World Series 4: LAD vs. HOU — 2 hit wonder falls short of Dodger dominance after a pitchers’ duel

Now that was a game. Having a pitchers’ duel in the World Series is quite the treat, and it certainly shows both teams at their best. The Astros’ starter Morton commanded a great game in his own right, throwing 76 pitches into the 7th inning, giving up just 3 hits and a run without allowing a walk and still striking out 7 LA batters. Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ starter Wood had a no-hitter running for most of his outing. Wood threw 84 pitches into the 6th inning, allowing 2 walks and striking out just 2 Houston batters. His lone allowed hit was a 2-out solo home run into the left field seats.

So the Dodgers turned to their bullpen, which closed out the 6th and had a strong outing in the 7th and 8th innings, setting themselves up for a strong and unexpected close of the game. Their closer, who was just recognized for his outstanding season (more below), kept the momentum going, until he too gave up a 2-out home run into the left field seats. That would be the 2nd hit of the night for the home team, the 2nd run allowed. But also the last hit and run.

Okay, so after the Astros got on the board in the 6th, the Dodgers were quick to answer back right in the top of the next inning. A 1-out double spelled the end for Morton’s outing, but the Dodgers kept things moving under the Astros’ weaker bullpen. A 2-out single fairly easily scored the runner to tie up the game right in the 7th inning.

The Dodgers came back in the top of the 9th with a new reliever and some easy opportunities to advance. The lead-off batter single, moved to 2nd on a walk, and then scored on and RBI double to give the Dodgers the lead for the first time all night. That left runners in scoring position. And no outs. After another new reliever came on and got a strikeout, he intentionally walked the next batter to load up the bases. A long sacrifice fly allowed a run to score and runners to end up on the corners. And a 3-run home run just solidified the Dodgers for their eventual win.

But the Astros aren’t easily bowled over. In the bottom of the 9th, facing the reliever who just received some extra hardware for his mantle, the Astros got another small ray of hope, that 2-out solo homer in the bottom of the 9th. But then it was over, and the series is split. That march to 4 wins just got one game further away for both teams.

Final score: 6-2 Dodgers, series tied 2-2

As I said before, before tonight’s game, MLB presented the Relievers of the Year awards to this year’s recipient, called the Trevor Hoffman for the NL winner, and the AL winner is awards the Mariano Rivera Award. Tonight, the Trevor Hoffman Award was given to the Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen. The Mariano Rivera Award will be sent to Craig Kimbrel for his outstanding work with the Red Sox this year, as he could not be on hand to accept the award in person. Jansen, however, was beyond thrilled to be part of the ceremony, especially as his childhood hero Rivera was going to be on-hand for the pre-game ceremony.

On a quick side note: I am aware that there are several other things happening around the league. But unless they directly affect the outcome of the World Series or the Yankees, it doesn’t make sense to discuss it here. Though I do admit to forming quite a few private (yet aloud) thoughts.

And a quick happy birthday to my friend and the biggest Dodger fan I know. I already texted him that the Dodgers clearly won because it was his birthday.

Go Yankees!

World Series 3: LAD vs. HOU — Once again, home field advantage reigns supreme

The Astros just commanded the Dodgers in this third game of the World Series. While the Dodgers do have a pretty great pitching staff, the 1-2 punch of the Astros’ pitchers tonight was the ultimate downfall for the Dodgers’ offense that usually can take out any bullpen. The Astros’ starter McCullers threw 87 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up 4 hits, 4 walks, and 3 runs, and struck out just 3 batters. While his lone replacement Peacock threw 53 pitches beginning with closing up the 6th inning and then through the next 3, only giving up a walk and striking out 4 batters in the process — a long 11-out save.

Dodgers’ pitchers had trouble from the start, their starter Darvish only threw into the 2nd inning, racking up 49 pitches, mostly in that 2nd inning. After giving up just a hit in the 1st inning, Darvish just crumbled in the 2nd — a solo home run, a double, a walk, an RBI single, another RBI single, finally an out (a line drive), a sacrifice fly to score another run, and a double. And that was it for the Dodgers’ starter with less than 2 innings.

