew ire because they went too far in the Yankees’ view. Apparently, whistling to relay information is wrong, but other more subtle methods are OK. Whatever. The Yankees need to just beat the Astros on the field. As long as Houston’s not cheating with some sort of advanced technology, which there’s absolutely no evidence of, the Yankees need to do better. Just beat them on the field.

Just to close this out — MLB found no wrongdoing:

The Astros and Nationals have reminded the Yankees of pitchers that could have donned pinstripes

“Gerrit, you know we were almost Yankees.”

Lindsey Adler of The Athletic (subs. required) gave a good overview of where the Yankees’ pitching staff stands with Game 4 upcoming and no days off the rest of the series. Even though the Yankees’ pitching staff as a whole has done a great job suppressing run scoring against Minnesota and Houston, we’re starting to see the toll of not having starters capable of giving length. Aside from Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees’ starters have struggled to go more than three or four innings.

The issues with getting five or six innings regularly from the rotation is in stark contrast of not only the Yankees’ current opponent, but also the National League Champion Nationals. And of course, both teams have workhorse starters that the Yankees could have had, as Adler notes. Justin Verlander could have been had as a waiver claim in 2017, Patrick Corbin could have been a Yankee had the team been willing to offer him six instead of five years, and Gerrit Cole could have been acquired via trade following 2017. Max Scherzer, who is not mentioned in this piece, was signed by Washington before the 2015 season in free agency. The Yankees theoretically could have (should have!) signed him too.

Now, the lack of starters who regularly give length doesn’t mean the Yankees can’t overcome this 2-1 deficit against Houston. It just provides an added challenge.

What makes Masahiro Tanaka so good in the postseason?

ESPN’s Marly Rivera wrote about tonight’s starter, Masahiro Tanaka, and what makes him so successful in big moments. He now has a 1.32 ERA in 41 postseason innings, which is just absurd.

There are a few good quotes in here, mainly from Yu Darvish but also from Aaron Boone. The forthcoming Darvish quote takes the cake:

“If anything, Tanaka has posted better numbers in the postseason than myself, so I don’t think I have much advice to give him,” Darvish told ESPN. “It may be because his sense of personal responsibility is strong, and he competes with the mentality of going to kill his opponent.”

Yu Darvish

With Tanaka going tonight, you have to feel pretty confident about leveling this series at two a piece. I never, ever, want to hear anyone complain about his regular season ups and downs ever again.

Josh Reddick takes exception to Yankee Stadium crowd

Yankee Stadium in October isn’t the most welcoming environment for road teams. We’ve seen this time and time again, whether in prior years or as recently as the ALDS with the “Uber” chants directed at Twins’ starter Randy Dobnak. It’s come up once again in the ALCS, with this time Josh Reddick taking the brunt of it.

For what it’s worth, he doesn’t seem to be upset about anything said to him. He even seems mildly impressed with some of the comments received. But, he rightfully took exception to things being thrown on the field. That’s definitely dangerous and over the line.

Joe Girardi expects to manage in 2020

The one time player and manager for the Yankees stepped down from his gig with USA baseball yesterday, perhaps hinting at things intensifying for him on the managerial front. Girardi looks like a plausible hire for the Mets, Phillies, and Cubs.

ALCS Game 2: Astros tie series as Yankees falter in extra innings

Out at the plate (MLB Gifs)

Carlos Correa hit a walk-off home run in the 11th inning as the Astros beat the Yankees in ALCS Game 2 to even the series. Aaron Judge homered for the Yankees’ only runs, while the Bombers needed 7 2/3 innings from their bullpen after James Paxton struggled. (Box Score)

To the recap!

Battle of the Bullpens

After seven innings, both starters were out of the game and each side had two runs. Though the Yankees had already gotten 4 2/3 innings from the pen, the game was even as Houston has nowhere near as deep a bullpen.

Will Harris relieved Verlander and got two outs before walking Judge. With one out in the eighth inning, AJ Hinch didn’t hesitate to go to closer Roberto Osuna. Osuna has owned the Yankees in his career. This was no different. The right-hander sat five straight Bombers down in order to get through the ninth.

Meanwhile, Zack Britton pitched for the second straight day to lead off the eighth and pitched around a walk to Alex Bregman for a scoreless inning. Struck out Yordan Alvarez on a wicked slider.

On came Aroldis Chapman. Aaron Boone became the second manager in three years to go to Chapman, his closer, in a tie game in ALCS Game 2. This time, Chapman wouldn’t surrender the walk-off homer. He struck out three around a walk.

