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!

ALCS 1: NYY vs. HOU — A game of ‘almosts’

In the scope of things, it looks like the Astros and Yankees are actually pretty well-matched. Which means that the ALCS is going to be an interesting series. Except that for most of the game, it really wasn’t. It was actually kind of boring, much like a regular season game.

Look, tonight’s starters were both amazing. The Astros’ ace starter was about as sharp as we’ve seen him before, throwing 109 pitches in his 7 scoreless innings, giving up 4 hits and a walk, and striking out 10 Yankees’ batters. And that was the biggest reason why the Yankees’ offense was virtually silenced — those strikeouts.

Masahiro Tanaka was as “Tanaka Time” as he’s been all season, throwing just 89 pitches in his 6 strong innings. He gave up 4 hits, a walk, and 2 runs, and struck out just 3 Houston batters. Actually, Tanaka didn’t even give up a hit until the 4th inning — a 1-out single. That player (who is also up for MVP this year and could likely win over Judge, by the way) then stole 2nd, sliding under Castro’s leg just before the tag. He then scored on an RBI single. Another run scored on a 2-out single later in the inning. By the way, other than the 4th inning, Tanaka only allowed 1 hit and 1 walk during his tenure.

But that would be it for runs for the Astros. Chad Green held the Astros back, throwing 2 scoreless innings to keep them from adding to their score. I want to add that the biggest defender for the Yankees was tonight’s center fielder Aaron Hicks, who at one point was basically making all the defending outs.

The Yankees had a few opportunities, like in the 5th, for some offensive advancement, but they couldn’t seem to put anything much together as actual run-scoring including a called out at the plate. The reality is that if the Yankees could get into the bullpen earlier, they could score some runs. Which is why it isn’t surprising that they found their actual run-scoring when a reliever was on the mound. It was Greg Bird to hit a big 2-out solo home run to get the Yankees on the board in the 9th. But the Yankees ran out of outs.

Final score: 2-1 Astros, Astros lead ALCS 1-0

“Wow, this is a game of ‘almosts‘. Isn’t it?” Pretty much. The Yankees almost scored a run in the 5th on a long single, but then got tagged out in the last minute. The Yankees almost got out of the game scoreless, but then Bird hit that homer. The Yankees almost gave a Tanaka a no-hitter, but then the potential MVP broke his momentum. The Yankees almost kept the Astros off the board entirely, but then came the 4th inning. A lot of almost.

The Yankees will face off against the Astros for Game 2 tomorrow afternoon, followed by the Cubs and Dodgers in LA tomorrow night to kick off the NLCS. Hang on tight, people, we’ve really only just began…

Go Yankees!

ALDS 3: HOU vs. BOS & CLE vs. NYY — Sweeps denied!

Two teams were headed into enemy territory on the East Coast looking to sweep their respective series and head into the ALCS to face each other. But both home teams were like, “Sweep denied!”

Game 1: Astros at Red Sox
Fenway was rocking for their home team, as only Fenway can do. And the Red Sox, who had been out scored by the Astros 16-4 in the last 2 games, were ready to make up some of that ground on their home turf. So they did.

Once again, neither starter had much success, the Red Sox starter only making it into the 2nd inning, the Astros’ starter only the 3rd. Which meant again that the bullpen would be the deciding option, and today that would be the Red Sox’s bullpen to show off, thanks in part to a former starter going 4 scoreless innings through the middle of the game, keeping the Red Sox in command of the game.

The Astros got on the board first in the 1st inning. A lead-off single stole 2nd and then scored on an RBI single. That runner then scored on a 1-out 2-run home run to give the Astros a nice early lead. But that home team bullpen wouldn’t let them add to their lead, and the Red Sox offense caught up and then surpassed. Big time.

First, loading up the bases in the 2nd, but only scoring 1 run on a single. In the 3rd, with 2 outs, a batter doubled and then scored on an RBI single. With the starter now out, the next batter hit a big 2-run home run to suddenly shift the narrative. The Red Sox were in the lead. And then they had the 7th inning, loading up the bases again so that a double would score 2 of those runners and a single the third. One out later, a 3-run home run cemented the Red Sox’s big victory.

