SUCKSVILLE, NY – After a brutal, nut punch, rollercoaster loss to the Astros in Game 6 of the ALCS, the fingers of blame are pointing. In what was billed as a battle of the Yankees bullpen vs the Astros starters, most seem content to let that be the consensus narrative. The Yankees lost because they didn’t get enough out of their starters and the bullpen wore down. But to those of us that watched every single pitch of this series, that’s not really how it went down. Let’s see what the peanut gallery is saying.
From The Athletic:
“Zack Britton, Tommy Kahnle and Adam Ottavino each appeared five times in the series. Chad Green made four appearances. But each game also brought an increased level of familiarity. For talented teams loaded with talented hitters such as the Astros, that familiarity becomes an advantage.”
I don’t buy it. The first big mistake by a Yankee reliever was Ottavino’s floater on his first pitch to George Springer in Game 2 that ended up in the seats. It tied the game and turned it into a bullpen slog. Ottavino did face Springer in Game 1, but he flied out to deep center on the second pitch. You can’t tell me that the two pitches he saw in Game 1 led to an increased familiarity in Game 2. A more reasonable explanation is that Ottavino struggled down the stretch and his struggles carried into the post season.
Tommy Kahnle was the other high leverage Yankees reliever who didn’t get it done. Kahnle was the first Yankees reliever to pitch in three straight games all season. Heavens to Betsy, three straight games! Adding fuel to the fire, Kahnle supposedly told teammates he was gassed.
Let’s look at his outings. First off, let’s recall that there was a long layoff before Game 1 because they Yankees swept the Twins. Kahnle did not pitch in Game 1 and then threw 25 pitches in 2/3 innings of work in Game 2. But then he had another day off so he should have been feeling pretty good at that point. Then he threw a clean 14-pitch inning in Game 4. Not bad, he still should be fine.
It started to come apart for him in Game 5 when he got an out then gave up a single and a four pitch walk. He was pulled after only 8 pitches and it was the walk that got him in trouble. You can’t really make the “familiarity” argument on a four pitch walk.
So there he was in Game 6 for the third night in a row. But he only threw 14 and 8 pitches in the last two games. It’s the playoffs, suck it up. Go look at what the Cubs did to Chapman in the 2016 World Series. Every single postseason pitchers are asked to do things they didn’t do during the season.
In Game 6 what got him in trouble was the leadoff walk to Altuve on 5 pitches. Again, the opposition’s familiarity to your pitchers is not a factor if you don’t throw strikes.
I think the only instance where you might be able to make this case is the first inning, first pitch, three run homer by Yuli Gurriel off Chad Green. Gurriel had faced Green two times before in the series and was clearly sitting on a first pitch fastball. It looked like Green wanted to get it in more and missed his spot. Gurriel was ready for it.
And Chapman, who gave up the soul crushing three run bomb to Altuve, was pretty fresh on his third appearance of the series and throwing only 9 pitches in Game 5 and not pitching in Game 4.
There’s not a lot of evidence for this familiarity thing.
Sports Illustrated’s Headline Read:
“Yankees’ Season Blows Up With Starting Pitcher Void Never Filled”
Sure, there isn’t a baseball team in the land that wouldn’t be better with Cole or Verlander on their staff. And yes, the Yankees should do what they can to improve their rotation. But Houston’s rotation was not the reason they won this series. Cole and Verlander won one game between them. The Yanks had plenty of traffic (new required term for base-runners) but they couldn’t get the big hit. Cole and Verlander ate innings and that allowed their bullpen to thrive… but they didn’t dominate the series.
If you ignore Game 6, when neither team used a traditional starter, the Yankees big three of Tanaka, Severino and Paxton pitched 23.2 innings giving up 7 earned runs. While Cole, Greinke and Verlander pitched 31 innings, giving up 10 earned runs. I know the extra 7 plus innings Houston got out of its starters matters, but the ERAs were pretty similar.
The Yankees starters held up enough for them to win.,
From our own Angry Ward:
“Cashman still thinks he can win with home runs and a bullpen. Starting pitching matters… especially in the preseason.”
Typo aside, with all due respect to my esteemed colleague, the plan wasn’t the problem.
Sure, the Yankees (and Houston too, for that matter) could have done better with runners in scoring position. But just about all of Houston’s big hits were home runs. They won two of the four games with walk-off bombs.
Houston scored 15 of their 22 runs, or 71% of their runs via the long ball. The Yankees scored 15 of 21, or 68%. Yup, both teams scored 15 runs via the homer and the Astros only scored one more run than the Yankees in the series. These teams were evenly matched and it’s a shame it didn’t go seven.
Is Houston doomed in the World Series because of their reliance on the homers? If anything, teams almost have to rely more on home runs against good pitching because one mistake is more likely than a string of multiple hits. Both teams in this season were awful with runners in scoring position.
I’m not saying good starting pitching isn’t important. It still might be the better way to build a team. You can’t deny that the two teams remaining have pretty good starting pitching. What I am saying is that wasn’t the reason why this series fell in favor of the Astros.
So Who Should I Blame?
The roster changes the Yankees made for the ALCS never made sense to me. Thirteenth pitcher Tyler Lyons tossed two thirds of an inning. CC Sabathia was a sentimental choice and only threw one inning. Did they need both of those guys? They don’t pinch hit, but a pinch-runner like Tyler Wade could have been helpful a few times. A small thing maybe, but Yankees’ fans will never forget how much a pinch-runner can turn a series.
One managerial decision that might have made a big difference was pulling Paxton early in Game 2. The bullpen held it down, but they lost the game and using all those relievers might have had repercussions down the line. Paxton was the ace down the stretch… maybe give him a little more rope there. Then again, if they could have pushed a run across after the fourth, it would have been brilliant.
It was a tough ask for Edwin Encarnacion, missing the second half of September and then trying to get his timing back in the playoffs. And why can’t Stanton go three games without getting hurt? They were both brutal. Maybe they didn’t need both of those guys.
A lot was made of the Yankees not adding any pitching at the deadline. But part of that was Cashman knowing he had Severino and Betances coming back. Severino made it, but Betances had the fluke injury. Then there was the unfortunate Domingo German incident. Betances and German could have been the difference.
The rain-out hurt the team that was more dependent on their bullpen.
Anyway, it was a horrifying loss for the good guys made extra painful after Le Machine’s 9th inning heroics. But it was a hard-fought, evenly-matched series that came down to a few plays. While the Yankees should certainly look to improve their team, wholesale changes may not be necessary. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.
Come back tomorrow for Angry Ward, taking a break from writing the screenplay for Hot Dog II: Extra Mustard. Follow us on Twitter at @BenWhit8, @MeetTheMatts, @Matt_McCarthy00, Instagram @MeetTheMatts and like our Facebook page, Meet The Matts.