However, Houston pushed Chapman to 25 pitches despite a sharp slider and 100-mph velocity, limiting him to one inning. After Jose Smith sat the Yankees down 1-2-3 in the 10th, Boone went to CC Sabathia to get out Michael Brantley and he did the thing as the LOOGY, inducing a weak grounder.

Behind him was Jonathan Loaisiga, who walked two before J.A. Happ cleaned up his mess by retiring Alvarez and Yuli Gurriel.

The Yankees threatened in the 11th with a walk from Edwin Encarnación and a single by Brett Gardner, but Gary Sánchez struck out to end the threat. He looked lost, going 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.

In the bottom of the 11th, Carlos Correa needed one pitch to finish the job, lifting the walk-off homer to right field off Happ.

The Yankees have lost their last four postseason extra-inning games and haven’t won an extra-inning road playoff game since 2004 ALDS Game 4.

Only Judge gets to Verlander

Justin Verlander brought it for the first time through the order. After a dud on short rest in the ALDS, he was his sharp self and had the aggressive Yankees off-balance for three innings, setting the Bombers down in order. Established high with the fastball, got swings and misses with breaking and offspeed stuff down with little resistance.

That changed in the fourth inning. DJ LeMahieu earned a walk on six pitches and brought up Aaron Judge. For the second time this season, Judge took Verlander out to right field in Houston.

Verlander’s slider hung up for Judge, who was more than willing to take it the other way. It was his first significant mistake.

If only the HR had held up. (Lindsey Adler/Twitter)

The second and third time through the order, the Yankees worked JV. Gleyber Torres had a seven-pitch AB and Didi Gregorius took him to a ninth pitch after a Cameron Maybin single.

Still, Verlander held them at two going into the sixth. He hung another pitch for LeMahieu, who singled, and then Judge drove one to right. It looked gone in previous months, but it died at the warning track for a flyout.

The Yankees strung together hits and kept pressure on Verlander. Torres singled and with two outs, Gardner hit a hard ball at Jose Altuve. The ball ricocheted off the second baseman and LeMahieu was sent home to try and score.

However, Carlos Correa was heads up, scampered to the ball and fired a strike home to get DJLM. Some take issue with the send, but putting the pressure on the defense often works there (Remember 2017 ALCS Game 2?). Just didn’t this time.

Verlander retired two hitters in the seventh before walking Maybin. Overall, he went 6 2/3 innings, allowing just four hits and walking one. His only runs came on the homer, but the Bombers hit him well with a couple balls to the wall and liners at fielders.

Paxton Falls Flat

For the first time this postseason, one of the Yankees’ starters had a significant off-night. James Paxton didn’t have it in ALCS Game 2 and the Astros were all over him.

Paxton wasn’t sharp as he missed with both his fastball and curveball early in the game. He staved off doom in the first inning with a double play after a leadoff walk, but the second inning would give him more trouble.

Bregman led off with a 106.7 mph single and Paxton quickly walked Alvarez with misplaced fastballs. Two batters later, Correa lined a double down the left field line to produce a run.

The left-hander got out of the jam with two strikeouts, but he was lifted after back-to-back one-out singles in the third inning.

There was plenty of talk that he was tipping pitches as he did in Houston in April, but I haven’t seen anything conclusive yet. Whether or not he was, he wasn’t commanding his pitches and paid the price, which forced Aaron Boone’s hand.

Bullpenning after Paxton

With Paxton getting just seven outs, Boone trusted his bullpen to match Verlander and the Astros inning-for-inning. First up, Chad Green.

Green was masterful. He got Bregman to line out before retiring Alvarez on a harmless pop up. He cruised through four batters before getting lifted after retiring the No. 9 batter, leaving with a lead after the Judge homer.

But Ottavino couldn’t hold the advantage. He hung a slider on his first pitch to George Springer and it was blasted out to left-center field. It was just his second homer allowed since July. He struck out Brantley and Bregman around an Altuve single, but the Brantley single snuck past Gary Sanchez to allow a batter to reach.

Tommy Kahnle relieved Ottavino for Alvarez and struck him out on a changeup. In a hectic sixth inning, he got all three batters out, but the first two smoked balls. It appeared Correa had put Houston ahead, but his ball died in the left-center field warning track.

