justin verlander getty

Verlander vs. The Yankees: it hardly seems fair


The Tigers are up 2-0 in the ALCS. They are back home in Detroit. The Yankees offense is sending scribes to the thesaurus to find new words to describe their anemic offense ( feeble, infirm, pallid, sickly, wan, impotent, debilitated, decrepit, enervated, faint, flaccid, forceless, frail, impuissant).  And, oh yeah, Justin Verlander is on the mound for the Tigers.

Should we even bother playing this game?

OK, I oversell the point, but you do hear what I’m saying, yes?  Things look bleak for the Yankees and they could not be set up any more favorably for the Tigers who, after Verlander pitches, get two more games at home, with the next one started by Max Scherzer. Not that it much matters who the Tigers put out on the mound because, with the exception of mostly-demoted closer Jose Valverde, no Detroit pitcher has allowed an earned run since Game 3 of the division series against Oakland.

The Yankees situation, on the other hand, is dire. Derek Jeter is out for the year after breaking an ankle in Game 1. Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher are a combined 12 for 107 in seven postseason games, and the world is facing a shortage of the letter K thanks to so many of them being used to fill out Yankees scorecards.

Is there any hope for New York?

Sure there is. This is baseball, and if we have learned anything so far this postseason, we’ve learned that there is no such thing as momentum. If there was, Robinson Cano would still be hitting like he did at the end of the regular season and New York would have won Game 1 of this series after mounting that four-run comeback in the ninth inning against Jose Valverde on Saturday.  So where is the hope? How about here:

  • The Yankees aren’t afraid of Verlander: The Yankees faced Justin Verlander three times in 2012 and they won two of those games, notching 25 hits in 20 and a third innings. Granted, the Yankees had help from the Tigers defense in a couple of those outings — of the 12 runs Verlander surrendered to New York, five were unearned — but simply being able to make that kind of contact off Verlander shows that the Yankees are not going to simply lie down for the Tigers ace;
  • The Tigers bullpen is still a hot mess. We saw Jose Valverde melt down in Game 1, which has likely forced him out of closing situations, but Jim Leyland says he’ll still use Papa Grande at some point and that’s good news for the Yankees.  The Tigers used Phil Coke for a two inning save in Game 2, and other late inning options include Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Al Alburquerque. Any of those guys are capable of blowing a lead at any moment.
  • The Yankees bats can’t stay cold forever. Slumps happen, but they eventually end. Maybe the Yankees’ bats won’t wake up until they get to Tampa next February, but with the hitting talent New York possesses, it is not hard to envision them simply snapping out of their current funk and putting up ten runs at some point. This isn’t some scared, overmatched first time playoff team here. This is the New York Freakin’ Yankees.

Of course, hope is an uncertain thing. Justin Verlander in a big game is far less uncertain.  The smart money — if you’re dumb enough to bet on baseball anyway — has to be on Detroit tonight.  With their ace behind the wheel and the Yankees hitters looking like roadkill lately, the Tigers appear to be on the road to the World Series.

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.