For the third time in recent weeks, the Yankees lost a game in walk-off fashion while keeping their best relief pitcher, Aroldis Chapman, out of the game. Last night, the Yankees pitched Cory Gearrin in the 12th inning, in a game tied 1-1. It took Gearrin all of five pitches to allow a game-winning homer to Ji-Man Choi.
The strategy of saving your closer for the save opportunity that never comes has never made any sense to me. One would think that a team battling for home field advantage would understand this – especially after now losing three September games in this fashion.
Losing with an inferior pitcher in the last inning, while the better pitcher (your closer) sits in the bullpen and never gets used, especially when that pitcher is rested, makes no sense at all. Zero sense. No sense at all. Yet, Aaron Boone keeps going to this same formula – and watching the Yankees lose as a result. The Yankees keep getting burned by the same failed (and illogical) strategy.
If the Yankees lose the race for home field advantage, they can point to this specific approach for this, because they have now lost three games in this fashion in recent weeks. Let’s look back:
September 13 – Yankees Lose to Blue Jays 6-5 in 12 innings. In this game, the Yankees scored five runs in the fifth inning and didn’t score again the rest of the game. Aaron Boone was obviously managing to win the game as he used Tommy Kahnle (6th inning), Adam Ottavino (7th inning), and Zack Britton (8th inning). When the Yankees failed to score in the top of the 9th inning, rather than going to their best remaining pitcher, Aroldis Chapman, Boone turned to Luis Cessa. Cessa actually pitched two shutout innings. After the Yankees failed to score in the top of the 12th, again, rather than bringing in Chapman, the best pitcher available, Boone turned to Tyler Lyons. 13 pitches later, Bo Bichette homered and the Yankees lost. Chapman was saved for the save opportunity that never came. Rather than giving the Yankees another chance to bat, by using his best pitcher, knowing that any run scored by the opponent ends the game, Boone turned to Tyler Lyons. The plan failed. The Yankees lost.
Three days previous, on September 10, the Yankees lost to the Detroit Tigers 12-11 in the bottom of the 9th inning. Again, it is clear that Boone was managing to win this game as he used Adam Ottavino in the seventh inning and Zack Britton in the eighth inning. But, when the Yankees failed to score in the top of the ninth inning, rather than going to Aroldis Chapman, Boone turned to Chance Adams. Eleven pitches later, after a one out double and then a single, the Yankees lost. Chapman sat and watched as the Tigers enjoyed a walk-off victory.
In September, Aaron Boone has kept his best pitcher, who was well rested (in fact, I am certain he was even warmed up in at least two of these games – he was up and throwing last night for sure), watch from the bullpen bench as his mop-up men gave the game away. Again, I ask, how does this make any sense?
In the ninth and extra innings, in a tie game on the road, the only objective for the visiting team is to retire the opponents without giving up a run and getting another at bat for the offense. The visitors cannot win unless they bat again. The best way to assure that happening is to use the best available pitcher. It makes no sense to save that pitcher for a possible save opportunity – one that we have seen doesn’t always come. If the manager doesn’t trust his lesser pitchers with a lead in the last innings, why would be trust them in a tie game? I would rather have Chance Adams, Tyler Lyons, or Cory Gearrin pitching with a lead, which at least allows some room for error, than in a situation where if he allows even one run, the team loses.
It seems that Aaron Boone doesn’t understand (or agree with) this philosophy because the Yankees have now lost three games to inferior teams in walk-off fashion in recent weeks.
The irony of all this – these loses will probably be the difference in whether or not the Yankees secure home field advantage. Or, said otherwise, these three loses will be three big reasons why the Yankees do not get home field advantage. As a result, the Yankees now might find themselves in the exact same situation in the playoffs: game on the line, bottom of the ninth inning, or extra innings, and Aroldis Chapman rested… who will Aaron Boone turn to? Will he, again, save Chapman for a situation where the Yankees have the lead, or will he use Chapman, his bullpen ace, in the game’s most critical spot? Will Boone lose another game with his best pitcher watching from the sidelines?
Houston – The Astros won yesterday. The Yankees with 56 loses are now two games in back of Houston (who has only 54 loses) in the loss column. Since Houston has the tie-breaker edge, the Yankees are, in effect, three games back. With last night’s loss, and Houston’s win, the Yankees have all but lost the race home field advantage.
No Offense – The Yankees sole run last night came on a Cameron Maybin homer in the top of the third inning. It was Maybin’s 10th homer of the year.
Use Them All, But One – The Yankees used ELEVEN pitchers in the game, including C.C. Sabathia as a relief pitcher for the first time in his career (a role I would use for Sabathia in the post season). They used eleven pitchers, but didn’t use their ace closer in an extra inning game.
Ouch – Gio Urshela left the game after getting hit in the hand with a pitch. X-Rays were negative which is a good sign. It seems he will be able to play tonight. From my perspective, at this point, three games back with just four remaining, it makes more sense to rest Urshela.
Come Back! – Reports are that Edwin Encarnación and Gary Sanchez will return to the lineup this weekend.
Tonight – J.A. Happ pitches tonight in the Yankees’ final game in Tampa this year. The Yankees are off on Thursday before playing three games in Texas to close out the regular series.