The Dodgers’ bullpen did a better job of keeping the Astros from multiplying because the Dodgers’ bullpen is pretty good. In the 5th, with 2 outs, the Astros singled and then scored on a single and throwing error (thus an unearned run).

Meanwhile, the Dodgers fought back as much as possible in this uphill battle to break through McCullers’ pitching. In the 3rd, after that messy 2nd inning, the Dodgers worked 3 consecutive walks to load up the bases. Then the next batter ground into a double play that still scored one run for the Dodgers to get them on the board. But they weren’t given many opportunities again until the 6th inning. A lead-off walk moved to 3rd on a double, and after a strikeout, the Astros’ starter McCullers was done. And it was onto Peacock, who at first had some issues with command to finish out the 6th. A ground out scored one runner, moving the other to 3rd, who promptly scored on a wild pitch. But then Peacock found his momentum and just pushed through the rest of the game, effectively shutting down the Dodgers’ lineup.

Honestly, the Dodgers were outplayed. And the Astros worked their way into the lead in the Series.

Final score: 5-3 Astros, Astros lead series 2-1

And in Yankee Universe news: the Yankees are looking for a new manager. Thursday morning, news started leaking out and then confirmed that the Yankees opted to go a new direction with their manager. So, after 10 years at the helm, including the championship 2009 season, Joe Girardi parted ways with the Yankees. Many current and former Yankees and various people around baseball took to social media to share their memories of Girardi and wish him well in his next venture. He will certainly be missed. I mean, to borrow a popular phrase, “it’s not what you want”.

Also, Rawlings unveiled its 2017 Gold Glove nominees, and the Yankees grace the field, well the left and right ones at least. Both Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge earned nods for their defensive performance this year. I mean, who can forget the sliding, jumping, dramatic catches on both sides of the outfield? They are constantly highlight reel worthy, and absolutely deserve every accolade. Gardner won last year, and the last time 2 Yankees won was in 2012 (Teixeira and Cano for playing 1st and 2nd, respectively). As we close out the season, more awards will be announced to close out the year, and we can absolutely expect more Yankee names as part of their announcements.

Go Yankees!

World Series 2: HOU vs. LAD — Extra inning craziness

What do you get when you start with former Dodgers’ broadcaster and legend Vin Scully, major awards, an ace pitcher, 2 power-hitting teams, a nearly unstoppable bullpen, 8 home runs (5 of them in extra innings), extra innings, and 93° at first pitch? A “crazy, kooky, cuckoo dream“, as one sportswriter dubbed it.

Yes, the Vin Scully came out on the field before the game to supposedly throw out the first pitch, but as he rambled on in his familiar entertaining manner, he revealed that he would have help from former Dodgers, catcher Steve Yeager and pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, both part of 1981 championship team before together the three of them sent the game off with his famous opening: “It’s time for Dodger baseball!” A real treat for long-time Dodger fans (and long-time baseball fans in general).

And then, yes, there was a game. And it wasn’t really anything typical. Or for that matter, quick (compared to last night’s speedy conclusion) — clocking in at 4 hours and 19 minutes. To be fair, I did question whether the Dodgers were going to be able to break through the Astros’ starter Verlander tonight, the same pitcher that stymied the Yankees in the ALCS. And he was good again, throwing 79 pitches in his 6 innings, giving up 2 hits, 2 walks, and 3 runs, and striking out 5 batters. Comparatively, his counterpart Hill was less dominant, but still had a pretty good outcome — 60 pitches in 4 innings, 3 hits, 3 walks, a run, and 7 strikeouts.

The Astros got on the board first in the 3rd inning by playing a little small ball. A lead-off single moved to 2nd on a sacrifice bunt, ended up at 3rd on a single, and then scored on another single. The Dodgers answered back in the 5th with a 2-out solo home run to tie up the game and also break up Verlander’s running no-hitter (what a way to break up a no hitter!). The Dodgers came back in the 6th and added to their score with a 2-out walk that scored as part of a 2-run home run.

