No time to panic, Yankees fans

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Here’s the situation: your team is unable to do anything against a Cy Young caliber pitcher.  Your ace gave up two home runs to the same guy on the other team.  Your bullpen was less than stellar. You’ve now lost the homefield advantage and you have an often erratic starter going in Game 2.  Time to panic?

Hardly, because that describes the exact scenario the Yankees faced in Game 2 of the 1996 World Series.

Because I’m an Atlanta Braves fan, I remember it well.  I was in law school then, and I remember the gloom and doom of my many, many New York Yankee fan classmates.  I even had a professor — himself a native New Yorker — who got bent out of shape when I wore my Braves cap in to class the day after Andruw Jones hit those two bombs.  Being young and relatively unschooled in the ways of the world, I gloated like crazy.  I was even worse about it following Game 2.

But we all know how that turned out.  The ace lefty acquitted himself quite nicely his next turn out. The Yankees’ deep bullpen asserted itself.  The Braves, after getting one lights out performance from Greg Maddux in Game 2, had no answer for the New York nine.  A dynasty was reborn that year, and that Game 1 has been rendered a mere footnote, notable for Andruw Jones’ coming out party and not much else.  That law school professor took a few minutes at the beginning of the first class following Game 6 to lecture me about premature jubilation.  It’s probably the only thing I remember from that class.

Will history repeat itself?  I have no idea. But I do know that Yankees fans would be well-advised to relax, and Phillies fans would be well advised to hold their “nobody believed in us” and “we told you so” rants until after Pedro Martinez and Cole Hamels pitch. 

For my part, I stand by my prediction: Yankees in six. Just like in 1996. 

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.