A’s can’t get big hit in Game 1 loss

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The A’s set out to make Justin Verlander work in Game 1 and were partly successful, boosting his pitch count early on. Verlander improved as the outing went on, but those early pitches resulted in his departure after seven, and once the A’s got into the bullpen, they came up just a couple of feet short of tying the game on a Brandon Moss fly to right in the eighth.

Unfortunately, that proved to be team’s only threat after the first few innings in the 3-1 loss to the Tigers. The A’s didn’t have a hit with a man on base during the game. They became just the 20th team in postseason history to strike out at least 14 times in a nine-inning game.

It feels like Oakland’s first defeat in a month or two. In reality, it had been nine days since they lost to the Rangers in the finale of a four-game series. They’d won six straight since to claim the AL West title.

The A’s still have home-field advantage in the ALDS, but they don’t want to go back to Oakland down 0-2. In Sunday’s Game 2, they’ll need to take a different tactic against Doug Fister, a strike-thrower who has handled them well in the past, going 5-4 with a 2.45 ERA in 11 starts. They’re going to need to be more aggressive and not let Fister get ahead with his fastball. Fister will throw his curve and changeup early in the count as well — he’s no easy assignment — but the A’s can’t miss the heater when it comes.

Personnel changes aren’t likely. While Fister has faced the A’s plenty, the only two current regulars he really has any track record against are Cliff Pennington (1-for-21) and Coco Crisp (6-for-12). It would make sense to sit Pennington and give Adam Rosales a try, though the A’s usually only do that against lefties. As hot as they’ve been, they’ll probably just stay the course.

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.