Final score: 10-3 Red Sox, Astros lead series 2-1

Game 2: Indians at Yankees
Three people are to blame for tonight’s game in the Bronx — Tanaka, Judge, and Bird. First, Masahiro Tanaka threw an absolute gem, breezing through the Indians’ roster with a near perfect outing. He threw 92 pitches in his 7 scoreless innings, gave up 3 hits and a walk, and struck out 7 Cleveland batters. He sped through the power-hitters, pushing the game at a pace that is very familiar when it’s Tanaka Time in the Bronx. At one point, Tanaka’s scoreless outing was saved by all 6-feet 7-inches of Aaron Judge jumping and grabbing a fly ball from crossing into the right field seats (and landing in the clutches of an infamous ball “collector”).

David Robertson threw only 9 pitches in the 8th, but with a runner on base with a walk, the Yankees needed to shut things down. They asked Aroldis Chapman to come on for a 5-out save, 4 of his outs would be strikeouts, topping out at 104 mph at one point, despite getting 2 base runners in the 9th.

The Yankees faced off against the Indians’ starter, who pretty much shut them down for most of his outing, into the 6th inning. But they started hitting and getting base runners, so the Indians went to their bullpen to save the day. That, of course, didn’t help when Greg Bird led-off the 7th inning with an absolute bomb into the 2nd deck of the right field seats. That would be the only run scored tonight, but all the winner needs is one more run than their opponent to win the game.

Final score: 1-0 Yankees, Indians lead series 2-1

There’s a tomorrow in Boston and New York. Both teams forced at Game 4, so tomorrow will be packed again with 4 games. (And a semi-blown bracket for me!) In other words, there’s still so much baseball left to play this year.

Go Yankees!

Game 160: TOR vs. NYY — #TanakaTime x15

There’s no other way to say it — Tanaka was just spectacular to watch this afternoon. In this first game of the final series of the season, the Yankees need every player to be at their absolute best. And today, Tanaka, who’s had mixed results all season, was just back to the Tanaka that Yankee Universe fell for a few years ago.

Masahiro Tanaka threw 103 pitches in his 7 scoreless innings, only giving up 3 hits while striking out a career-high 15 batters in a single game. This set him up for what would become his 13th win of the season. Tanaka’s pitches were just on point, and that was the baseline that the Yankees needed to spur them on to push for the win.

Robertson took over in the 8th to keep the Blue Jays from scoring. And then they handed the game over to Betances. But he didn’t have control today, promptly giving up a single, a passed ball, and a walk to allow 2 base runners. That put things into a save situation, so the Yankees called out their closer. Aroldis Chapman needed just 9 pitches to breeze through 3 outs (including 2 strikeouts) and earn his 21st save of the season.

Meanwhile, the Yankees just needed a single run to win. They did slightly better than that, though not much. They had “bookend” opportunities against the Blue Jays’ starter, only scoring in his beginning and ending innings. In the 1st, Ellsbury hit a 1-out single and stole 2nd. Judge worked and walk, and Gregorius singled to load up the bases. Starlin Castro hit a single to scored Ellsbury, keeping the bases loaded, and Greg Bird’s sacrifice fly scored Judge. But a strikeout ended any further chance to add to their score then. Then, in the 5th, with 2 outs and Hicks on 2nd base, Aaron Judge singled. That scored Hicks, but Judge was thrown out trying to stretch it into a double.

{Media note: sorry, but there’s some missing available highlights for this game as the focus was clearly on Tanaka’s strikeout frenzy rather than the runs scored.}

With a new reliever, the Yankees found one more opportunity to add an insurance run in the 6th. Gregorius led-off with a single, stole 2nd (the 4th stolen base of the game) on Castro’s strikeout, and then scored on Greg Bird’s single. Once the Blue Jays went to a new reliever, the Yankees saw their chances to add to their lead evaporate, starting with a double play to end that inning.

But it was more than enough. Especially as the Yankee pitching staff racked up 18 total strikeouts, 15 of those from Tanaka alone this afternoon.

Final score: 4-0 Yankees

Postseason prep: because the Yankees played a day game, in part due to Yom Kippur beginning at sundown (Gmar tov or Yom tov to all who are observing the holiday tonight), there isn’t a lot of postseason updates to talk about so early in the day. Fingers crossed for the Astros to just continue to dominate the Red Sox this weekend (go Astros!).

However, it should be noted that with today’s win, the Yankees officially hit 90 wins this season. And as there were a number of “talking heads” that thought the Yankees would be lucky to hit 80-something, this number feels pretty good.

