Now that a couple of days have passed since the crushing loss in the ALCS, we’ll breakdown how and why the Yankees lost a Series that they had a very good chance to win.
There’s no arguing the fact that the Astros were the better team in the ALCS and played better, but the Yankees have to be kicking themselves because they blew an opportunity to beat Houston and a earn a spot in the World Series that has eluded them for ten years and counting.
The Yankees got the split they needed from games 1 and 2 in Houston. Game 2 was a tough extra inning loss but the Yankees made their point. Despite the Astros getting that walk off win in the second game, the Yankees showed that they could win in Houston, which they didn’t do two years ago.
So the teams headed back to the Bronx, a place where the Yankees were dominant this season. You had to go all the way back to April to find a series that they lost at home, so the Yankees had to be feeling pretty good about themselves for games 3,4 & 5 in the Bronx.
Two years ago, when the Yankees and Astros met in the ALCS, the home team won every game.
The Astros still carried the spectre of not being able to win in the Bronx but they got that monkey off their back with their wins in games 3 and 4. I thought game three was the turning point of the series but more on that later.
I thought home field advantage was imperative if the Yankees were going to win the Series, but I thought they were better equipped to win on the road this time around. That was certainly the case in game 1.
With that in mind, I thought the Yankees made a mistake down the stretch of the regular season by not playing for home field advantage. Houston did so and they were able to keep their edge.
The Yankees have adopted this philosophy where they rest players to “keep them fresh” with the post-season in mind. Did the Yankees’ players look fresh in this series vs. Houston. Everyday players need to play and don’t need to rest if they’re not hurt or injured.
POOR STRATEGICAL DECISIONS: (NO SECOND GUESSING HERE)
As I mentioned above, I thought the turning point of the Series was the first inning of game 3.
It began with the jaw dropping decision to bat Brett Gardner third and move Gleyber Torres to the fifth slot in the starting lineup.
The move backfired in the bottom of the first.
Jose Altuve homered off Luis Severino in the top of the first and you could feel the Stadium crowd feel like some air was taken out of their balloon before some of them got into their seats. The Yankees put themselves in a position to change the momentum when they got something going off the unbeatable Gerrit Cole. D.J. LeMahieu and Aaron Judge both singled to put runners on first and second with no one out and the crowd was back into it.
This was an opportunity for the Yankees to show they can put a dent into Houston’s unbeatable rotation. The Yankees desperately needed to get on the scoreboard and at least, tie the game.
Considering who the pitcher was, considering who the hitter was, the situation called for a bunt. I know it was the first inning, I know it was the #3 hitter (what Gardner is doing in that spot in the order is beyond me) I know the analytical people despise a bunt but the Yankees needed to move the runners into scoring position where they could score on an out. You already had two hits off of Cole, to expect more and play for a big inning at that point did not make sense.
Gardner flied out to center field, the runners did not move and once again, that balloon lost some air. Edwin Encarnacion popped out and after Torres walked, Didi Gregorius grounded out on the first pitch to kill the rally.
That inning was like an omen of what wasn’t to come for the remainder of the Series.
In game 2, Yankees Mgr. Aaron Boone replaced an effective Chad Green with an ineffective Adam Ottavino who promptly gave up a 2-1 lead on George Springer’s home run in the 5th. Ottavino was pitching poorly coming into the playoffs but Boone’s blind faith cost him dearly, and don’t give me “well they hit two hard shots off Green in the fourth.” He struck out the first batter in the fifth and was lifted. He could’ve and should’ve finished the inning.
In the bottom of the sixth of game 6, the Astros had a 3-2 lead and had runners on first and third with no one out. With their season on the line and already trailing, for some reason, the Yankees played the infield back. Michael Brantley hit a grounder to shortstop. Gregorius looked a little indecisive as to whether he should throw home or go for two. By the time he made up his mind, it was too late to turn a double play. In that spot, to play the infield back is ludicrous.
