Sunday, September 27, 2015

Yanks 3 of 4 vs. ChiSox Are Too Little, Too Late


The Yankees began a 4-game home series against the Chicago White Sox on Thursday night, with the American League Eastern Division title essentially lost to those pesky Toronto Blue Jays, but with a chance to make home-field advantage in the AL Wild Card play-in game close to a certainty.

Michael Pineda started the opener. He had his good stuff, going 6 innings, allowing just 1 run on 8 hits, and (I love this) no walks.

Carlos Beltran hit his 18 home run of the season in the 3rd inning. It was a 3-run homer, and that was the difference in the ballgame.

Yankees 3, White Sox 2. This time, it was the Yankees who made the most of their chances, and the White Sox who didn't. The Yankees got 3 runs on 7 hits, the White Sox 2 runs on 11 hits. WP: Pineda (12-8). SV: Andrew Miller (35). LP: Chris Sale (12-11).

*

On Friday night, the Yankees weren't so lucky. CC Sabathia, who had been pitching better lately, looked like the washed-up ex-ace he looked like most of the season. He got into the 7th inning, but allowed 4 runs, and didn't get much support from the offense.

1st inning: Yankees went down 1-2-3. 2nd: Brian McCann hit with a pitch, Greg Bird walked, both stranded. 3rd: Brett Gardner hit with a pitch, Alex Rodriguez drew a walk, both stranded.

4th: Singles by McCann and Chris Young. Walk by Rob Refsyder to load the bases. (Sure, now, Joe Girardi puts in the alternative to the hapless Stephen Drew.) Didi Gregorius singles home McCann and Young. That tied the game at 2-2 -- and that's all the Yankees got.

5th: McCann draws a walk, and is wild-pitched to 2nd, stranded. 6th: Refsnyder doubles, Gregorius walks, double play. 7th: Chase Headley leads off with a single, eliminated on a double play, Yanks don't score in the inning. 8th: McCann leads off with a walk, eliminated on a double play, Yanks don't score in the inning. (Just 1 inning later, and we're already in reruns.) 9th: Yanks go down 1-2-3.

White Sox 5, Yankees 2. WP: Carlos Rodon (9-6). SV: Our old friend David Robertson (32). LP: Sabathia (5-10).

CC has been the difference. He was still an All-Star in 2012, and pitched a complete-game in the AL Division Series-deciding game over the Baltimore Orioles. But he tailed off in 2013, was even worse and injured for much of 2014, and has struggled here in 2015. His games are why the Yankees didn't make the Playoffs in '13, and '14, and why they're not going to win the AL East in '15.

Except it hasn't been all his fault. This season, in CC's 10 losses, and in 2 of his no-decisions, the Yankees lost 6 games by 1 run, and scored less than 3 runs in 6 games. Turn half of those games around, giving the Yankees 6 more wins, including 1 against the Blue Jays, and we move up 7 games in the standings. In other words, instead of currently being 4 games behind the Jays in the AL East, the Yankees would be 3 games up, with the best record in the AL.

So I guess it wasn't former hitting instructor Kevin Long's fault that we weren't hitting from September 2012 onward.

*

Suppose, before yesterday afternoon's game, I had told you that Adam Warren was going to start, and that the Yankees were going to get only 2 runs on 7 hits. You'd have been sure that we would lose, right?

First 2 batters of the game: Warren allows a single and a stolen base to Adam Eaton, and an RBI single to Jose Abreu. White Sox 1, Yankees 0. "Aw, boy, here we go again," you were thinking.

Bottom of the 1st: Yanks waste a leadoff single by Jacoby Ellsbury. 2nd: Yanks waste a 1-out walk by Young. 3rd: Yanks waste a leadoff single by Refsnyder. 4th: Yanks waste a leadoff walk by A-Rod. 5th: Yanks waste a 1-out single by Gregorius.

Warren has pitched well since giving up the run, but, going to the bottom of the 6th, it's still White Sox 1, Yankees 0. And it's looking for all the world like it's going to end that way.

Bottom of the 6th: Ellsbury leads off with a single. He steals 2nd. Headley hits a ground-rule double. A-Rod hits another. 2-1 Yankees.

That's how it ended, because Justin Wilson, Dellin Betances and Miller each pitched a perfect inning. WP: Warren (7-7.) SV: Miller (36). LP: John Danks (7-14).

*

Today, Ellsbury led off by drawing a walk off Pale Hose starter Erik Johnson. Gardner reached on an error that got himself to 2nd and Ellsbury to 3rd. McCann plated Ellsbury with a sacrifice fly.

