The off-season is over, at least for pitchers & catchers…

Tuesday, pitchers and catchers invited to Spring Training camp reported for duty at the Yankees minor league campus in Tampa. Yesterday, they spent Valentine’s Day working out for the first time together this season, doing throwing and catching drills and starting this season right with a sense of team unity. For the last few days, people have lingered on the sidewalk outside the complex, fans on the right, media on the left, and players have showed up to chat with the media and sign for the fans periodically leading up to this week. Now that things are in full swing, the location has shifted from the smaller facilities (on Himes Ave.) to those at Steinbrenner Field, with limited fan viewing available for the daily workouts (free for anyone with the time).

But for the media, it means official press conferences and pictures that aren’t shot through the chain link fence. Tuesday was new manager Aaron Boone’s first official conference addressing the media, and as expected, most of the questions included how he will approach managing differently. Of course, it’s going to be different because Boone is a different person than his predecessor Girardi or his predecessor (and Boone’s own manager when he was last in pinstripes) Torre. And right now, not a single pitch has been thrown or home run hit or out made, so discussion of play, potential, or even approach is really a little premature. It takes a while for players to gel with each other, and gelling with an almost entirely new different coaching staff could also take some time. Best case scenario: all the kinks get worked out in Spring Training because that’s what it’s for.

Last November, Aaron Judge underwent shoulder surgery to remove excess and loose cartilage in his left shoulder (non-throwing) and has been rehabbing this off-season. According to a press conference Wednesday, Judge has been a frequent face around the minor league complex this off-season and is considered “right on schedule”, despite potentially missing the first few Spring Training games. Fortunately, the goal isn’t February 23 (the first Spring game) but rather March 29 (the first season game).

Meanwhile, other teammates have focused on their own aspects of prepping for 2018. Gary Sanchez spent the off-season refining his defensive skills, something of much discussion last year. Dellin Betances dropped some weight in hopes of being able to have a better 2018 than some of the lag he experienced in 2017. CC Sabathia also focused on his health, adopting a vegan diet, and hoping to build strength to combat lingering knee issues. And new Yankee Giancarlo Stanton used his social media to show #NoOffSeason in anticipation of becoming a Yankee this year.

Pitchers and catchers continue their daily workouts this week, as more fielders show up ahead of their check-in day Sunday (February 18), with the first full squad workout day this coming Monday. Meeting the team this year are an interesting group of guest instructors — veteran guests: Ron Guidry, Reggie Jackson, Lee Mazzilli, Stump Merrill, and Willie Randolph; and new(ish) guests: Tino Martinez, Hideki Matsui, Alfonso Soriano, Nick Swisher, Mark Teixeira, and Bernie Williams. I expect the Opening Day cheers to be intense as they see some of these fan favorites back in pinstripes and on the field during introductions.

Spring Training is just days away, and it’s already shaping up to be quite the adventure. One that I think we’re all hoping can translate into that elusive #28, the ultimate goal of every season, but one that is completely possible at this point in the year.

Go Yankees!

Note: I was setting up to work on this post yesterday when the news broke out of south Florida, just 270 miles (about 3.5-4 hours) southeast of Tampa. In light of the unfolding story, it didn’t feel right to preempt the news with baseball preparations and wishing people a “Happy Valentine’s Day”, when for far too many it will now never be a happy day. Instead, we remember those once again lost to mass shooting, our hearts and prayers with their families and friends. I hope I never have to delay a post for such an awful reason or write another of these postscripts. It is heartbreaking and disheartening. Parkland, we mourn with you and anticipate days when such terrible news is as rare as violent home plate collisions are now in baseball.

Hall of Fame near miss & other random off-season moments

After several months of speculation and journalists openly sharing their votes, the Baseball Writers Association of America released the much-anticipated results of the annual Hall of Fame election. In December, the Veterans Committee selected 4-time World Series pitcher Jack Norris (1984 Tigers, 1991 Twins, 1992-93 Blue Jays) and his 1984 Tigers’ teammate, 6-time All-Star shortstop and 1984 World Series MVP, Alan Trammel. Joining them, the BBWAA announced newest inductees Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Trevor Hoffman, and Vladimir Guerrero, all well-deserved honorees.

