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The call to move Gary Sanchez to DH grows louder

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Last night the Yankees lost and lost big. The biggest culprit in the loss was Sonny Gray and the bullpen imploding to allow seven runs in the fifth inning. Two of those runs, however, scored on a wild pitch and a passed ball, respectively.

You know what that means, right? Yep, the call to move Gary Sanchez from behind the plate and the DH slot for the playoffs grows louder. From John Harper at the Daily News:

Suddenly a thorny problem that won’t go away is once again complicating matters for Joe Girardi, perhaps forcing him to choose between his heart and his head next week when it comes to his catcher . . . Joe Girardi shouldn’t take that chance. Not when he can keep [Gary] Sanchez’s bat in the lineup as the DH and have Austin Romine, a more skilled defensive catcher, behind the plate.

No, Sanchez did not cover himself with glory last night, as even the wild pitch was one which I presume most catchers would’ve blocked better. But with the acknowledgement that Sanchez has defensive issues when it comes to blocking pitches — he leads the league in passed balls — it’d be madness to put Romine behind the plate — and let him take a bat to the plate — in a one-and-done game as Harper suggests.

Austin Romine may be a fine young man, but he’s not a major league hitter. On the year he’s batting .220/.276/.295. And that’s actually deceptive. Since Sanchez came off the DL in May and resumed his starting position, Romine has hit a execrable.187/.249/.241. He’s a complete and utter offensive liability.

He’s no more a complete defensive catcher than Sanchez is either, by the way. Yes, he’s a better pitch blocker, but he’s only caught three of 28 base stealers this season, which is a 10.7% rate. Sanchez, in contrast, has a cannon for an arm and has nailed 38% of potential base stealers. If Twins pitchers would love to see Austin Romine take up one of the lineup slots for the Yankees in the Wild Card game, Byron Buxton would be positively over the moon to see him behind the dish if he reaches first base.

While I would strongly consider putting Romine in as a defensive replacement in the event a playoff game was close, there were runners on and, say, Dellin Betances was coming on to get a tough out, you do not give him three or four at bats at the expense of whoever the Yankees would otherwise use as a DH (Matt Holliday? Chase Headley? Aaron Hicks in the outfield with Aaron Judge DHing?). Yes, it would be bad for a run to score or a runner to advance due to a Gary Sanchez mistake. But it’s far more likely that a Yankees run won’t score or a Yankees runner won’t advance if it’s left up to Austin Romine with a bat in his hand.

 

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

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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.