So it would be down to the bullpen to make the difference. And the Dodgers’ bullpen was running on 27 straight innings (going into this game) with absolutely no runs allowed. Basically, the way we in Yankee Universe talked about the strength of the Yankees’ bullpen, they were doing the same with the Dodgers’ bullpen. And that was totally working for them. Until the 8th inning. A lead-off ground-rule double by the Astros’ forced the Dodgers to call in their closer early for a 6-out save, but instead he allowed the runner to score on a 1-out single (breaking the aforementioned scoreless streak). And then a lead-off solo home run right up the middle tied up the game in the 9th inning. With Dodgers’ fans everywhere screaming, “You just needed 3 outs!”

And without a Dodgers’ walk-off something in the bottom of the 9th inning, the game went into extra innings. And it became a home run palooza as neither bullpen could really hold it together. Consecutive home runs led off the top of the 10th inning to push the Astros ahead. With another runner on base with a double, the Astros shut down that rally quickly with a new reliever, a fly out, an intentional walk, and a double play. The Dodgers answered back in the bottom with their own lead-off home run (all 3 this inning hit into the same area of the left field bleachers). Two outs later, a batter worked a walk, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, and then went flying (impressive for this player) around the bases to scored on a shallow single to tie up the game again.

Another new reliever got the final out to send Game 2 into the 11th inning. The Astros got a lead-off single that promptly stole 2nd base (free tacos for everyone!) and then scored when the next batter hit a 2-run home run (to the right field seats, so they didn’t feel left out of the fun). So the Dodgers focused in on their final chance to push for a 12th or walk-off, but the Astros finally found a pitcher that worked for them — and still gave up a 2-out solo home run.

Final score: 7-6 Astros, in 11 innings, series split 1-1

The Series heads to Houston for the weekend, with Game 3 starting Friday night. And really, the bottom line really did come down to pitching, a hypothetical conversation I had earlier today. Dodgers’ pitchers gave up 14 total hits and 5 walks, striking out 8 Astros’ batters. While the Astros’ pitching staff gave up just 5 hits and 3 walks, striking out 11 Dodgers’ batters. The reality is that the Astros, led by Verlander, threw a better game tonight, and they won their battle. But huge props to the Dodgers for not letting pesky things like stats deter them from making a win really hard for their opponents.

And before tonight’s game, MLB announced its winners of the Hank Aaron Award, to recognize the league’s top hitters in both leagues. This season, the award was presented to the Astros’ Jose Altuve and the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton. Altuve has been quite the force for the Astros (both as a hitter and an infielder), and Stanton, who also won the award in 2014, made a run for Maris’ home run record this year, falling just short at 59 home runs (though it was certainly a career high and franchise record). In other words, both awards are well-deserved. Both young players were on hand to receive their awards from the award’s namesake legendary hitter Hank Aaron and MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

Yankees trivia tie-in: Derek Jeter won the award in 2006 and 2009, and Alex Rodriguez currently holds the record for the most, winning it with the Yankees in 2007 after also being awarded while he was with the Rangers in 2001, 2002, and 2003.

And in Yankee news, there will be a nice representation of young Yankees in the Arizona Fall League, a few you might remember from Spring Training appearances like Billy McKinney, Kyle Holder, and Justus Sheffield. They will join other young Yankees Thairo Estrada, Estevan Florial, Albert Abreu, Cody Carroll, and Andrew Schwaab to fine-tune their skills in hopes to make it to the show one day soon.

Go Yankees!

World Series 1: HOU vs. LAD — Heat wave invokes quickest WS game in 25 years

2:28. Two hours and twenty-eight minutes. Normally, postseason games are usually pretty long. Last year, most of the World Series games ran about 3 1/2 hours (which is very much on point for the average postseason game), with the shortest game clocking in at 3:16. But two went over 4 hours long, and only one (Game 7) went into extra innings (and lasted 4:28). The average regular season game is 3 hours and 5 minutes (in 2016), so this game being just 2 1/2 hours was insane by even regular season standards.

Of course, it could also be an answer to the over 50,000 fans who showed up for the LA game, with the first pitch temperature measuring in at 103°. Southern California is under an “excessive heat warning”, so a bunch of people went out and played a sport an elite level. Because it’s the World Series. (It should be noted that it was a lovely 71° in New York today.)