It remained 1-0 Yankees, just as it was 1-0 South Siders the day before, with Luis Severino matching Johnson goose egg for goose egg, until, again, the bottom of the 6th. Dustin Ackley led of with a home run, his 9th of the season. After Gregorius popped out, Slade Heathcott singled, Brendan Ryan singled him to 3rd, Ellsbury popped up, Gardner walked to load the bases, and a passed ball got Heathcott home. So Heathcott advanced 3 bases and scored without benefit of a hit (other than his own, which got him on 1st base in the first place). 3-0 Yankees.

The teams traded runs in the 7th, but the Yankees put the game away with a pair of runs in the 8th. Yankees 6, White Sox 1. WP: Severino (5-3). No save. LP: Johnson (3-1). The Yankees took 3 out of 4 from the South Siders.

Too little, too late.

*

Here's how Major League Baseball stands, with exactly 1 week to go in the regular season:

American League Eastern Division: The Yankees trail the Toronto Blue Jays by 4 games. The Jays' Magic Number to clinch the Division is 4: Any number of Jays wins and Yankee losses, combining to add up to 4, and the Jays win it. This means that, even if the Yankees win all 7 of their remaining games -- 4 against the Boston Red Sox at home and 3 away to the Baltimore Orioles -- the Jays could merely go 4-3, and take the East. The Jays have clinched at least a Wild Card berth, meaning they're officially in the postseason for the 1st time in 22 years.

AL Central: The Kansas City Royals have clinched.

AL Western: The Texas Rangers lead the Houston Astros by 2 1/2 games, and the surging Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim by 3. Their Magic Number to eliminate each of them is 5.

AL Wild Card: The Yankees will almost certainly host the play-in game. But the Astros are only a half-game ahead of the Angels for the other berth. The Minnesota Twins are only a game and a half behind the Astros. Not yet mathematically eliminated, but with very little shot, are the Cleveland Indians (4 back), the Orioles (5 1/2) and the Red Sox (6 1/2).

National League East: The Mets clinched yesterday, for their 1st postseason berth in 9 years. For whatever that's worth: The next-closest team is 3 games over .500, the next-closest 18 games under. The NL East is weak. If you need any more evidence, recall that the Mets went 2-4 against the Yankees this season, including 1-2 at home at Citi Field.

NL Central: Three teams -- the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs -- have all clinched Playoff berths. But the order of finish remains unclear. The Cubs can't win the Division, and will be the road team in the NL Wild Card play-in game. It's their 1st postseason appearance in 7 years. But the Cards' lead over the Bucs is 2 1/2 games. The Cards' Magic Number is 5, but they can't take anything for granted just yet.

NL West: The Los Angeles Dodgers lead their arch-rivals and the defending World Champions, the San Francisco Giants, by 6 games. The Dodgers' Magic Number is 2. This one is pretty much over.

NL Wild Card: The Cubs will be the road team, and it's just a question of who hosts them: The Pirates (much more likely) or the Cardinals.

So, most likely, here are the Playoff matchups, with the team with home-field advantage listed 2nd:

AL: Astros at Yankees, winner to face Royals; Rangers at Blue Jays.

NL: Cubs at Pirates, winner to face Cardinals; Dodgers at Mets.

I can see the Yankees winning the play-in game, if Girardi doesn't panic if his starting pitcher lets the leadoff man on in the 6th. Beat the Royals and get into the AL Championship Series? Possible. Beat the Rangers for the Pennant? Possible. Beat the Jays for the Pennant? Unlikely, unless the Yankee bats suddenly get hot, or the Jays' bats go cold or they're struck by a key injury. Which could be the already-hurt Troy Tulowitzki: While they looked like world-beaters after getting him at the trading deadline, they've looked very human since he got hurt.

The Pirates will win the play-in game, and I've got a feeling that they could beat the Cardinals to advance to their 1st NLCS in 23 years. Dodgers vs. Mets: Curse of Donnie Baseball vs. Curse of Kevin Mitchell. The way the Mets are going, they could win. But Pirates vs. Mets? "Don't ever go against The Family." Besides, it's the Mets: Curse of Kevin Mitchell. We know that they will blow it, we just have to wait and see how they will blow it. The Pirates win their 1st Pennant in 36 years, the longest current streak in baseball. (Not counting the Mariners having now played 39 seasons without ever winning a Pennant, and the Expos/Nationals franchise having played 47 season without one.)

World Series: Because the AL won the All-Star Game, the AL has home-field advantage in the World Series. Except, last year, when it was Giants vs. Royals, the Giants won Game 7 in Kansas City. I don't think the Pirates will care about that. Granted, 1971 and 1979 were a long time ago, but, both times, the Pirates won Game 7 on the road. I think the Pirates can win again.

Of course, I also said the Yankees would win the AL East, because the Division was so weak. I didn't count on the Jays getting Tulowitzki and David Price.

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