But Kahnle was masterful in the seventh with a K and two weak outs. He recorded seven outs for just the third time in his career and first time since the 2017 Wild Card Game. Props to Tommy Tightpants.

Leftovers

  • The Yankees’ last postseason victory in extra innings was the Raúl Ibañez game in 2012.
  • Encarnación is in a mini-slump. He is 0-for-14 with two walks since the third inning of ALDS Game 2. However, he drew a walk in his final appearance of the night.
  • Judge, Maybin and LeMahieu each had a walk and hit. Gardner had two singles, Torres had one. Aaron Judge had the Yankees’ only extra-base hit.
  • Aaron Hicks pinch-hit to lead off the 10th and grounded out before taking over in center. Gardner shifted over to left.
  • Man, Kyle Tucker looked bad at the plate. Luckily for him, the Astros’ big guns did the work. The top four in the order + Correa to be exact.

Monday is a day off in the series and the teams will play ALCS Game 3 on Tuesday at 4:08 p.m. It’ll be Luis Severino against Gerrit Cole in a matchup of flamethrowers.

ALCS Game 2 Starter Preview: Justin Verlander

JV (MLB Gifs)

Destiny arrives in the form of Justin Verlander standing in the way of the Yankees’ World Series hopes. Four times prior, Verlander and his team has stood in their way. Will this be a fifth?

The Basics

Justin Verlander was either the best or second best pitcher in the American League this season. He led the AL in wins, games started, innings, WHIP, hits per nine and K-BB ratio. His 2.58 ERA was just 0.08 behind teammate Gerrit Cole, though his 3.27 FIP was fourth in the AL. He was second in strikeout and walk rate. Verlander hit 300 strikeouts for the first time in his 15-year career.

His only major flaw was the long ball. He allowed a career-high 36 home runs and only Matthew Boyd allowed more in the AL. Granted, Verlander’s HR/9 beats many of those around him on the leaderboard since he tossed 223 innings, but he still had a penchant for homers.

His Postseason Thus Far

Verlander had two contrasting results in his ALDS appearances. He “Verlander’d” the Rays in Game 1 of the ALDS, holding them to one hit and three walks over seven scoreless innings as the Astros gained a 1-0 lead in the series.

Then, for the first time in his career, Verlander made a true short-rest start, and it was a disaster. Throwing 84 pitches in 3 2/3 innings, he allowed seven hits, three walks and two home runs as the Rays tagged him for four runs. Though his velocity was there, he had no command and his pitches lacked depth and sharpness.

Verlander comes into tonight on regular rest, though one has to wonder if that short rest outing take a toll on the 36-year-old right-hander.

The Stuff

In his third year with the Astros, Verlander is throwing his fastball less than ever. He throws it just 50 percent of the time while relying more on his slider and curveball (with an occasional changeup mixed in). Don’t worry, his stuff is still unreal.

By Fangraphs pitch values, his fastball took a significant drop in effectiveness (30.2 in wFB to 11.3), though his slider picked up the slack (3.9 in wSL to 33.4). He’s lost about 0.5 mph on his fastball (now 94.6 mph) and changeup, though his slider is now 1 mph faster (87.5 mph).

MPHwOBAWhiff %% to RHP% to LHP
Four-seamer94.6.34731.147.550.6
Slider87.5.17640.035.322.2
Curveball79.4.21227.915.021.4
Changeup86.9.14433.82.25.7

His fastball remains highly useful, particularly in setting up his strong secondary pitches. He locates it well and it has both above-average velocity and top-of-the-line spin (98th percentile). His expected wOBA and batting average against are both 95th percentile or higher.

The slider, meanwhile, is death to righties but can also get out lefties.

(MLB Gifs)

Overall, Verlander has a slight reverse platoon split with neither batter’s box getting good licks against him.

History vs. NYY

Verlander has thrown 139 1/3 regular season innings and an additional 38 2/3 postseason innings against the Yankees. Whether newcomers to the roster or stalwarts, they’re familiar with Verlander.

In two starts this season, he allowed three runs each time over six and seven innings, respectively. Each time, he allowed a home run, once to Aaron Judge and another time to DJ LeMahieu.

Brett Gardner has seen him the most of anyone (57 PA) and hits OK against the right-hander (.260/.327/.360) while Didi Gregorius has a homer and double in 22 productive PAs. Judge has struggled prior to the homer, while Gleyber Torres, Edwin Encarnacion, Aaron Hicks and Gary Sanchez have weak numbers.