Anyway, so on a super hot day in LA, first game of the World Series, both teams had pretty much identical plans — send out their amazing ace pitchers to face off. And they did, and it was amazing, as promised. The Dodgers’ Kershaw pretty much sailed his way through his 7 innings, with just 83 pitches. In a normal setting, they probably would have let him go a full 9 innings and add to his 11 strikeouts. But 3 hits and 1 allowed run and a killer Dodgers’ bullpen was enough to not overwork him. Besides, they’ll want to use him again if the series lasts that long.

Meanwhile, over with the visiting Astros (who are fortunately used to the heat like tonight, thanks to their Texas home base), their starter Keuchel had a rough start but ended up finding his well-known momentum and pretty much matched his counterpart — 84 pitches into the 7th inning, 3 hits, 1 walk, and 3 runs, but just 2 strikeouts. The Astros turned over the 7th and 8th to their bullpen to close out the game and match the Dodgers’ 8th and 9th, with neither bullpen giving up a hit or run.

Like I alluded to above, the Dodgers got on the board right in the 1st inning. Co-winner of the NLCS MVP award Taylor liked the 1st pitch of the inning and hit it into the left field seats. The lone real slip up for Kershaw was allowing a solo home run in the 4th to Bregman to tie up the game. But that didn’t last long. The Dodgers came back in the bottom of the 6th, with 2 outs. Taylor worked a walk and then scored as part of the 2-run homer hit by Turner (the other co-winner of the NLCS MVP award).

All runs were scored on home runs tonight, so the results of this game came down to pitching. And honestly, Kershaw led the Dodgers to the win with his truly excellent pitching.

Final score: 3-1 Dodgers, Dodgers lead series 1-0

The next game is tomorrow afternoon/night (5 pm local/8pm EST), and better news for tomorrow night’s crowd is that the forecast is sitting at 91° at first pitch. So much for the “Fall Classic”, huh? But the Astros are smart, and they’re sending in the ALCS MVP Verlander to start tomorrow’s game, the one Astros starter that certainly had the Yankees’ number in that series.

And in Yankee news (because that’s still my priority): a bit of news online featured the impact this year from the “Baby Bombers” and what we could expect from them next year. Though the author also makes an insinuation that calling them such might be over now, as this year just maybe they “came of age”.

So, can we really stop calling them that now? I mean, these are men in the mid-20’s, grown adults, many with wives and children of their own. And they’ve clearly proven themselves on the level (or even far above in some cases) their fellow teammates who are considered regular players or even veterans. I mean, it was cute when they were all just breaking out last season, but they’re just Yankees now. And they deserve that title, to wear those pinstripes proudly, to be the ambassadors of the organization, of the City, and of baseball. They’ve earned it fair and square. And they deserve it. Every single accolade, every success, every honor.

Go Yankees!

{Media note: I will add video links the morning following the game when the team at MLB releases the highlight reel for the game. It’s much easier for non-Yankee games for my primarily Yankee Universe audience.}

ALCS 7: NYY vs. HOU — Once again, home field advantage prevails, shut out from the World Series

To come so close and yet be denied entry to the promised land… the Yankees are the Moses of this postseason this year. Though by all accounts, to get so far in what was supposed to be a “rebuilding year”, is rather impressive. Imagine if they were an “established team”.

CC Sabathia got the final start of the season, throwing 65 pitches into the 4th inning, giving up 5 hits, 3 walks, and a run, yet not striking out a single batter. Though to be fair, neither team was completely in love with the strike zone tonight. Sabathia’s lone allowed run was in his final inning, the 4th — a lead-off solo home run. After giving up a walk, a ground out, and a single, the Yankees weren’t taking any chances and opted for going to the bullpen for Tommy Kahnle. A single pitch later, Kahnle hit into a rather routine double play.

Kahnle, of course, came out for the 5th but got into trouble himself, giving up a 1-out solo home run followed by 2 singles that promptly scored on a 2-out double. That was it for Kahnle and onto Adam Warren, who breezed his way through the next 4 outs in just 17 pitches. David Robertson held the Astros from adding to their lead for the next 2 innings, adding 3 strikeouts to the minimal total for the pitching staff tonight.