Elected with 97.2% of the vote, Jones spent his entire 19 year career with the Braves at 3rd base and became a fixture in the Atlanta area. He was part of the 1995, 1996, and 1999 World Series teams, winning a ring with the Hall of Fame worthy 1995 team against the Indians. (Jones joins other 1995 Braves teammates Tom Glavine and Greg Maddox (HOF class of 2014) and John Smoltz (class of 2015) at Cooperstown.) Jones also earned the NL MVP Award in 1999 and was an 8-time All-Star.

{Worth reminding my primary audience here: the Braves team in 1996 and 1999 faced and lost to the last dynasty of the Yankees. It was 6 games in the 1996 series, before they were swept in the 1999 series by the unstoppable Yankees that year.}

On the other side of that World Series was a noted 1st baseman and fellow 2018 inductee Jim Thome (89.8% of the votes). Thome spent his 22 year career primarily with the Indians (1991-2002, 2011), helping them reach the 1995 and 1997 World Series but failed to get a ring (losing to the Braves and Marlins, respectively). Over the course of his career, he was a 5-time All-Star and led the National League with 47 home runs in his 2003 season with the Phillies. Thome also won the 2002 Roberto Clemente Award for his outstanding contributions both on the field and off.

Reliever Hoffman (79.9%) spent the bulk of his 18 year with the Padres (1993-2008), including the year they met the Yankees in the World Series in 1998. The Yankees swept them in 4 games (again, part of that unstoppable dynasty era). But Hoffman still made quite the impact in his career as a 7-time All-Star and leading the NL in saves both in 1998 (with 53) and in 2006 (with 46).

Guerrero (92.9%) spent his 16 year career in the outfield, the bulk of which first with the Expos (1996-2003) and then with the Angels (2004-2009). He also got a shot at the World Series with the 2010 Rangers, but they fell to the Giants that year. Guerrero was a 9-time All-Star and 2004 AL MVP. He also polishes his well-earned 8 Silver Slugger Awards in his trophy case as part of his career accomplishments.

Falling just short of the 75% of the votes needed included Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina, getting 63.5% . Any player receiving less than 5% of the votes are automatically dropped from the ballot the following year (including former Yankees Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui). However, those above 5% and less than 75% move on to hope for another year including Mussina, Roger Clemens (57.3%), Gary Sheffield (11.1%), and Andruw Jones (7.3%). Mussina keeps missing the mark, while Clemens battles the rumors of his past PED use, similar to Giants legend Barry Bonds (who fell short at 56.4%).

It is also worth noting that there were 422 submitted ballots, including 1 left intentionally blank (because where would the fun be in someone getting elected with 100% of the votes). Of those, only 12 ballots didn’t elect Jones, which is why he only got 97% of the vote. Notably, there was also one voter that only voted for Indians alumni (Thome and Omar Vizquel). And if you’re feeling a weird flashback to high school elections for prom court or student council, you’re 100% on track. Some people use their vote to make a point (the blank ballot or all Indians ballot), some to play favorites (a few intentionally anti-Yankee alumni), and some thought through the process of such an honor and chose players that rightfully deserve legacy status. I have mixed feelings every year — I agree every time with who will be feted in July, but I am always irked by who “falls short” due to those who vote in the first two categories.

No, I don’t have a vote. But I do have an opinion.

In lighter news, and back to focusing on Yankees, the off-season has been pretty good for the boys. They’ve been working out, having fun on the practice fields, and enjoying fan art. Meanwhile, the biggest end of season trend last year was Gary the “Thumbs Down” Guy, a Mets fan who flashed the “thumbs down” during a Todd Frazier home run at the special game at CitiField in September. It became a huge meme and thing for the Yankees to do during something amazing and gave New Yorker Gary Dunaier his 15 minutes of fame (or rather 4 months and counting). Frazier and Dunaier finally met earlier this week at an event on Staten Island.