Okay, everyone, hold tight, there’s just 2 more games to win (and 3 games for the Sox to lose). It’s sad when I have to write that we’ve hit 100 games, but it’s worse when I hit 150 because we’re almost done. So at 160, and still a minute chance at the division title, it’s like holding my breath, crossing fingers and toes, and praying for every measure of favor possible. This just makes it all the more interesting.

Go Yankees!

Game 153: NYY vs. TOR — Northern exposure, clinch stalled, safety first

The Yankees flew north for their final away series, looking for a single win that would clinch their postseason hopes. And it took 2 hours and 32 minutes and 3 Blue Jays’ home runs to completely obliterate that hope. At least for tonight. That magical number is still out there at one.

Masahiro Tanaka got the start tonight in the weekend series opener in Toronto and certainly had a bit of struggles pretty much right off the bat. He threw 95 pitches into the 6th inning, gave up 6 hits, 3 walks, and 8 runs (7 earned), and struck out 6 batters. In the 1st, a lead-off single moved to 3rd on a missed catch error, and then scored on a ground out to get the Blue Jays on the board.

A 1-out solo home run in the 3rd doubled their score. And then they really got started. A lead-off walk in the 4th scored as part of a 1-out 2-run home run. But things in the 6th got really messy. He gave up a walk and a single and then got consecutive strikeouts. He just needed one more out to get out of the inning. Instead, he walked the next batter to load up the bases. Again, that one out to go… nope, a grand slam just doubled the Blue Jays score.

Well, Rogers’ Centre liked it. The Yankees, not so much. So they got into their bullpen. Tommy Kahnle was up first, taking 6 pitches to get that elusive last out of the 6th inning, a strikeout. Jonathan Holder breezed his way through the 7th in just 10 pitches (and 2 strikeouts). And Giovanni Gallegos’ 8th inning kept the Blue Jays from further widening their lead further.

Meanwhile, the Yankees faced one of the Blue Jays’ better starters, using tonight’s game to prove it. Though, if we’re being honest, the Yankees’ batters were pretty much hitting directly into the Blue Jays’ defense all night, only getting 3 hits and working 4 walks all night, despite only getting 4 strikeouts all night. The Yankees’ lone run came on the back of the AL home run leader. In the 1st inning, Aaron Judge hit #46 — a solo home run into the left field seats.

Final score: 8-1 Blue Jays

To update you on the story on everyone’s minds: Todd Frazier is in contact personally with the family of the little girl who was struck by his foul ball on Wednesday afternoon. Her father reassured him that it was a freak accident, and that she is doing okay. Apparently, she is being held at the hospital for further tests to verify the stability of her condition, being so young and getting a 106 mph line drive to her face. But New York Presbyterian is one of the best hospitals in the City. She is under the best care really, and Frazier has promised to keep in touch every day to make sure she is continuing her road to recovery.

This, of course, has raised the debate again about how far a stadium needs to have safety netting between the field and the stands. I was at Citi Field for the displaced series, and the Mets are one of the few teams to actually have extended netting. And I was instantly impressed with the safety measures. I’ve heard all the arguments for and against the extended netting.

I’m aware that putting up netting does require architectural and structural engineering to put up and stabilize netting as it wraps around the stadium further than dugout to dugout. I recognize that a lot of stadiums weren’t originally built with the intent to have such a safety precaution, so adding the feature does take an extra measure to put up and not have it collapse on fans or players upon impact or, you know, a gentle breeze. That’s fine. I’d rather have it serve its purpose and protect the fans from 106 mph line drives to the face.

I’m also aware that a lot of fans don’t like the idea of netting as they think it interferes with their view of the field. I really dispute this. Have these people ever sat behind the netting? I usually sit behind the netting. In fact, the only time recently that I haven’t sat behind the netting is when I’ve joined the Bleacher Creatures out in right field. I’ve literally sat up against the netting, and it’s never caused me to miss what’s going on in the game.

Here’s a simple reason why: your eyes are like a camera lens — they will focus on the primary action that your brain tells it to regardless of the minute obstruction between you and the action. If you want to focus on the obstruction, you will. If you want to focus on the game, you will. You will stop seeing the netting almost instantly because your brain will literally unfocus from it and erase it from your vision. It’s really rather cool that our brain and eyes do this, and it’s why the argument against netting for the sake of fan viewing is bunk.