Aaron Judge (who was a culpable as anyone in the series with five singles and 1 HR) made an incredibly bad decision on the bases in the seventh inning of game 6 and should never have been doubled off when Michael Brantley made that great play in LF.
There is an argument to be made as to whether the Yankees should’ve pitched to Jose Altuve or pitch around him with the risk of moving George Springer into scoring position and going after Jake Marisnick, who is not the hitter Altuve is.
Two ol’ baseball adages come into play here. The first was, “you don’t let the big man beat you” and Altuve is Houston’s best hitter and one of the best in the sport. The other was “don’t get beat on your secondary pitch.” Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman’s best pitch is his fastball. You don’t throw three straight sliders to as good a hitter as Altuve.
RIP FOR RISP
6 for 35 (.171) with RISP in the Series, 2 for 22 (.090) in the four losses. ‘Nuff said.
LEFT HAND HITTERS
The Yankees used three left handed hitters during the ALCS. Gardner, Gregorius and Aaron Hicks.
The Astros had no fear of those three hitters and showed them an ultimate lack of respect by not even employing a left handed pitcher on their ALCS roster. It proved to be a good move as the Houston right handers did not have too much trouble with the Yankees left handed bats.
In the ALCS, Gardner, Gregorius and Hicks combined for a .172 average (10 for 58), 1 HR (Hicks 3 run shot off of the foul pole in game 5) 4 RBI’s (3 from Hicks on his HR) and 4 runs scored.
Gardner was 3 for 22 (.136), Gregorius 5 for 23 (.217), and Hicks 2 for 13 (.154).
You want to give Hicks somewhat of a pass because he wasn’t even expected to comeback, that’s fine but he hasn’t exactly been a productive post season player. (.191/.286/.324 career post season slash line)
Gardner somehow gets a pass despite an anemic post season resume’. Gardner is posting a career post season slash line of .196/.260/.252. In 61 post season games, Gardner has walked 13 times and struck out 48, including 10 K’s this season.
Gregorius has been an average post season player but most of his numbers have been produced against the Twins. In four post season games, Gregorius has two of his 4 post season home runs and 9 of his 16 career post season runs batted in.
We go from the left to the right, particularly, Gary Sanchez and Edwin Encarnacion who were invisible.
Sanchez is quickly establishing himself as someone who comes up small in October. The beleaguered catcher hit .130 with a HR and 3 RBI’s in the ALCS. Sanchez’ career post season slash line, .176/.225/.382
There was some talk that the Yankees are overloading Sanchez with information on handling the pitchers and that may have been affecting his offense. I’ve always felt that the Yankees were going to have move Sanchez from behind the plate. That time is fast approaching.
Let me put this out here. I was totally wrong about Encarnacion, who was 1 for 18 (.056), with 11 strikeouts. When I wrote my preview for the ALCS, I felt Encarnacion was a key. He turned out to be a key but on the negative end.
STRENGTH BECAME A WEAKNESS
The Yankees’ bullpen was supposed to be a strength but, despite the cautious approach in the way they were used this season, the arms looked fatigued and failed to do the job. Boone was criticized last season for keeping his pitchers in too long. This year, he may have pulled some of his pitchers too quickly (see: game 2)
Zack Britton pitched well, but Ottavino was a bust, Chad Green was up and down and even the consistent Tommy Kahnle had his hiccups. Chapman is vulnerable when the opponent can get his pitch count up to near 20 pitches.
On the other hand, the Yankees’ hitters did not hit the Astros’ pen.
There were a few of those including the incredible D.J. LeMahieu who refused to lose. Gleyber Torres is growing up before our eyes and don’t hold that 2-error game against him. That was a bad night for the entire team.
James Paxton showed he can be a big game pitcher with his outstanding effort in game five that kept the Yankees alive.
The Yankees have arrived at a crossroads in their development and have a number of big decisions to make. We will discuss those as the off season progresses.
NOTE*** Karpin’s Korner returns this Friday with all the Hot Stove News