Legend-in-the-making and video game cover guy Aaron Judge got to practice his swing (and bat flip) in a motion-capture suit. He will premier on the cover of MLB The Show 2018 and show off his home run swing for Play Station come March 27 (or March 23 for pre-orders). I’m sure video game players are eagerly awaiting the chance to be the 2017 Rookie of the Year, but I’m just looking forward to the real live player in Spring Training next month.

In Yankees’ Minor League news: The Yankees AA team, the Trenton Thunder, will honor its 25th anniversary this year by playing every Friday game as the “Trenton Pork Rolls“, starting May 18. I swear this is not a “fake” story. Apparently, it’s a local thing, the pork roll, and I’m sure it’s delicious (albeit not very Kosher). And sadly, that is not the weirdest name (and this doesn’t include the Jumbo Shrimp and the Baby Cakes) of a minor league team in the system. And fortunately, it’s only on Fridays. (But what a thing to have on your resume!)

Meanwhile, the Advanced-A Yankees affiliate (and current Steinbrenner Field residents), the Tampa Yankees, made the announcement last month that they would begin the 2018 season with their own name change — the Tampa Tarpons. The Tarpons were a team for about 3 decades in the middle of last century, though baseball has been played in Tampa for over 100 years, including extensively hosting Spring Training. Locally, the tarpon is a large fish, popular with sports fisherman and found off the Gulf Coast, and a neighboring local city is Tarpon Springs. So the Tampa Tarpons found something steeped in local tradition and lore.

The 2018 season is rapidly approaching. 20 days until pitchers and catchers report (Feb. 13). 30 days until the first Spring Training game (Feb. 23 against the Tigers). 65 days until the first game of the season (March 29 in Toronto). And 69 days until the home opener (April 2 against the Rays).

But who’s counting?

Go Yankees!

Off Season Update: Holiday Wrap-up

Well, the Astros are the reigning World Champions, much to the city of Houston’s glee. The parade through the streets of Houston, which had been nearly devastated just a few months earlier was a big encouragement to those who are still trying to rebuild their homes and lives after Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Texas coast in late August.

Winter Meetings begin on Monday, and between the Astros winning Game 7 over the Dodgers and the Winter Meetings on Monday, it’s not exactly been a quiet off-season. Especially for the Yankees.

Awards Season: Almost immediately following the World Series, MLB Universe wraps up its season by handing out all sorts of awards. Mostly, it was Aaron Judge that was up for many of the awards like MVP and Rookie of the Year, but it was a tough year for nearly every category as there was some really outstanding players and plays made this season. You can catch up on all the awards (with extensive coverage and video clips) here. But I’m just going to do a brief Yankee Universe summary.

As expected, the MVPs and Hank Aaron Awards of both the AL and NL went to the Astros’ Jose Altuve and Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, though Judge’s name was tossed about quite a bit for the AL versions of both awards. Judge did snag Rookie of the Year, voted so unanimously, the first Yankee to do so since Jeter in 1996. (Side note: also in the mix for ROTY — breakout starter Jordan Montgomery.) Judge was also awarded the Silver Slugger for right field, something he shared this year with teammate Gary Sanchez, who won it for his catching position. And Judge was also voted on by his fellow players for the Players’ Choice Award of Outstanding AL Rookie.

Now, Esurance sponsors its own array of awards for the season and quite a few Yankees graced the finalists lists. Best Major Leaguer was awarded to Altuve over 9 other finalists including MLB legends like Stanton and Trout as well as (of course) Judge. Severino was nominated for Best Pitcher, but lost to the Indians’ Corey Kluber (who had an outstanding postseason in his own right). Of the 6 finalists for Best Rookie, who else but Aaron Judge became the natural choice. The Astros’ manager AJ Hinch edged out 9 other finalists for Best Manager, including Joe Girardi, and Brian Cashman got the same treatment in the Best Executive category as the Astros’ GM Jeff Luhnow snagged that one. Other awards include Best Postseason Moment, Best TV/Radio Call, Best Play, Personality of the Year, and Best Fan Catch, none of which unfortunately include any Yankees

