I’m still pinching myself. After the Yankees blew a five run lead and choked away game two to fall down 2-0 to the Indians, I figured the last thing I’d be doing Thursday morning was carving a reactionary piece following the Bombers pulling off one of, if not their most improbable comebacks I personally can remember. Yet here I am, never so delighted to skip sleeping in on a day off from work to jot down thoughts after the Yanks shocked the Indians last night, 3-2 to storm back from two games down to win the ALDS.
Start spreading the news—here’s my thoughts on this glorious Thursday…
♦ As soon as the New York recorded the final out to win the series I felt an immense sense of joy for Joe Girardi. I genuinely didn’t want to see his Yankee managing career end with him having blown this series. Say what you want about the Yankees skipper — He entirely screwed up game two and his over-managing at times through the years, particularly the bullpen earned him the nickname “Binder Joe.” He’s been much maligned and often deservedly so, but I also think he hasn’t gotten enough credit. There’s not a tougher gig in baseball than managing under the perpetual microscope in the Bronx. Girardi’s done in admirable job in New York City, getting the Yanks to the playoffs six times over 10 seasons while winning a World Series. Let’s not forget until recently this was an organization with a hogwash farm system and roster besieged with rotten veteran contracts. Before becoming manager Girardi was a popular player in the Bronx. It would’ve sucked to have his lasting remembrance be a blunder that cost his team a game and ultimately the series. He deserved better and I’m happy he got redemption.
♦ Having said that, regardless of what happens against Houston and possibly even the World Series I think this run is the end of the line for Girardi in the Bronx. Managers run their course after so many years and it becomes time to move on. I think it’s time for Girardi to move on no matter what happens. I don’t think it’s a bad thing either, as a fresh set of eyes on some of the up-and-comers youngsters will be better for the organization.
♦ After beating New York the first two games at home Cleveland had found themselves on the losing end of just four or their last 39 games. The Yankees then beat them three games in a row. Let that sink in.
♦ Raise your hand if you wrote C.C. Sabathia off before this series. I’m ashamed to count myself among those that did. I cursed Girardi up and down when I seeing Sabathia was starting game two instead of Masahiro Tanaka, knowing C.C. would also toss a potential deciding fifth game. Naturally he shut critics up with two strong performances, both on the road and both against likely Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Sabathia’s stats weren’t great in the starts; 3.72 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP but he struck out 14 in 9.2 combined innings and held kept the lead while the Yanks shockingly got the best of Kluber. In hindsight I shouldn’t have been surprised at C.C.’s success this past week. Yankee stat master Katie Sharp pointed out on Twitter that during the regular season Sabathia had a 6-0 record with a 1.37 ERA in six starts against teams with a winning record. That’s just straight money. A pending free agent this offseason, I gave him no chance of being back on the Bronx, especially considering he’ll be 38 just days into the 2018 but after this I think the Bombers should try to bring him back on a two-year deal. He’s certainly earned it.
♦ I love me some Didi Gregorious. The Yankees don’t beat Minnesota in the wild card game let alone knock off Cleveland in the ALDS without his heroics. For the love of God though, please stop comparing him to Derek Jeter and even worse, doing so favorably. I don’t need you to tell me Jeter never hit two home runs in a postseason game before. Just, stop it and enjoy a historic night without dragging former legendary shortstops into the conversation.
♦ His teammates sure bailed Aarron Judge out this series. The kid struck out four times last night and had three, four-strikeout games this series and whiffed 16 times in 24 plate appearances with just one hit. In fact, Judge had more golden sombrero’s in five games than anyone else has ever had in a postseason career. It’s time for him to return to favor, as New York has zero chance of beating Houston without dramatic improvement from Judge. Here’s the positive approach— Judge went through a 44-game stretch in the second half of the regular season where his bat was the literally the biggest liability in the Yankees lineup, before turning things around and winning A.L. Player of the Month for September. New York needs a similar turnaround starting Friday.
♦ While Judge is getting all the headlines for the wrong reasons, the Yankees getting zero production from the designated hitter spot is equally concerning. When I say zero production I literally mean zero—Yankee DH’s are hitless in 20 at bats in six postseason games. Take your pick between Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley, as both have been useless. Maybe It’s time to give Matt Holliday a shot? He can’t be any worse.
♦ Brett Gardner’s epic 12-pitch at bat against Cody Allen last night that ultimately gave the Yankees breathing room for Aroldis Chapman is something I won’t forget for a long time. What an all-time battler Brett is.
♦ Speaking of Chapman, what an impressive turnaround the embattled closer has had over the past six weeks. It wasn’t long ago, mid-August actually where Chapman was removed from his closer role after allowing a run in four consecutive appearances and two runs in three straight outings. It wasn’t what the team and fans envisioned in the first season of a five-year contract worth $86 million. Thankfully Chapman regained his form in September in not allowing a single run and surrendering only three hits over 12 innings while striking out 17 and earning six saves. Chapman was equally dominant against Cleveland; striking out 13 over 6.2 scoreless innings over four appearances with a pair of saves. It’s positively calming to feel good about the ball in his hands again protecting a late lead.
♦ I hope and expect Tanaka to get the ball on game three, mainly because he’s ridiculously better pitching at home this year than on the road, as evidenced by his 3.22 home ERA versus 6.48 elsewhere. That would set up to have Sonny Gray and Luis Severino in games one and two on regular rest. Many will be down on Gray because he hasn’t pitched particularly well and that’s understandable, but this is the best setup Girardi can have, with Sabathia obviously throwing game four. It’s time for Gray to pitch well when it matters most.
♦ Houston looks unbeatable on paper but then again the same was said about Cleveland. Dallas Kuechel will probably start game one and looked great against Boston in the divisional series. He pitched against New York once this season; tossing six innings of one-run, five-hit ball with nine strikeouts in a May 11 victory. Justin Verlander will go in game two and he’s great, but so was Kluber and the Yanks battered him. I’m far from sold on Brad Peacock and Charles Morton overpowering New York in games three and four. While on the whole I’m not as enamored with the Astros rotation than Cleveland’s, the bats are another story. Led by studs Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa the Astros have hitters that can kill you from the top of the order all the way through the very bottom. Houston’s favored and should be, but don’t overlook this wave the Yankees are on. I don’t necessary believe in “momentum” as a real factor in a series yet to be played, but confidence certainly is and after winning three straight against the Indians, New York’s full of it.