What happened? How to rectify? Mistakes made?

Yankee Stadium Frieze

Ok, for what could be the third year in a row, the Yanks get knocked out by the WS Champs (that is, if Houston beats Washington this year in the World Series). And, it might be said, for the third year in a row, the Yanks could be the second best team in baseball, with the Dodgers of the last two years disagreeing. Maybe the Yanks would have beaten the Dodgers in 2017 and 2018, maybe not. Maybe the Yanks would beat Washington this year, maybe not.

Joel Sherman has a post suggesting moves the Yanks could make. But the one thing he compares the Yanks to could be telling. Are the Yanks in danger of being the Patrick Ewing Knicks to the Michael Jordan Bulls. Good but not good enough to get over that one team (be in 2017/2019 Astros or 2018 Red Sox) standing in their way to a WS Championship?

Let’s take a look at some things that went wrong against the Astros in the ALCS and some things that went wrong prior to that. It’s ok to disagree. I’ve disagreed with some recently about my opinions.

Let’s start with the starting pitching. It would have been nice to have Domingo German, their winning-est pitcher on the Yankees this year (18-4, 4.03), starting a game, maybe especially Game 6 instead of a bullpen game (Chad Green starting), wouldn’t it?

Except that German was forced onto administrative leave by MLB for a domestic abuse incident. That helped hurt the Yanks. Couldn’t have seen that coming. Ouch.

Also hurting was that J.A. Happ didn’t start Game 6 because he had a bad year (12-8, 4.91) and lost the trust of his manager and coaching staff. With CC Sabathia’s condition (we’ll get to CC in a bit) adding onto the loss of German and Happ’s ineffectiveness, that left a rotation of Tanaka, Paxton, Severino—and Severino was just coming off an injury that cost him almost the entire season—and the opener, in this case, Green.

As for Sabathia, I wasn’t in favor of bringing him back. I admire his courage and applaud what he did for the Yanks. But you think with your head, not your heart. Last off-season, did you expect a lot from CC? More than what he gave this year? I didn’t. Bad knee, the stent put in, turned 39 in July. CC’s last win was on June 24. Think about that for a moment. His last winning decision was JUNE 24. His ERA was 4.95. He’s on and off the injured list. You couldn’t rely on him to take the mound. He would if he COULD, but a lot of times he COULD NOT. And in the ALCS, his arm gave out. A more reliable #5 would have helped more. You can’t make decisions on sentiment. It’s a cruel business.

Speaking of injuries, I feel the Yanks made a mistake keeping Stanton on the roster. Yes, if you take him off, he doesn’t play in the WS. But you cannot think about the World Series. You have to think about, and win, the ROUND YOU ARE CURRENTLY IN. He didn’t play in Games 2, 3, and 4 although Manager Aaron Boone said he could pinch-hit, which he didn’t. Nor did he play in Game 6. So for four games, even though Stanton was available, in reality it was like the Yanks were playing a man short.

They could have replaced him with Mike Ford. Replacing him with Ford (.259-12-25 in 143 at bats this year) would have put another lefty bat in the lineup against a team (Houston) that had NO lefty pitchers on its postseason roster. NONE. It also would have enabled Boone to bench Edwin Encarnacion (1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts in the series) for Ford.

Joe Torre said that Don Zimmer told him you can’t be patient in the postseason. True. You can let a guy ride out a slump in the regular season, but there is no time for that in the postseason. You can be a player’s manager in the regular season, but in the postseason who have to be a hard-ass. If a guy goes 1 for 9 in a ALDS sweep, and you win anyway, but that same guy starts the ALCS 0 for 12 and is killing your team, you have to pull the trigger. You have to sit him if you can.

Which leads me to Gary Sanchez. (I will get back to the starting pitching soon). Sanchez was 3 for 23, 12 strikeouts (1 HR, 3 RBI) against the Astros. He didn’t fare well against the Twins in the ALDS either. Later, his defense suffered too. Passed balls in two straight games.

I would have sat him for Austin Romine for at least one game. Romine doesn’t have the power Sanchez has, but maybe Romine would at least make contact instead of striking out half the time? The Yanks have to figure out what they have in Sanchez. He missed about 40 games in 2018 but still hit 18 HR. This year, he missed about 25 games and still hit 34 HR. He’s a 2x All-Star. But despite all those HR, in the past two seasons combined, he’s hit .211 (.186 and .232) and he’s better than that. He should be a .270 hitter with his talent. In that Joel Sherman article, Sherman states that he thinks it is a legitimate question to ask if the Yanks can win a title with Sanchez behind the plate. I think the answer is —-not THIS version of Gary Sanchez. But is there another one? The one he SHOULD be, given his talent? Sanchez has six postseason HR. He also has a .176 postseason batting average and 40 strikeouts in 102 postseason at bats.

Aaron Judge has struck out a lot in the postseason too (41 strikeouts in 101 at bats), but at least Judge is hitting .257 in the postseason with 8 HR. And defensively, Judge in RF is head and shoulders better than Sanchez has been at catcher.

Ok, getting back to the starting pitching, and here is where I’ve had some disagreements with others. I hope you see my point. If not, that’s fine.

