Terry Francona on Trevor Bauer: “He’s a stubborn kid and he’s come a long way”

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Trevor Bauer has had a solid season for Cleveland, posting a 4.22 ERA in 22 starts while striking out 124 batters in 130 innings as a 23-year-old, but his first-inning struggles have the Indians talking to him about making changes.

Bauer has a 5.14 ERA in the first inning and had a particularly rough opening frame Thursday, after which manager Terry Francona told Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

We can’t keep getting out to deficits like that. He just worked behind in the count the first time and a half through the order. The second time and a half through the order, he worked ahead and the results were drastically different.

I just think Trevor tries to find him pitches right away in the game and sometimes it takes a while. That’s why we’ve talking to him about simplifying things early. But he’s a stubborn kid and he’s come a long way. You’re not always going to get it in one jump. Sometimes it take a a while to be a finished product.

The “he’s a stubborn kid” part played a role in the Diamondbacks trading Bauer to the Indians for pennies on the dollar, but for the most part Francona and Cleveland have to be very happy with his progress this season. He’s got nearly a strikeout per inning while limiting homers and cutting his walk rate from horrible to merely bad. And at age 23 he looks like a potential long-term building block for the Indians.

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.