Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Sifting through the pinstriped debris of Game 1 of this ALDS feels about as overwhelming as Trevor Bauer's snapping curveball must have seemed to the Yankees Thursday night in a 4-0 loss to the Indians.
It was an evening that made the Yanks appear destined for a quick October exit and crammed them into the uncomfortable position of hoping -- praying? -- that CC Sabathia, the veteran lefty who enjoyed a remarkable renaissance this season, can at least match Cleveland ace Corey Kluber in Friday's Game 2.
It wasn't that long ago that it was obvious Sabathia's best pitching was behind him. But, given the situation, Sabathia might be the right pitcher at the right time for these Yankees.
He was 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA in 10 starts following a Yankee loss this season. His fastball may not hum the way it once did and his knees ache, but guile and craft got him to 14-5 this year with a 3.69 ERA, and the Yanks believe he won't wilt in the playoff glare.
Small comfort? Maybe. But what else is there after Game 1, which felt much more lopsided than four runs?
You have to pore over the game to find Yankee pearls -- Dellin Betances looked like his old All-Star self in striking out the side in the eighth, and Jaime Garcia threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the score reasonable.
Sure, we realize celebrating mop-up relief might be trying too hard, but at least it's something semi-satisfying. Perhaps Betances is ready to be a relief weapon again and not a guy skipped over like he was in the Wild Card Game.
Of course, the Yankees have to make sure that their sublime bullpen has meaningful appearances, and for that they need offense.
Their vaunted attack sputtered against Cleveland. Aaron Judge's primo postseason debut against the Twins is just sepia-toned memorabilia after he struck out four times against Cleveland pitching. Maybe worse, it's fair to wonder if he gave the Indians a blueprint on how to pitch to him -- here come the curveballs and sliders, Aaron.
Judge wasn't the only Yankee flailing against Bauer's 12-to-6 curveball. The pitch was "as good as we've seen it," Joe Girardi said in his postgame press conference, and the combination of the mid-70s breaking ball and Bauer's mid-90s fastball was daunting. Bauer allowed two hits in 6 2/3 innings and struck out eight.
Sonny Gray, meanwhile, failed in his first postseason start in pinstripes, lasting only 3 1/3 innings. In some sectors of Prospect Nerdom, you can already sense the hand-wringing over giving up the likes of James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo, and Dustin Fowler -- elite hopefuls -- for Gray this summer.
The Yankees' two best pitchers have delivered nothing but woes so far in the postseason and who knows if Luis Severino's skittish one-third of an inning will have deeper repercussions in his career. And there's no doubt that watching the ball bound away from Gary Sanchez a few more times Thursday night -- the Yanks were charged with four wild pitches in the game -- has rankled the fans devoted to the "Sanchez Must DH" camp.
Now it's up to Sabathia to change the conversation. Some bright spots: His 3.18 road ERA was more than a run better than his ERA at Yankee Stadium, so he's pitching in the right place. He's 7-2 with a 3.50 ERA as a Yankee in the postseason, so he's got the pedigree.
"This has been a guy we've relied on heavily after losses this year, and he's pitched some of the biggest wins for us during the course of the year," Girardi said. "He's been in a ton of these games, and you know that there's no situation that is too big for CC."
Here's the dark cloud, though: Kluber. He's going to win the AL Cy Young Award for the second time. He was 5-0 with a 0.84 ERA in September. He was 2-0 against the Yankees this season and is 5-1 against them lifetime, holding their hitters to a .185 average. In the Indians' run to the World Series last year, he was 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA, pitching half of his six starts on short rest.
Maybe the Yankees can get something going with a running game. Jacoby Ellsbury has better numbers against Kluber (.263 average in 19 at-bats) than Aaron Hicks (.130), so maybe he starts in center. Perhaps he or Brett Gardner can grab a bag against Kluber. Runners were 15-of-20 on steal attempts with Kluber pitching.
Postseason baseball is, of course, sometimes unpredictable. But the Yankees face an enormous challenge. Let's face it, Sabathia must thrive for them to have any chance in this series.
Girardi called it "a really good feeling" to have Sabathia starting. But you have to figure he'll go to the bullpen quickly if Sabathia struggles, which is the same way the manager handled the Wild Card Game. That worked.
But the Yankees better hope it doesn't come to that. These aren't the Twins.