Bottom line: foul pole to foul pole netting is literally the only way we’re going to make fans safe. I’m okay with even a graduated netting (like on a slope or diagonal to the foul pole). And until all 30 teams and stadiums do the upgrade, fans are literally taking the risk every game. Even if fans are “staying alert for bats and balls that may enter the stands during a game”, fans don’t have enough time to really react when a 106 mph line drive is headed their way. Especially if it’s a young child whose reaction time is still developing.

So, MLB and teams: step it up and get it done. In the words of Twins’ infielder Brian Dozier, who had a direct view of the young girl’s injury on Wednesday, “Either one: You don’t bring kids down there. Or Number Two: Every stadium needs to have nets. That’s it. I don’t care about the damn view of a fan or what. It’s all about safety. I still have a knot in my stomach. I don’t know if you guys saw it, but I hope the kid’s OK. We need nets. Or don’t put kids down there.”

Go Yankees!

Game 146: BAL vs. NYY — Batting practice during #TanakaTime

Well, the Yankees are back home, a short 10 miles from the Tampa Bay’s temporary home this week. And they are hosting the visiting Orioles for this 4-game weekend series.

Masahiro Tanaka got the start for tonight’s game, throwing 102 pitches through his 7 innings. He gave up 8 hits, 2 walks, and 2 runs, striking out 8 Baltimore batters. Both allowed runs were solo home runs — a lead-off home run in the 4th and a 1-out solo shot in the 6th. Basically, Tanaka was back into fine form tonight, setting himself up for the eventual win.

And the Yankees’ offense certainly gave Tanaka enough room to work within. In the 1st inning, Ellsbury led-off with a single, moved to 3rd on Judge’s single, and then scored on Gary Sanchez’s double. Matt Holliday’s ground out was the first out of the inning and still scored Judge. Chase Headley’s single scored Sanchez, and Gregorius then singled. That set up Todd Frazier’s big 3-run home run up the middle to secure the Yankees’ early lead and end the Orioles’ starter’s night with just 1 out in the very 1st inning.

A new reliever shut down the Yankees until the 4th inning when Clint Frazier led-off with a single, and Ellsbury worked a walk. They both then scored as part of Aaron Judge’s 3-run home run. A new reliever once again sailed his way through the 5th, but then found trouble in the 6th against the charging Yankees. Clint Frazier led-off with a walk, and Ellsbury worked another walk. And once again, it would be Aaron Judge for another 3-run home run, his 43rd homer of the season. Gary Sanchez then followed it up with a solo home run of his own.

Finally, the Yankees stopped the charge forward, but the Yankee pitchers needed to keep up the momentum. Though they struggled in their own right. In the 8th, Bryan Mitchell came on to relieve Tanaka. The lead-off batter singled, moved to 2nd and 3rd on consecutive ground outs, and then scored on an RBI double. Another double then scored that base runner. Coming on in the 9th, Giovanni Gallegos gave up a lead-off solo home run to give the O’s just one more run tonight.

Final score: 13-5 Yankees.

Okay, there is a meme/video/picture going around of a man from Monday’s game who is giving a thumbs-down to the Yankees’ offense. Todd Frazier picked up on the man’s staid show and actually gave him a thumbs-down on Monday when he got his 3-run home run that night. Well, it continued tonight with Frazier giving a thumbs-down when he got his home run tonight, and the Yankees’ dugout was doing the same as if it were how they cheered on good things that happened to their teammates. All with big smiles on their faces, of course.

And in Yankees doing good things around the City news… Didi Gregorius and Dellin Betances teamed up with Mr. Peanut and Boxed (a wholesale company) and found Yankee fans. They asked them a few questions, and fans with correct answers ended up winning tickets to a Yankees’ game. Plus, they got to hang out with, hug, and selfie with Gregorius and Betances.

Postseason outlook: I’m starting this section as we’re winding down the season, and I want to keep you informed on what’s going on so you’re not surprised when all of these teams suddenly enter the picture in a few weeks. So, the biggest story is that the Indians are currently at 22 straight wins after tonight’s extra innings win against the Royals. They are definitely on a roll, and I can’t imagine that bodes well for any of the other teams looking for AL pre-postseason momentum themselves. (Including the Yankees.)

I imagine I’ll see posts of this in my timeline tomorrow from my family who are avid Cleveland fans, donning their continued (and well-deserved, if I’m being honest) hashtag #Windians. (Also, I still think I like “Believeland” better.)

