Jeter, A-Rod, Sabathia fuel Yankees' Game 1 win

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Given the circumstances, the only real surprise from Game 1 of the ALDS is that the Twins jumped out to an early lead.
After playing 12 innings to decide the AL Central crown Tuesday night and arriving in New York at around 3:30 a.m. local time for a 6:07 p.m. game, the Twins drew first blood with a pair of third-inning runs before 26-year-old rookie Brian Duensing predictably struggled in his first taste of the playoffs, at Yankee Stadium, against baseball’s best offense (with a bespectacled Jay-Z looking on, no less).
Derek Jeter quickly erased Minnesota’s early lead with a two-run homer in the next half-inning and Nick Swisher’s run-scoring double–with the aid of shoddy throws from both left fielder Delmon Young and shortstop Orlando Cabrera–in the fourth frame gave New York the lead before the Yankees broke the game open in the fifth inning. Jeter drew a leadoff walk and came around to score on Alex Rodriguez’s first postseason hit with runners in scoring position since approximately 1942.
With the Yankees up 4-2 manager Ron Gardenhire gave Duensing a quick hook, pulling the southpaw with two outs despite left-hander Hideki Matsui coming to the plate. Duensing held left-handed batters to just .244/.311/.268 this season, but Gardenhire chose to bring in fellow southpaw Francisco Liriano and his slightly worse .255/.325/.307 mark against lefties. Whether he thought that Duensing was tired after throwing 79 pitches or Liriano was simply a better matchup against Matsui the move didn’t work.
Matsui got ahead of Liriano and homered on a 2-1 pitch, putting the Yankees up 6-2. New York tacked on another run against Liriano in the seventh inning and Minnesota went just 4-for-23 with four singles and one walk after scoring the pair of third-inning runs. Armed with a five-run lead and an off day next on the schedule the Yankees’ bullpen went into full shutdown mode with Phil Hughes, Phil Coke, Joba Chamberlain, and finally Mariano Rivera relieving CC Sabathia after his 6.2 innings of two-run ball.
Sabathia pitched well despite some shaky work behind the plate from Jorge Posada, striking out eight, walking none, and allowing just two extra-base hits after coming into the game with a 7.92 ERA in five previous playoff starts. And once armed with a lead the Yankees’ bullpen trio of Hughes, Chamberlain, and Rivera–with a little Coke mixed in against tough left-handers–is going to be awfully tough to come back on throughout the postseason.
About the only negative from the Yankees’ point of view is that Mark Teixeira went 0-for-4 and hit into a double play, but the rest of New York’s incredibly deep and dangerous lineup picked up the slack and the quintet of pitchers combined for a dozen strikeouts versus just one walk. Sabathia working into the seventh inning before handing things over to Rivera and company is a combination that looks capable of carrying the Yankees deep into October, and he’s now won seven of eight starts versus the Twins.
Luckily for the Twins they have matchups against the far more hittable A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte before Sabathia’s turn in the rotation comes around again in Game 4 and today’s break in the schedule gives them a chance to set up their own rotation after throwing Duensing almost by default. As noted in my ALDS preview Nick Blackburn against Burnett is the Twins’ most favorable matchup of the series and that’s on tap when play resumes tomorrow night for Game 2.

There’s no one to blame in Yankees’ loss

Joe Girardi

You’re going to boo All-Star Brett Gardner for striking out against a Cy Young contender?

You’re going to bash Alex Rodriguez for going hitless in another postseason game, three years after his last one?

Maybe you’d prefer to put it all on Masahiro Tanaka for giving up two solo homers to a lineup full of 20-homer guys?

The truth is that the Yankees were supposed to lose tonight. They were facing an outstanding left-hander with their forever-lefty-heavy lineup, and they simply didn’t have anyone pitching like an ace to set themselves up nicely for a one-game, winner-take-all showdown. The 3-0 result… well, that’s how this was supposed to go down.

It didn’t necessarily mean it would; what fun would it be if the better team always won? And the Astros might not even be a better team than the Yankees. However, the Astros with Dallas Keuchel on the mound were certainly a better team than the Yankees with whoever they picked to throw.

I just don’t see where it’s worth putting any blame tonight. Joe Girardi? He could have started John Ryan Murphy over Brian McCann against the tough lefty, but he wasn’t willing to risk Tanaka losing his comfort zone by using a backup catcher.

The front office could have added more talent, perhaps outbidding the Blue Jays for David Price or the Royals for Johnny Cueto, and set themselves up better for the postseason. However, that would have cost them Luis Severino and/or Greg Bird, both of whom went on to play key roles as the Yankees secured the wild card. Would it really have been worth it? I don’t think so.

Tanaka gave the Yankees what they should have expected. Had Keuchel’s stuff been a little off on short rest, Tanaka’s performance would have kept the Yankees in the game.

Keuchel, though, was on his game from the first pitch. The Astros bullpen might have been a bit more vulnerable, and late at-bats from Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Rodriguez and McCann definitely left something to be desired. Still, on the whole, the lack of offense was quite a team effort.

The Yankees got beat by a better team tonight.  I’m not sure the Astros would have been better in Games 2-7 in a longer series, but they had everything in their favor in this one.

Keuchel, Astros cruise past Yankees in AL Wild Card Game

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Dallas Keuchel faced the Yankees two times during the regular season and was fantastic in each outing, striking out 12 in a complete-game shutout on June 25 and whiffing nine batters over seven scoreless frames on August 25.

The 2015 Cy  Young Award candidate continued that trend in Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card Game, limiting the Yankees to three hits and one walk over six innings of scoreless ball as the Astros earned a 3-0 win and advanced to a best-of-five ALDS with the top-seeded Royals.

Keuchel was working on three days of rest but didn’t show very many signs of fatigue, whiffing seven and needing only 87 pitches to get through six. He sure looked like he could have gone an inning longer, but Astros manager A.J. Hinch decided to turn the game over to his bullpen and they added three more big zeroes to the scoreboard at a very loud then very boo-heavy Yankee Stadium. Tony Sipp worked around some early jitters to throw a scoreless seventh, Will Harris kept the Yankees off the bases entirely in a scoreless eighth, and closer Luke Gregerson went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth.

Impending free agent outfielder Colby Rasmus provided the first burst of offense for the Astros in the top of the second inning with a leadoff homer against Masahiro Tanaka. And then deadline acquisition Carlos Gomez, who missed a bunch of time down the stretch with an intercostal strain, got to Tanaka for another solo shot in the top of the fourth. Houston scored its third run on a Jose Altuve RBI single in the top of the seventh.

This is a young, talented Astros team with an ace at the head of its rotation.

Kansas City could have a problem.