ALCS Game 3 Perspectives
The American League Championship Series is not over, but the Yankees have dug themselves a mighty deep hole. In order for the Yankees to now advance to the World Series, they are going to have to win three games, with a maximum of only four games remaining. They will have to do this against a team that is arguably, better, maybe much better, than they are. In addition, the Yankees will now have to win at least one game in Houston. All is not lost, but the task for the Yankees just became super difficult. It’s not impossible (Impossible is an Illusion), but it sure looks like it might be.
Pitching. Pitching. Pitching – This is not a second guess. It’s not even a first guess. This was something that many many fans, experts, bloggers, and commentators were saying long before this series, long before this season… This is something they have been saying for years. The Yankees need quality starting pitching. They need an ace. They need more than one ace. They need guys at the top of the rotation that can battle with the best teams’ best pitchers. This was said in 2017. This was said in 2018. This was said in 2019. For a number of reasons, the Yankees have not acquired that ace pitcher – or two. This is, again, showing itself to be a problem.
Not Ironic, Not A Coincidence – It’s neither ironic nor a coincidence that on the day that the Yankees dug themselves into this hole that one of the pitchers they failed to acquire (Gerrit Cole) put them there while another (Patrick Corbin) pitched a different team into the World Series. It’s part of this same equation that the pitcher that helped even this series for the Astros (Justin Verlander) was another pitcher the Yankees let get away. Remember, Verlander was too expensive.
You Can’t Have It Both Ways (1) – The Yankees didn’t acquire Patrick Corbin (or Justin Verlander in 2017) because they were too expensive. The Yankees did not want to spend the amount of money necessary to acquire that top talent. Verlander, it can be argued, was the single thing that stood in the Yankees’ way from reaching the World Series in 2017. He just might do that in 2019 as well. I always find it frustrating that the Yankees, baseball’s most lucrative franchise, allows money to stand in the way of acquiring the best, and in this case the most needed, talent. If one wants to argue that Bryce Harper (and others) were over-spends and that the Yankees didn’t need them, I can buy that. But, no one can argue that they Yankees didn’t need starting pitching. This has been apparent – for years.
You Can’t Have It Both Ways (2) – But, if the team isn’t willing to spend big on an ace (or two), they have to be willing to trade prospects for that ace. The Yankees have refused to do this as well. This is why Gerrit Cole isn’t a Yankee. Sometimes a franchise has to play big. In regard to pitching, the Yankees have not – and they are on the precipice of failing to reach another World Series because of this dynamic – an unwillingness to spend top dollar to acquire top talent and an unwillingness to trade prospects to do the same.
Copy Cats – Remember in grade school when you were called a “copy cat?” It was a big insult. Too often in sports, teams just copy each other. The Yankees seem to be trying to copy the formula of other successful teams that won, primarily, with their bullpens (like the Kansas City Royals of a few years ago) rather than starting pitching. This can work, but it’s not working if the goal for the Yankees is to reach (and win) a World Series. (That bis the goal…right?) And, it’s a more difficult way to win. Rather than relying on some a few great arms to anchor a team through great starting pitching, a team that relies on lesser starting pitching and a strong bullpen needs many more pieces to work in exactly the correct fashion in order to win. After the Royals won, many teams started looking to go the bullpen route. It’s cheaper. It’s a good strategy, but it is less reliable and less sustainable than investing in great starting pitching. (And it’s frustrating that the Yankees, of all teams, watch their pennies so much that they need to copy a team like the Royals.)
The New Paradigm – Meanwhile, a new paradigm has been established – Building a Team With Great Starting Pitching. (What’s old is new again.) Great teams don’t have just one ace, they have multiple aces. The Astros have Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Zack Greinke. The National League Champion Nationals have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. Guess what? The best teams invest in great starting pitching. Many pundits were saying that this old formula doesn’t work any longer. Those pundits were wrong. Great starting pitchers are more reliable year-after-year than relief pitchers. It is the better formula. Unfortunately for the Yankees is the fact that they do not have the starting pitching to match up with those great rotations. They just don’t.
Worth It? – If the Yankees fail in this series, I have to wonder if the decision makers will finally say, “You know what, our approach hasn’t been worth it. We shied away from the big signing and the big trade and we’ve fallen short year after year.” (I hope they begin to recognize this.)
Windows Close Quickly – Another frustration is that the Yankees have the on-field talent to be a World Champion, and have had that talent for the last few years, but keep coming up short because of this failure. They still might win this year. They have the talent to do so. The window to win is now. Each year that the Yankees don’t win is another year lost.
Tanaka – The Yankees’ best starting pitcher is Masahiro Tanaka. He must pitch Game Four. The Yankees cannot seriously think they can go forward in this series by using a “bullpen game” do they? Tanaka threw only 68 pitches in his first start. He is the best hope for a win. He’s also their last best hope for a win as he’d have to pitch Game Seven on short rest again if it gets to that. The Yankees cannot forgo Tanaka in Game Four (and then Game Seven). They have to use him tonight (or tomorrow). That is a must. The mighty Yankees cannot think that they can win an all-important Game Four by using the bullpen. (Haven’t they been trying that anyway the last two games?) This bullpen will have nothing left in the tank. It’s Tanaka or bust at this point. The Yankees have no one else to rely on. Because they need Tanaka in Games Four and Seven, a rain out tonight will hurt them more than it will help them.
13 – One reason the Yankees have no real bench depth (no Luke Voit, no Mike Ford, no Tyler Wade) is because they have to carry so many pitchers in the bullpen in order to make their pitching formula work. That is another cost to that strategy. That cost is the lack of bench depth and the inability of the Yankees to make a change (Voit for Encarnacion, as an example) for a struggling player. I feel that carrying 13 pitchers is too many.
Must Hit – Whether it’s great pitching or another reason, but the Yankees have not hit in the big spots. Before the series, the hope was that in one or two of their games, Justin Verlander and/or Gerrit Cole wouldn’t have their best stuff. Unfortunately for the Yankees, in their first games, neither of those pitchers had their best stuff – and the Yankees couldn’t capitalize on that and win those games. The Yankees’ hitters, in the biggest moments, have gone missing.
Fifth? – This point will need many blog pages to fully develop, and I can’t write that much here and now, but, in short… The logic behind batting a huge power hitter like Aaron Judge second in the order is so that he bats more often and can do more damage by hitting higher in the line-up. I never really liked this strategy, I am an older fan and I like having the big hitters hitting third or fourth, but, I get it. And this approach works. It makes sense, even if it’s not the “traditional” way to build a lineup. The idea is to bat the better hitters at the top of the lineup so they bat more often. Okay. But, if that is the logic and the paradigm, why, (why? why? why?!!!) was Gleyber Torres batting fifth?! The answer to the struggling middle of the lineup was to move one of the team’s best bats down the line-up behind a guy who wasn’t hitting (Edwin Encarnacion) at all? That was the move? The Yankees moved Gleyber Torres to fifth? Please forgive me, this makes zero sense. None. At all. This decision might have played a big role in the loss last night as the Yankees got their first two runners on in the first inning only to fail to score – primarily it seems – because their next best hitter didn’t then bat until two lesser batters, Brett Gardner and Edwin Encarnacion, both not hitting well, got out.
Just Win – Now they must… Let’s Go Yankees!