Hello, old friend: At the end of October, before the World Series was even complete, the Yankees announced they were parting ways with their long-term manager Joe Girardi, and began the search for their new skipper. With former bench coach Rob Thomson singing on to be the Phillies’ new bench coach and 3rd base coach Joe Espada the Astros’ bench coach, the Yankees ended up narrowing the manager candidates down and included two former Yankee players — Carlos Beltran and Aaron Boone. Just a few days ago, the Yankees announced that they were going with Aaron Boone, known to most Yankee fans as the hero of the 2003 World Series and more recently as a ESPN broadcaster. Boone, who will wear #17, will be thrust back into Yankee Universe in a crucial role, one that could either expose his inexperience as a manager or one that could see him flourish thanks to his extensive baseball knowledge, legacy, and intelligence. Only time will tell.

Big splash denied, big splash made: All 30 MLB clubs were hoping to sign an international sensation, 23-year-old Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani, who is known both as a stellar pitcher and as a big power-hitter. The international market has some complex rules about signings, and many assumed that Ohtani would sign with a big name NL team so that he could use both of his famed tools. Almost immediately, most East Coast teams were eliminated, including big market teams like the Yankees and Red Sox. With most of the chatter leaning towards the Mariners (despite being an AL team), the big surprise was when the Angels (also an AL team) announced their newest acquisition just a few days ago.

But without that possibility, the Yankees started searching for their big splash. Within about 24 hours of word leaking that the Marlins were shopping their superstar Giancarlo Stanton, it was confirmed just today. Former HR Derby champion Stanton would join current HR Derby champion Judge in the Yankees outfield and in Yankee pinstripes for the 2018 season. Details are forthcoming, but it looks like the Yankees will send prospect pitcher Jorge Guzman (the #9 Yankee prospect), prospect shortstop Jose Devers, and Starlin Castro to the Marlins in exchange for Stanton and about $30 million. Castro has 2 years and about $23.7 million left on his current contract.

Okay, what that means and leaves wide open for the Yankees to answer questions this off-season. First, removing Castro from 2nd leaves a wide open space for perhaps Ronald Torreyes to play more frequently, especially as he was clearly one of the more reliable and consistent defenders and hitters (basically the ideal bench/utility player) for the last 2 seasons. However, there are several prospects that could earn the everyday position in Spring Training including the much talked about Gleyber Torres.

The Yankees now have 6 potential outfielders — Gardner, Ellsbury, Judge, Stanton, Hicks, and C. Frazier. Frazier will likely spend time in AAA once again, which leaves either Gardner or Ellsbury (mostly due to age, unfortunately) as the prime potential for a trade. However, Ellsbury has a no-trade clause in his contract, one that he could easily waive if asked or volunteer to be traded on his own if he so desires. A lot of that usually depends on who’s asking. That prevents players from being traded into a clubhouse or organization they don’t like. If I was a player, there are definitely certain clubs I would avoid like the plague, or take a pay cut to play with a better team.

Also, the Yankees are dealing with 8 arbitration-eligible players and 10 with less than 3 years on their contracts, most notably Headley, Robertson, and Gardner, who are all on their final year of their deals. Arbitration-eligible means that the Yankees will extend an offer (a proposed salary) to keep them on their roster, and the player either accepts it or counter offers and it goes to arbitration for the mediator to pick the correct number. Basically, it’s a negotiation tool, and this off-season, the Yankees will have to negotiate with Betances, Gray, Gregorius, Hicks, Kahnle, Romine, Shreve, and Warren. Unless they trade them, of course.

Again, the Winter Meetings start on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida (a.k.a. Disney World’s Swan & Dolphin Resorts, for anyone not familiar with Central Florida geography). Winter Meetings are when representatives from all the MLB clubs and their minor league teams, as well as MLB executives, meet up for about four days and do business face-to-face. So, there’s going to be trades, discussions, executive meetings to discuss baseball operations and potential alterations to rule of play. Often scouts, owners, general managers, international visitors, job-seekers, and trade show exhibitors will also be milling around the meetings. In other words, we can expect more news to come out of this next week’s meetings. And I was going to wait until after that to post, just in case the Yankees make another big splash, which they could as they still need to shore up the starting rotation. But today’s news was too big to pass up.

