Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
What in the heck is Joe Girardi doing with that ALCS rotation? Can't believe the Yankees manager set things up that way. Of all the harebrained…
Sorry, just had a flashback to the chaos that was Game 2 of the AL Division Series and its aftermath, when Girardi made several tactical missteps, the season looked finished and everything he did or said felt wrong.
Now that Girardi has redeemed himself with sharp managing during the comeback, helped by strong performances by the players who vowed, "This one is for Joe," we're on board with Girardi's moves, including how he set the rotation.
When the Yankees open the AL Championship Series on Friday night in Houston, Masahiro Tanaka will face the Astros in Game 1. Luis Severino will start Saturday's Game 2, and when the action moves to Yankee Stadium on Monday, CC Sabathia will start Game 3 and Sonny Gray will go in Game 4.
Complaints? Nothing serious. A quibble, maybe, but Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have it right here and they're backed by a talented, flame-throwing bullpen that can cover for a bad pitching night.
Tanaka was much better at home than on the road this season. He had a 3.22 ERA at the Stadium and it ballooned to 6.48 on the road.
But since the Yankees don't have home field advantage in the series, there's no scenario where Tanaka could start twice at Yankee Stadium.
"I have a ton of confidence in him," Girardi said at a press conference at Minute Maid Park on Thursday's workout day. "When you think about the way he's been pitching lately, you think about him having the possibility of making two starts in a series.
"So if I wait until Game 3, you don't know if you're going to get there. Then his next start would be Game 7. So one way of guaranteeing him one start at home is 1 and 5. So that's why we chose to do it, and we loved what he did his last start and give us whatever you got."
Tanaka was inconsistent during the season. But he's looked like a $175-million pitcher recently, throwing seven shutout innings in Game 3 against Cleveland and also striking out 15 Blue Jays in his final start of the regular season.
"So his stuff was great the other day, he's had some really big starts, his last two starts have been outstanding," Girardi said. "And there's a lot of times that he really gets on a roll and he puts a bunch of them together and we're going to need a good one from him (in Game 1)."
So if Tanaka starts Games 1 and 5, that puts Severino in line for Games 2 and 6 and Sabathia on track for Games 3 and 7. Gray probably would start just once in this scenario, and here comes the minor quibble:
When Gray starts Game 4, he won't have pitched in 12 days. He threw a simulated game of three innings in Houston on Thursday, but that's not the same animal as postseason baseball. If he's going to start a game in a best-of-seven series, these probably aren't the ideal circumstances.
Gray may have pitched himself out of the Yankees' circle of trust in Game 1 against the Indians. He was a mess in the 4-0 loss, allowing three hits and three runs in 3 1/3 innings. He walked four, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch, too, all signs that his command was awry.
It was enough to make the Yankees pick him as the member of the rotation who would only get one start. And maybe Sabathia's strong work against Cleveland, plus his status as a veteran who keeps his cool, gets Sabathia lined up for a pivotal Game 3 and what would be another do-or-die situation in a potential Game 7.
Maybe there's something to the idea that Houston did not see Sabathia this year, too. The Astros hammered Yankee starters in winning five of seven meetings between the teams and averaging more than six runs.
Tanaka allowed four home runs in 1 2/3 innings at Yankee Stadium in May. Severino had a 10.57 ERA in two starts against Houston. Gray lost his only start against the Astros when he was still with Oakland, allowing five runs in five innings in June.
But the Yankee rotation, Gray notwithstanding, was more effective than expected in the ALDS, notching a 3.33 ERA. We'll see how it plays out, of course, now that those starters are facing the offense that led the majors with 896 runs this year.
"Our starters really have done a lot better than people give them credit, when you look at their numbers and how well they have thrown," Girardi said.
"But this is a very dangerous lineup. We didn't have a lot of success against Cleveland during the regular season but we pitched better during the playoffs, and you hope that holds true here."
For starters, the rotation is set right.