But the Yanks, I think, need a stud pitcher. (Think going all out to get Gerrit Cole as a free agent this offseason, or Stephen Strasburg if he opts out). They are top of the line studs. Now others say that we have an ace in Severino. Maybe, maybe not. But here is the problem.

The last time the Yanks had a pitcher with 200 IP in a season was in 2013. (CC and Kuroda. CC 14-13, 4.78 (not a good year) and Kuroda 11-13, 3.31 (deserved a better record)). Meaning more work for the bullpen.

Now let’s take it to the postseason. Since Game 2 of the 2012 ALCS, the Yankees have played in 30 postseason games. In only 7 has their starter gone more than five innings.

Masahiro Tanaka was four of those seven.

In eight postseason starts, Luis Severino has gone over five innings just once. He has pitched just 31 innings in those eight starts. That is less than four innings per start.

I’m sorry. That is not ace-like.That is not a stud.

Remember what middle relievers are. No offense to them, but they are pitchers not good enough for the starting rotation, and not good enough to be your closer.

And, the more you see them in the postseason, the more comfortable the batters are facing them.

Which means you want to try to avoid using them too much. Meaning the starter has to give length, and you see the Yanks’ starters haven’t done that.

It’s not just the Yanks. The game is changing and other teams have this problem too. But for the Yanks to jump the Astros (Verlander, Cole, Greinke) or even last year’s Red Sox (Sale, Price) or maybe even this year’s Nationals (Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin—and oh, how I wanted the Yanks to sign Corbin last off-season), they need starters to give more length.

Now, as far as using the relievers too much (and the Yanks have one of the best bullpens in baseball, postseason problems notwithstanding) because the Yanks’ starters didn’t go deep enough, I think Aaron Boone stayed too long with Adam Ottavino. After a while it was apparent the Yanks had a problem. Ottavino couldn’t get anyone out. You got to jettison him. Boone stuck with him.

Remember what I just mentioned about hitters getting too familiar with pitchers if you are using them all the time in a short series? Maybe Boone could have rolled the dice and instead of using Chad Green as the Game 6 starter/opener (a pitcher Houston had seen before in the series), and who gave up a 3-run HR in the first inning of Game 6, maybe Boone could have used Ben Heller as the Game Six starter/opener instead?

Heller missed most of the 2019 season coming back from injury. BUT… Houston didn’t see him all year. No familiarity. You were asking for one inning, that is all. I don’t know how much video or how much of a scouting report Houston had on Heller, but it could not have been much.

It would have been a gamble, but maybe one worth taking. Throw someone Houston hasn’t seen before.

So…summing up.

One point made. Yanks’ starters need to go deeper in postseason games. Which is why I would like that one stud pitcher to complete the rotation.

Point two. If a guy is “day to day” he really isn’t helping. If the guy is going to miss a couple postseason games, replace him. Next round be damned. You got to win THIS round first. Stanton’s “questionable” status hurt. He can or can’t go.

Point three. Pull the plug on slumping players. Give them a day maybe just to clear their head, shake things up. Romine for Sanchez, Ford if placed on roster for Encarnacion.

Maybe even Maybin (1 for 3 vs. Houston, had a HR vs Twins) for Gardner? Granted Gardner hit into some tough luck in Game 6, but in the ALCS he was only 3 for 22 with 10 strikeouts.

Which leads me to Point Four. In one game, against the hottest pitcher on the planet right now, Gerrit Cole, Gardner hit third and came up in the first with both D.J. LeMahieu and Aaron Judge on base in the top of the first. Gardner isn’t your prototypical #3 hitter, like a Ruth, Mantle, Aaron, DiMaggio, etc. He can bunt, and has speed to beat it out. I know they were hoping for the big inning, and that Gardner hit a career high 28 HR this year, but was there any thought to “this is your one chance against Cole and let’s make sure we move the runners?”. Any thought of laying one down?

Littleball is more important in the postseason.

And that leads us to Point Five. Make more contact. Put the ball in play. Too many power or nothing guys like Encarnacion, Stanton, Sanchez. Need more LeMahieu-type guys. It’s one thing to slump and hit into bad luck, another not to hit the ball at all. If making outs, make PRODUCTIVE outs that can move runners over, or, in the case of sacrifice flies, get the run in.

We’ll see who among the free agents stays and who goes. We know CC is retiring. But going or staying are: Betances, Encarnacion (who I think will be bought out and gone), Didi, Romine, Gardner, Gearrin (I think gone), and Maybin.,

Sherman (writer for the NY Post and MLB Network contributor) has a nice article about two players the Yanks should target. I definitely agree with Gerrit Cole. I don’t know if and how they can get Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor. It would take a lot, probably a package including Miguel Andujar, Clint Frazier and maybe even a Jonathan Loaisiga or Deivi Garcia and/or Jasson Dominguez, the 16 year old international phenom they signed this summer. It would take a lot.

But definitely get a Cole or Strasburg. A must, in my opinion. I want to see length from starters in postseason games.

And no openers.

As for hitting, more contact. Less strikeouts. Give yourself more of a chance.

 

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