Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Injuries finally catching up
All year, the Yankees have overcome injuries. This became a point of pride for the team, and even spawned the Aaron Boone motivational phase "next man up."
But the missed time finally appears to be catching up to the offense, in a number of ways. Edwin Encarnacion, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks -- a full third of the lineup -- missed significant time late in the season, and do not appear sharp.
"I don't feel like that's so much an issue," Boone said, defending his players as usual. "We've played six games now in the postseason. We've had four really good offensive games and two where with Verlander and Cole starts where we struggled to score runs, although had a fair amount of opportunities.
"This time of year it's going to be more difficult, especially when you're up against an opponent that can pitch like the Astros. But I feel like our guys are in a pretty good place and don't feel like rust is playing a huge role in us being held down a little bit the last two games."
Perhaps the problem isn't what Boone called "rust," but it's something. Encarnacion looks beyond lost; he doubled off a hanging slider in Game 3, and has otherwise seemed overmatched.
In a major turning point in Game 4, Encarnacion struck out with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth.
Giancarlo Stanton presents another injury issue this series, by missing three games with a quad strain.
This came at a terrible time, because Stanton looked ready to break out as an impact performer after Game 1. In that Yankees win, he not only homered, but declined to chase several sliders that he would have offered at a year ago.
In the clubhouse after that game, Stanton spoke of how he was finally learning to lay off those low and away offerings. The next day, he was out of the lineup, missing the chance to change the narrative around him.
The impact of that injury has proven to be twofold. Not only has it cost the Yankees Stanton's bat, but it has left them stuck with Encarnacion in the DH spot.
Oh, and remember Luke Voit? He wasn't the same after trying to play through a sports hernia, and hasn't batted once this postseason. A healthy Voit would have been another DH option in place of Encarnacion.
That's just weird.
Ominous beginning for Tanaka
Masahiro Tanaka was not his usual sharp postseason self in the early innings, and the Astros made sure to punish him for it.
Three of the first five outs against Tanaka were hard-hit balls -- a George Springer lineout at 107.6 mph, a Yuli Gurriel lineout at 104.3 mph, and a Yordan Alvarez groundout at 113.1 mph.
Hard contact outs often portend hits and runs, because balls struck at those velocities ultimately find holes or find their way over the wall. This is exactly what happened in the bottom on the third, when Springer blasted a three-run homer (109.8 miles per hour, in case you were curious).
Before the game, an evaluator watching the entire series said that Sanchez has looked "completely lost" with timing and "needed a spring training."
Sanchez missed time in late September with a groin injury and has looked out of synch since returning during the final weekend of the regular season. That was evident in the first inning Thursday, when Sanchez batted with the bases loaded and two outs against Zack Greinke.
Greinke was struggling to hit his spots, and had already walked in a run. He was off. But Sanchez bailed him out by swinging through a 90 mph fastball and a slider, nowhere near hitting either of those pitches.
Sanchez is among the game's elite hitting talents, and was still able to catch up with a 99 mph Josh James fastball in the sixth for a home run. Perhaps it was a sign that he is beginning to recover his timing -- and perhaps it was just a bit too late for this postseason.