Meanwhile, the Yankees only got 3 total hits and 2 walks off the Astros’ starter and his lone reliever who split the game pretty much in half between the two of them. The Yankees had few opportunities all night, but were stymied at every turn, including when Bird tried to come home in the 5th and was instead tagged out. That would be the closest the Yankees came to doing much of anything tonight, despite some really great defense, like Judge’s masterful catch right against the right field wall to bring a home run ball back over the wall.

Final score: 4-0 Astros, Astros win series 4-3

Yes, that means the Astros will now face the Dodgers in the World Series starting on Tuesday. The series will be 2 games in LA, then a travel day, then potentially 3 games in Houston, a travel day, and then potentially 2 final games back in LA. The first team to 4 wins will be the World Champions this year.

Time for the postseason prediction update. My predictions this time around were a mixed bag (bold is the actual result):

  • ALCS — Yankees over Astros in 6 games (Astros over Yankees in 7 games)
  • NLDS — Dodgers over Cubs in 4 games (Dodgers over Cubs in 5 games)

Honestly, that home field advantage certainly came into play this postseason. One statistic I read was that tonight’s game made the final record 23-8 for home team wins this postseason. In a conversation with a friend, we commented that maybe home field advantage should go to the underdog or lesser team to even things out. I mean, if you look at the Dodgers as an example, they were able to be spectacular in Wrigley regardless of the rabid Cubs’ fan base there (see their NLCS Game 5). So, if you’re really a good team, you should be able to win anywhere. It would be the great equalizer to rid the best team of the advantage. If anything, it would certainly make things more interesting.

Okay, looking toward the final series this 2017 season, here’s my World Series predictions:

  • Dodgers over Astros in 5 games

Repeated Disclaimer: This doesn’t mean this is who I’m “rooting for”, just which team I think will win. (Though I think I am rooting for the Dodgers in this case, if only for the extreme Dodger loyalty of a good friend.)

And to be perfectly honest, I’ve said for most of the season (at least since the All-Star Break) that the Astros were the AL team to beat and the Dodgers were going to be unstoppable. In a way, I’ve been preparing for this match-up of the Series, but I can’t deny I’m rather disappointed that the Yankees aren’t the ones to face the Dodgers in the Series. On the other hand, I’m glad I don’t have to make that prediction (Yankees vs. Dodgers) because I cannot honestly say that I think the Yankees would win the series over the Dodgers. So my disclaimer would feature many more caveats to justify my prediction.

Maybe it’s a good thing that the Yankees aren’t in the World Series this year. Maybe waiting for a year where they’re not “rebuilding” is a great idea, so that home field advantage is in their advantage and they’re the “unstoppable” ones.

There’s always next year.

Go Yankees!

ALCS 6: NYY vs. HOU — Forcing a Game 7

To be totally fair, the Astros’ strategy was very smart — for this crucial game, start the only pitcher that’s been able to really stop the Yankees all series. And once again, he did just that. Except the Yankees also did that — send up their best starter, Luis Severino.

Neither teams really broke through much until the 5th inning. Technically, the Yankees were hitting off the Astros’ starter, but they weren’t getting any runs. Thanks in part to the Astros’ defense that suddenly remembered this game that they won 101 games this season for a reason. The Yankees got 5 hits and a walk off the Astros’ starter through his 7 innings, but could not score a run.

Okay, so that 5th inning was messy for the Yankees. Severino was coasting through the game quite a bit, only giving up a walk and a single in the first 4 innings. But then he got into trouble, giving up 2 walks and 1 out. A ground-rule double scored one run and a walk loaded the bases. Another out gave the Yankees hope to minimize the damage, but then that little power-hitting infielder smacked a big 2-run single.

The Yankees called on Chad Green to complete the inning and then sail his way through the next 2 innings. With a minor lead, the Yankees were just looking to get on the board and make their advances. The Yankees got a single shot in the 8th when the Astros finally went to their bullpen and then Aaron Judge hit a 1-out solo home run straight up the middle. The Yankees got another hit and a walk in the 9th off another reliever, but they never crossed the plate again, thus stuck at that lone run today.

Of course, keeping the Astros’ score to a minimum didn’t help as David Robertson was having that rare off-day, unable to record a single out in the 8th inning. He gave up a lead-off solo home run to kick off his bad inning. He then gave up a double and a single to put runners on the corners, and a long double ended up at 3rd when the throw home was a bit off-center and Sanchez couldn’t handle the bad throw and 2 runs scored.

