Scenes from Spring Training: A decision to make

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Not that there is anything on the planet truly worth complaining about down here in Arizona — life is grand, and don’t think for a moment I have forgotten that — but I do face a bit of a conundrum this morning.  Here’s the entire Cactus League schedule for the day:

  • Rockies vs. Diamondbacks 1:10, Salt River Fields
  • Dodgers vs. Angels, 1:05, Tempe Diablo Stadium
  • Dodgers vs. Giants, 1:05, Scottsdale Stadium

I wouldn’t mind actually watching the Rockies, but I really don’t think I can take a third straight day of the Dbacks.  I do want to see the Dodgers when I’m here. But I was with the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium yesterday, and given that Tempe Diablo Stadium is literally right next to my hotel — like, if walking places was’t a Class A felony in the State of Arizona I could totally hoof it over there — I should probably see the Dodgers-Angels thing.

The only reservation I have is that I tend to think that in doing so I’ll be getting the short end of the Dodgers’ split squad.  Mattingly and his bench coach Trey Hillman will be in Scottsdale.  The group facing the Angels will be run by Albuquerque manager Lorenzo Bundy.  On the bright side, Davey Lopes will be with him, and maybe he’ll go crazy and let everyone steal.

As far as players go, Hiroki Kuroda will pitch here in Tempe, and that’s better than Tim Redding vs. the Giants.  Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will be here too. Casey Blake, Rafael Furcal and Juan Uribe won’t be in either place because they’re veterans and it’s Saturday and veterans don’t get on buses on Saturday, even in the Cactus League. Frankly, I think this all boils down to the Angels. They’re home and it’s their first day, so they’ll probably have way more starters playing than any of the teams involved.

That cuts it: I’m going down the hill to Tempe Diablo Stadium this morning. And I’m going to walk. I expect the police and several county-employed mental health experts to intercept me on the way, wondering what has gotten into me.

Dispatches from the Dodgers-Angels later today, my friends.

The Astros gave the Yankees an opening. Keuchel and Verlander will try to close the door.

Associated Press
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If Game 4 of the ALCS had been even remotely conventional, it’d stand at 3-1 in favor of Houston right now. The Yankees’ starter pitched well but got no run support. A mighty Astros team with an ordinarily good closer in Ken Giles had a 4-0 lead in the late innings. As the Yankees set out to mount a comeback, a base runner fell down in between first and second and should’ve been dead to rights. This is playoff baseball, however, so stuff, as they say, happens. The runner was safe, the closer struggled, the Yankees rallied and now we’re tied 2-2.

But are we even at 2-2?

On paper, no, because the Astros now will send Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander out in Games 5 and 6, and that gives them a clear advantage. Keuchel dominated the Yankees in Game 1, tossing seven scoreless innings and striking out ten batters. Verlander struck out 13 batters in a 124-pitch complete game in which he allowed only a single run. Beyond the mere facts of the box scores, however, the Yankees have looked profoundly overmatched by both of the Astros’ aces, in this postseason and on other occasions on which they’ve faced off against them. Most notably in the 2015 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium when Keuchel pitched six scoreless innings in the 3-0 victory.

But remember: stuff happens.

Stuff like Aaron Judge‘s and Gary Sanchez‘s bats waking up. The two most important sluggers in the Bombers lineup combined to go 3-for-6 with two doubles, a homer, a walk and five RBI in last night’s victory. Each of them had been silent for the first three games of the series but if they’re heating up, the Yankees will be a lot harder to pitch to.

Stuff like Masahiro Tanaka showing that he can tame the Astros’ lineup. Which he did pretty well in Game 1, giving up only two runs on four hits in six innings. He was overshadowed by Keuchel in that game, but it was a good performance against a strong lineup in a hostile environment. Tanaka pitches much better at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road, so don’t for a second think that the Astros bats will have an easy time of it today.

Stuff like the Yankees bullpen still being the Yankees bullpen. Yes, the Astros got to David Robertson yesterday, but it’s still a strong, strong group that gives the Yankees a clear advantage if the game is close late or if they hold a lead.

All of which is to say that we have ourselves a series, friends. While, 48 hours ago, it seemed like we were on our way to an Astros coronation, the Yankees have shown up in a major way in Games 3 and 4. If you’re an Astros fan you should feel pretty confident with Keuchel and Verlander heading into action over the next two games, but we have learned that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.