Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Yankees-Astros Friday night was really all about Dallas Keuchel, as it usually is when the Astros ace lefty pitches against the Yanks. Keuchel was dominant again in the AL Championship Series opener, throwing seven shutout innings.
Now, with a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, the Astros will send their ace righty, Justin Verlander, to the mound in Saturday's Game 2. With a loss, the Yanks would face a huge deficit - yes, we know they came back from 0-2 in the first round against Cleveland. But two enormous turnarounds against two 100-plus-win teams in the same October?
With that in mind, here are some suggestions/keys/things to watch when Luis Severino takes on high-flying Houston Saturday. Who knows, Yankee hopes may hinge on one of them.
Keep playing aggressively, just like Friday
Yes, Greg Bird was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on an Aaron Judge single in the fifth inning. But the Yankees had to take a chance there. Keuchel was pitching and was sharp, and it was the right time to force the Astros to make a play, even with the not-so-fleet Bird running. Houston's a good team; they made the play.
But it took a 97.4 miles-per-hour throw (thanks, MLB.com's Statcast) from left fielder Marwin Gonzalez to nail Bird at home. "A perfect throw," Joe Girardi said. It was so close, the Yankees challenged it, but the out call stood. If Verlander is dealing Saturday, they may have to dare the Astros to make another play.
Speaking of Verlander, the Yankees best chance might come if Severino at least equals him and the game is close when Houston has to go to its bullpen. The Yankees relief corps is much deeper than the top-heavy Astros 'pen, so they'd have to like their chances if the game comes down to the dance of the bullpens.
And here's a wrinkle: Houston closer Ken Giles threw 37 pitches Friday in getting a five-out save, more than he has in any appearance this season - he threw 31 twice. If he is unavailable or compromised, the pecking order of the Houston bullpen changes and maybe leads to a Yankee opportunity. Astros relievers gave up 77 homers during the season, 10th-most in MLB.
Fix the DH
Yes, it's easier to talk about it than find a solution. But the Matt Holliday Experiment against Keuchel didn't look great. Yankee designated hitters are now 0-for-24 with nine strikeouts in the postseason after Holliday was 0-for-3 Friday, and Jacoby Ellsbury struck out pinch-hitting for him as the final out. Now, Holliday is 3-for-7 with three walks lifetime against Verlander, and Chase Headley is 6-for-15 with a double, triple and homer. But Girardi should spurn the urge to start either and use Ellsbury instead.
Here's why: If they Yanks find runs at a premium again, it might be time to engage the running game and Ellsbury could be a part of that. Catcher's interference, anyone? The Yanks led baseball by succeeding on 80.4% of their steal attempts; Houston only caught 12.1% of basestealers. Ellsbury was 22-for-25 (88%) in steals and Brett Gardner was 23-of-28 (82.1%). If they get on and it's tight, send 'em.
Remember the off-speed stuff
The Astros are a very good hitting team, obviously, considering they led MLB in runs with 896. And they are quite effective at dealing with high velocity, something that Severino certainly brings, as does the Yankee bullpen. The Astros batted .301 with a .898 OPS against fastballs this year, according to ESPN.com. Even against fastballs clocked at 95-plus mph, the Astros' OPS was .824. Overall, the average OPS in the majors in 2017 was .750.
In other words, Sevvy, snap off a breaking pitch every now and then. Don't just give them the heater. Same goes for those flame-throwing relievers.
Don't forget to challenge, Joe
Kidding here, sort of. Girardi certainly seems to get it after his no-replay blunder in Game 2 of the ALDS. He quickly challenged the Bird play at the plate Friday and then delivered this gem when he was asked in the postgame press conference what his thinking was in challenging: "Well, we thought he was out. But, God knows, I'm not doing that again," an obvious reference to his replay flap.
But it's clear from that and the Jose Lobaton pickoff in Game 5 of the Cubs-Nationals division series that a challenge on even the iffiest flyer can pay dividends, so teams should keep making that headset pantomime on close plays.
Hope on Judge
He hit the hard single in the fifth. He walked. He only struck out once. It's been a tough postseason - 1-for-20, 16 strikeouts in the ALDS - but Girardi branded Judge's Game 1 at-bats "pretty good" afterward. "He's probably had more pitches called on him that are borderline or just off the plate than anyone that I've seen during this time for us in the playoffs. But I thought his at-bats were pretty good. They're long, they're not easy, they're careful with him. He's grinding them out."