Fun joke at the expense of my Cleveland family: You know why the Yankees don’t need cheesy hashtags to promote their wins and prove they’re actually winning? The Yankees don’t need to self-promote or convince people they’re good because everyone already equates Yankees with winning. (…cheesy dad joke groan, rimshot, and sad trombone sound…)

Go Yankees!

 

Game 140: NYY vs. TEX — Dropping an easy lead doesn’t help postseason hopes

Both the Rangers and Yankees are battling for the postseason, so this weekend’s series is extremely important for both teams for very different reasons. The Yankees are hoping to breathe down the Red Sox’s neck and possibly snag that lead spot from them in the AL East and force them to be the first Wild Card spot. The Rangers are just a few games out of the second Wild Card spot and hoping to up their game wins to finagle a chance for the postseason. It’s that time of year where anything can happen, and it usually does.

The Yankees struck first against the Rangers in tonight’s opener at Arlington, giving themselves a nice lead early in the game. Perhaps a bit too early. In the 2nd, they quickly loaded up the bases thanks to 2 singles and a throwing error and no outs. Jacoby Ellsbury singled home one, and Todd Frazier was hit by a pitch to walk in another run. Two outs later, Gary Sanchez singled and scored 2 more runs, but Frazier was out on his way to 3rd base to end the inning. And with 2 outs in the 3rd, Didi Gregorius followed up that big inning with a nice solo home run to cap off the Yankees’ run tonight. {Media note: for some reason, the only clip for Gregorius’ home run in the Espanol version.}

So with that nice, hefty lead, the Yankees looked to their starter, Masahiro Tanaka, who just needed to maintain a semblance of order from the mound. But instead, he left far too many pitches up and not enough in Sanchez’s catcher’s mitt. Pitching into the 5th inning, Tanaka threw 81 pitches, gave up 8 hits and 7 runs, and still struck out 7 Texas batters. A solo home run led off the 2nd to put the Rangers on the board. And they chipped away at the lead in the 3rd. A 1-out single scored on a nice double, and then that runner scored on another double.

In the 5th, a lead-off single promptly scored on a double, and a single put runners in the corners, who then moved up a base on a wild pitch scoring the tying run. After another allowed double, and still no outs in the inning, Tanaka was done for the night, still responsible for the 2 runners on base. Tommy Kahnle came in and gave up a single that scored both those runners to give the Rangers the lead. Chasen Shreve came on for the final out of the inning before throwing a scoreless 6th.

Oh, but the damage was done yet. Caleb Smith had a rather rough going when he came on in the 7th. He quickly loaded up the bases with a single, wild pitch, walk, and another single before getting the hook himself. Ben Heller then tried to keep things under control but struggled himself. A sacrifice fly scored one run, and a single another. But it would be the 2-run triple to cap off the night for the Rangers and finalize their now solid lead over the Yankees. Bryan Mitchell came on to close out that inning before finding a scoreless 8th.

The Yankee batters after that 3rd inning struggled to do much more with their offense. The Rangers’ pitchers effectively shut them down for the final third of the game, including a 3-strikeout 9th inning that made the home crowd very happy. Yankee pitchers gave up 15 hits, despite their 11 total strikeouts, while the Yankee batter managed just 8 hits (all off the Rangers’ starter and all far too early in the game).

Final score: 11-5 Rangers

Austin Romine sat out tonight’s game as a result of his suspension appeal after the melee in Detroit a few weeks ago. Romine was the one who the upset Tigers’ batter initially felt compelled to take out his aggressions on that started the whole benches-clearing incident. Originally issued a 2-game suspension, upon appeal, it was reduced to a single game, which he took tonight. Fortunately, the Yankees missed no solid catching time, as Sanchez just came off his own sentence from the same incident to catch tonight’s game.

And looking ahead, with yet another hurricane barreling down on the southeast, safety is always a priority. The Yankees were originally scheduled to play the Rays in St. Petersburg right after this series in Texas, but it looks like Hurricane Irma may cause some problems for the state of Florida and most of its upcoming sporting events are being rescheduled or relocated. Out of consideration, the Mets have opened their home field to the teams for the games as they will be hitting the road themselves after this weekend. Tampa area fans with tickets can find out information about refunds and exchanges, while New York area fans can get tickets to the series at Citi Field beginning tomorrow (Sept. 9) at 10 am.

Go Yankees!