So, the Yankees went back to the bullpen for Dellin Betances, who got a strikeout before giving up a sacrifice fly to score the runner at 3rd to cap off the Astros’ runs tonight. Which means that the Yankees and Astros must now play a winner-take-all Game 7 tomorrow night.

Final score: 7-1 Astros, series tied 3-3

I was reminded that lots of things happen in Game 7 — Reggie Jackson, Aaron Boone, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Madison Bumgarner are probably the most familiar to Yankee Universe and in recent series. Game 7 of last year’s World Series went into extra innings, keeping both Midwestern fan bases on the edges of their seats for a truly deserved Game 7. Either way, it’s bound to be another one of those nail-biters. And this postseason has been full of them for the Yankees — the Wild Card game, the full 5 games of the ALDS, and now this ALCS.

It’s going to be interesting either way. Because that’s the postseason for you…

Go Yankees!

NLDS 5: LAD vs. CHC — Halfway to a World Series

Well, we have half of a World Series now. The Dodgers have obliterated the Cubs’ chances and hopes and dreams of making it to the Series in consecutive years.  Tonight, the Cubs just fell incredibly short in every area — starting pitching, hitting, bullpen, and defense. I’d say base-running too, but they barely had anyone on base to figure out whether they were lacking here. The pitching was especially bat tonight, with the pitching staff giving up a total of 16 hits; that is never a good statistic. The Dodgers, on the other hand, were just dominate from start to finish; by the way, their pitchers only gave up 4 total hits.

The Cubs’ starter threw 50 pitches into the 3rd inning, giving up 6 hits, a walk, and 6 runs, striking out just a single batter. The Dodgers began the game by working a lead-off walk that scored on a 1-out double. They doubled their scored with a lead-off solo home run in the 2nd. But then they really hit big in the 3rd, starting with a lead-off ground-rule double that scored on a single. Two singles later, the bases were loaded with no outs, and the Cubs’ starter clearly wasn’t having a great night and got the hook.

A new reliever got a strikeout, but then gave up a big grand slam to just solidify the Dodgers’ lead. It certainly silenced Wrigley from that point on. In the 4th, the Dodgers kept charging forward. With 1 out and runners in scoring position, a batter hit into a fielder’s choice out, getting the runner out at home. Then a double scored 2 runs.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers sent in their ace starter to command tonight’s game. He threw 89 pitches through his 6 inning, giving up just 3 hits, a walk, and a run and striking out 5 Cubs’ batters. But he was running a no-hitter through the first third of the game. His first allowed hit was a 1-out solo home run in the 4th, the lone allowed run to the Cubs all game. The final 3 relievers each took an inning and kept the Cubs from even dreaming of a possibility of ever catching up to the dominating Dodgers.

And just when you think it was over, the Dodgers came back in the 9th to add just a bit more. A 1-out single scored on a 2-out 2-run home run, the 3rd home run hit by this particular player tonight. That stat means he’s in the company of greats like Reggie Jackson and Babe Ruth, who hit 3-runs in a single postseason game.

Final score: 11-1 Dodgers, Dodgers win series 4-1

Now, the Dodgers await their next opponent as the Yankees and Astros play on back in Houston. The Yankees need just a single win, which they could do tomorrow night to make it back to the World Series. And wouldn’t it be kind of fun to have a New York-Los Angeles World Series?

Fun trivia: we all know the last time the Yankees were in the World Series was when they won it all in 2009 over the Phillies (4-2). The Dodgers’ last appearance was 1988 when they won over the Athletics (4-1). The last (and only) time the Astros were in the Series was 2005; they were still in the National League and they got swept by the White Sox (4-0). So, the Astros have never won a World Series. By the way, neither have the Padres, Rockies, Rangers, Rays, Brewers, Mariners, and Nationals. But the Mariners and Nationals (and their former incarnation, the Expos) have also never made it to the World Series to even compete for the title.

But there’s always next year, right? Not for the Yankees… they’re in it to win it all again! (Here’s to #28!)

Go Yankees!