But barring a big splash, I hope everyone has a good holiday season as we close out this 2017 and hope for a really wonderful 2018. I mean, it really looks like 2018 could be the year we finally celebrate #28.

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 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 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!

ALCS 5: HOU vs. NYY, NLCS 4: LAD vs. CHC — #TanakaTime dominates, Cubs beat the sweep

One coast is very happy tonight, one coast is not, the city by the lake is ecstatic, and the city on the gulf is not. Basically, we’ve got four parts of the country covered during this Championship Series, and there will always be a two that will go home unhappy.

Game 1: ALCS — Astros at Yankees
The Yankees were up against the Astros’ ace pitcher tonight, and fortunately, he wasn’t so ace-like tonight, despite still getting 8 strikeouts in just 5 innings. But the Yankees seemed to have his number. In the 2nd, with 2 outs, Castro doubled and then scored on Greg Bird’s single to get the Yankees on the board early. With 1 out and Gardner on 1st, Aaron Judge hit a big double that scored Gardner all the way from 1st.

And in the 5th, Headley hit a 1-out single and ended up at 2nd on a throwing error, and then Judge worked a 2-out walk. Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius hit consecutive RBI singles to score Headley and Judge. That was the end of the Astros’ ace starter’s night. And the bullpen had a bit of a better time against the Yankees. Until the 7th inning, when Gary Sanchez capped off the scoring with a 1-out solo home run into the left field seats.

Meanwhile, Masahiro Tanaka just dominated the Astros lineup today. He threw 103 pitches in his 7 innings, giving up just 3 hits and a walk and striking out 8 batters of his own. Tommy Kahnle also gave a great out, breezing through his 2 innings in just 20 pitches and keeping those Astros totally shutout of the game.

Final score: 5-0 Yankees, Yankees lead series 3-2

Game 2: NLCS — Dodgers at Cubs
The Cubs knew it was now or never if they wanted a shot at the World Series for the second year at a row. So, they sent in their ace. And unlike the earlier game, their ace actually came through for them. He threw 111 pitches into the 7th inning, only giving up 3 hits, but walking 5 batters, and striking out 9 Dodgers. But the Dodgers’ pitcher, who’s been pretty good through most of the season, certainly didn’t come through for them in this game, only pitching into the 5th inning. The Cubs relied on just 2 relievers, their final one going having a bit of struggles through his 2 innings. But the Dodgers’ bullpen was much stronger and was pieced together.

It was a bit of give and take all game. The Cubs got on the board first in the 2nd — a 1-out solo homer and a 2-out solo homer. The Dodgers answered back with a 1-out solo home run in the 3rd to get themselves on the board. The Cubs got another run in the 5th with a 1-out solo shot. And the Dodgers got a lead-off solo shot in the 8th.

And then the Dodgers just ran out of outs. Sweep denied. The Cubs are still alive and kicking.

Final score: 3-2 Cubs, Dodgers lead series 3-1

So, now the Cubs are still in that all-or-nothing mode because if the Dodgers have one good night, the Chicago team is done this year. And now, with the Yankees in the lead, the Astros are in the same position. That series is headed back to Houston (starting Friday) to battle it out in front of the Houston hometown crowd, including a former Yankee (and an Astro briefly) Andy Pettitte. Pettitte actually threw out the first pitch before today’s game and has been at several of the games this series. He and his family live outside of Houston, but based on his sonssocial media accounts, they’re pretty much still solidly Yankee fans.

Both the Yankees and Dodgers are simply one win away from facing each other in the World Series. The Astros are still at 2 wins, and the Cubs are sitting at needing all 3 remaining games for their shot. The odds are clearly in favor of the first scenario, but this is the postseason. And weird things happen in the postseason.

Go Yankees!