Joe Maddon on the weight of a late-season collapse


Joe Maddon was on the Dan Patrick show yesterday and he said something that just reinforces my belief that he’s one of the brighter bulbs in the game. Not in a “Maddon is a baseball genius” way, but just in terms of a guy who is able to move beyond the tired cliches and actually explain stuff to you once in a while.

This was about the Red Sox’ late-season collapse. Granted, since he’s not currently in a late season collapse he can speak more freely about it, but it’s nice to hear someone talk about it by saying something other than “well, you can’t press … can’t panic.”  Of course it affects people. And this affect Maddon describes resonates:

I was involved in 1995 with the Angles when we lost a 13-game lead. It was really awkward walking into the ballpark. You felt really heavy. There was this weight about it walking into the ballpark where actually your legs didn’t want to seem to work either. It’s an odd life experience and it comes through sports primarily I think when things are slipping like that. It can be difficult and you need a couple of guys more than anything to lift that burden somehow, but it’s hard to really get that burden off you when you starting doing that heavy.”

There have been a couple of times in my life when I was in some serious deep funks. And I remember that weight — in a very literal, not metaphorical sense — pressing on my body. It was hard to walk down the sidewalk. It was hard to get out of chairs.  It’s half crazy, but I wonder if there’s some way to gauge a baserunner or an outfielder’s speed in a big slump vs. his speed when things are going well. I’ve felt that weight and believe it exists.

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.