If Verlander is back to his form prior to short rest, the Yankees could be in for a long night, particularly with Giancarlo Stanton out of the lineup. Still, this lineup is capable of beating the best pitchers and already knows it can hit Houston’s bullpen. It may just be a matter of hitting a couple of balls into the Crawford Boxes.

Houston Astros Series Preview: 6/20-6/23

Embed from Getty Images

Fresh off a sweep of the Rays, the Yankees get what I believe is the best team in baseball coming to the Bronx for four games.

Their Story Thus Far

Despite losing their last four games, the Houston Astros are playoff locks in June at 48-27, carrying a 7.5 game lead in the AL West. Their 129 wRC+ trails only the Twins for the best in baseball while their 3.58 staff ERA in fourth in the game.

The offense does everything you would want. They’re fourth in home runs with 118 and strike out less often than any other contender. Meanwhile, they want at a strong rate and post a .265/.342/.468 line as a team. The Astros have both star power and depth in their lineup, giving away few easy outs. Rookie Yordan Alvarez has given the team added power the last couple weeks while Michael Brantley has extended their lineup.

Houston’s pitching staff controls the strikezone as well. Their rotation is tied for first in baseball with a 28.3 percent strikeout rate and are first with a K-BB rate (21.4). Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole headline the starters, though the Yankees miss Cole this series.

Injury Report

The Astros had to weather plenty of injuries, just like the Yankees. Star hitters Carlos Correa (fractured rib) and George Springer (hamstring) will miss this series while 2B Aledmys Diaz (hamstring) is also on the IL. C Max Stassi is on rehab assignment after suffering knee inflammation.

Meanwhile, RHP Collin McHugh just started a rehab assignment this week while reliever Joe Smith is nearing one. Lance McCullers Jr. is still out for the season with Tommy John surgery.

(MLB Gifs)

Player Spotlight: Alex Bregman

If you weren’t convinced by his 2017 World Series or his 2018 top-5 MVP finish, you should know now: Alex Bregman is a star.

Houston’s third baseman has cemented himself as one of baseball’s best hitters at just 25 years old. His 151 wRC+ is 10th in baseball and his 16.9 percent walk rate is third in the game. He’s essentially repeated his 2018 season (.285/.394/.532, 157 wRC+) with a just as impressive season (.264/.394/.533).

Bregman has struck out 12 fewer times than he’s walked. His 3.6 bWAR lead Houston as he goes for his first All-Star start next month.

What makes him even better is his versatility. He can bat at the top or in the middle of the order and has moved into the leadoff spot with Springer out. Correa’s injury has allowed him to shift over to his natural position of shortstop, where he’ll likely play the entire series.

Potential Lineup

  1. Alex Bregman, SS (.264/.394/.533, 151 wRC+)
  2. Michael Brantley, LF (.321/.380/.523, 145 wRC+)
  3. Jose Altuve, 2B (.236/.321/.459, 111 wRC+)
  4. Yuli Gurriel, 3B (.263/.297/.396, 86 wRC+)
  5. Yordan Alvarez, DH (.333/.444/.767, 218 wRC+ in eight games)
  6. Robinson Chirinos, C (.236/.365/.500, 135 wRC+)
  7. Tyler White, 1B (.237/.346/.349, 96 wRC+)
  8. Josh Reddick, RF (.293/.333/.434, 106 wRC+)
  9. Jake Marisnick, CF (.235/.301/.436, 100 wRC+)

The Astros’ bench consists of backup catcher Garrett Stubbs (5 wRC+), infielder Jack Mayfield (20 wRC+) and outfielders Tony Kemp (89 wRC+) and Myles Straw (125 wRC+).

Pitching Matchups

Thursday (7:05 PM ET) Chad Green (vs. Astros) vs. Framber Valdez (vs. Yankees)

Framber Valdez moved into the Astros’ rotation this month after spending most of the season in the bullpen. The left-hander produced back-to-back starts of six innings and no more than two runs, albeit against the Orioles and Blue Jays.

Overall, he has a 2.77 ERA and 3.30 FIP in 39 innings this season. He excels primarily by keeping the ball on the ground. His 61.7 percent groundball rate is well above league average, as is his 0.46 home runs per nine innings. His K-BB rates are OK, but he gets plenty of swings and misses with his curveball.

His repertoire features his low-90s sinker, high 70s curveball and mid-90s four-seamer in that order. The sinker and curve are worm killers and the curve has been nearly unhittable this season.

