Karpin: Where It Went Wrong And Where It Can Go Right For Yanks

The Yankees were one win away from an improbable American League pennant, thanks mainly to their young talent which blossomed quicker than expected. The exuberance was contagious as the veteran players were fueled to perform above expectations, but that same exuberance was part of the reason that the Yankees couldn’t close the deal.

Learning how to close out a series when you have a lead is something that comes with a hard lesson because the process can be painful.

The Yankees can learn from recent American League history. The Astros learned from their experience in 2015 when they led the Royals two games to one in the ALDS but couldn’t finish off the eventual World Champions. Houston drew from that experience to get off the deck after they lost three in a row in the Bronx. In 2014, Kansas City learned their lesson when they lost game seven of the 2014 World Series to the Giants. So there is a “ladder of progress” that the Yankees have now latched onto.

Yankee Manager Joe Girardi dropped some subtle hints about the lack of experience when he addressed the media after the loss. “There is mental growth, as well as physical growth,” Girardi said, “and the mental growth sometimes could be not trying too hard. Being able to control your emotions in situations.”

Girardi was helpless to prevent 70 strikeouts by Yankee hitters in the series. 48 of those came in the four losses at Minute Maid Park. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird combined for 28 K’s. A team can live with strikeouts to some extent, but when the numbers overwhelm the production, then it is a huge problem. The Astros’ pitchers had a “book” on the Yankee hitters and they executed their pitches. “They know your weaknesses,” said Didi Gregorius who hit .250 with one RBI and eight strikeouts.

There were too many mistakes on the bases throughout the playoffs. Game 2 of the ALDS when Ronald Torreyes was picked off second base in the 11th inning; Greg Bird taking a wide turn at third and getting thrown out at home in game one, then getting thrown out at home again in game seven. Brett Gardner’s decision to try for the extra base and getting thrown out at third to take the bat out of Judge’s hands and end an inning in game two. Even Judge made a base running blunder when he did not re-touch second base in game three but the Yankees won the game so that got “brushed under the rug.” If they lost, that play would’ve been severely scrutinized. (BTW: Credit the Yankee coaches for having Judge run so that Houston would make a play on him and void the appeal. It almost worked)

Sanchez’ defense was exposed in a big way as was the Yankees’ lack of a running game. Despite the “sabermetric” lack of belief in a running game, the Yankees never put any pressure on the Astros pitchers. Even when Gardner did get on, he rarely ran, if at all. It’s hard to believe that they never challenged the less than average throwing arms of Houston catchers Brian McCann and Evan Gattis.

As deep as the Yankee bullpen was, they lacked a reliable left hander and they took up a roster spot with Matt Holliday who was essentially useless in the post season. Not a second guess but I felt the Yankees would’ve been better served to have Clint Frazier on the roster.

Now the preparation for 2018 begins and there are questions to be answered.

The Yankees cannot survive another season with Sanchez being so deficient behind the plate. His eventual position is a crucial decision that the team will have to make. Sanchez’ bat is what will keep him in the major leagues, but physically he seems to lack the mobility needed to be a solid, defensive catcher.

Starting rotation will need to be addressed. Does Masahiro Tanaka opt out, do the Yankees want to re-sign C.C. Sabathia and is there a quality arm out there that they can trade for. The Yankees have attractive chips to deal, both in the minors and on their major league roster. Look for the Yankees to offer Dellin Betances as a trade chip.

There are good things in store for this Yankee team. They are still loaded in the minor leagues (pitchers and everyday players) and their best, overall prospect, Gleyber Torres, has not even been in the major leagues yet. You have to think the Yankees will be promoting him sometime next season.

The real dilemma heading into next season will be the very high expectations that the Yankees will be expected to meet. They’ll be one of the World Series favorites next season and, excuse the pun, that’s a “whole new ballgame” than playing the role of the surprise team.

Look out for my Friday “Hot Stove” column, coming in November.

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