Valdez (Baseball Savant)

Friday (7:05 PM ET) James Paxton (vs. Astros) vs. Brad Peacock (vs. Yankees)

Brad Peacock has gone back-and-forth between the rotation and bullpen in recent seasons, but he’s been almost exclusively in the starting staff this year. He’s been an above-average pitcher, sporting a 3.67 ERA and 3.85 FIP in 76 innings over 15 starts.

His strikeout rate is down this season, likely as he’s unable to go all out when going for longer outings. His hard hit rate is up as well to 41 percent, which is well worse than league average. Though down, his 3.17 K/BB ratio is still strong.

The right-hander focuses on his low-90s sinker and four-seam fastball with heavy doses of his low-80s slider. His slider has generally been his most effective pitch, but it doesn’t wipe hitters out in the same way in the rotation.

Peacock (Baseball Savant)

Saturday (7:15 PM ET) Masahiro Tanaka (vs. Astros) vs. Wade Miley (vs. Yankees)

Wade Miley was nearly out of baseball two years ago after having a 5.61 ERA and league-leading 93 walks in 2017 with the Orioles. However, he’s reinvented himself with Milwauke and Houston and has a 3.30 ERA over 84 2/3 innings in 2019.

He has a similar approach to CC Sabathia, going with a whole bunch of high-80s cutters and trying to suppress exit velocity. His average exit-velocity is up from last season, but his strikeout and walk numbers have improved to around league-average while he still have a strong .217 expected batting average.

Miley uses his cutter 47 percent of the time and turns to his changeup, four-seamer and curveball each between 11 and 18 percent of the time. The changeup has been his best swing-and-miss pitch and his most effective one overall.

Miley (Baseball Savant)

Sunday (2:05 PM ET) J.A. Happ (vs. Astros) vs. Justin Verlander (vs. Yankees)

Welp. At least the Yankees got to avoid Cole, but dread him, run from him, Verlander still arrives. The perennial Cy Young favorite has not slowed down at 36. He’s fourth in the AL with a 2.59 ERA, fourth among pitchers with 3.5 bWAR and he leads everyone with a .743 WHIP and 5.01 hits per nine innings. Last May at Yankee Stadium, he walked off the field like this:

Verlander still issues very few walks and strikes out a ton of players. Maybe not quite as prolific as a year ago, but he does it well all the same.

There are two caution flags for Verlander. He’s been extremely fortunate while stranding 92.9 of baserunners. Part of that is talent, but it exceeds both league-average and his career-norms.

He also is allowing more home runs than ever before in his career. They’re almost all solo or two-run homers as he has given up 20 home runs and only 32 overall runs. Thanks to a slightly diminished K/BB ratio and rising home run rate, his FIP is a full run higher than last season.

Will the Yankees get to him? Maybe. Though he feels like a Yankee-killer (and is based on postseason alone), he has a 3.54 ERA against the Yankees all-time vs. a 3.36 career ERA. So it’s more than he’s an everyone-killer than a Yankee-killer.

Verlander (Baseball Savant)

Bullpen Status

The Astros’ closer is still Roberto Osuna, who blew a save and took a loss Wednesday. He should still be fresh to pitch in multiple games this weekend.

Beyond him, Ryan Pressly and Will Harris are two of Houston’s main setup men. The two righties pitched Wednesday as well, and Pressly has been one of the best relievers in baseball period since coming to Houston. Hector Rondon gets middle relief work as well.

The last three guys in Houston’s bullpen are also right-handers — Miley and Valdez are the only lefties on the 25-man roster — in Josh James, Chris Devenski and Rogelio Armenteros. James shot onto the scene as a rookie last year has struggled in middle and long relief in 2019. Devenski’s changeup-heavy act hasn’t been the same since the 2017 World Series with a 4.40 ERA this year.

Armenteros or James would be able to give Houston length, though Armenteros has only pitched in one game in his MLB career, a three-inning save last weekend.

Keys to watch:

Green and Paxton rebounding from April

In the Houston series two months ago, Chad Green was lit up while James Paxton struggled as he apparently tipped pitches. Both have looked much better since then, though they’ll have tough tests in their Thursday and Friday starts.

Avoiding the crooked numbers

The Astros’ lineup has a few easier outs when Springer and Correa are out, but they still can put up crooked numbers in a hurry, just as the Yankees did to the Rays. If you can hold rallies to 1-2 runs instead of 4-5, you can hang with this juggernaut.

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