Joe Girardi gets redemption

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The New York Yankees technically beat the Cleveland Indians three games to two in their best-of-five series, but it sure felt like they beat them four games to one. That was on Joe Girardi, of course, who today has to feel more relieved than he ever has been. Relieved because, if the ball had bounced a few different ways over the past several days and if the Indians had won, Girardi would be the biggest goat in New York sports in years. Maybe ever. He might even be out of a job.

This is due to his blunder in Game 2 when, in the sixth inning, with the Yankees leading 8-3, runners at the corners and two outs, Yankees reliever Chad Green grazed Lonnie Chisenhall‘s bat with a fastball. Home plate umpire Dan Iassogna called it a hit by pitch, but both catcher Gary Sanchez and slow-motion footage revealed the ball hit the bat and was likely a foul tip strikeout that would’ve ended the Indians’ rally. Girardi was cast into instant infamy for his failure to call for a replay review of the play, however, Chisenhall took first base and Francisco Lindor hit a grand slam, bringing the Indians back and, eventually, on to victory.

In the immediate aftermath Girardi made excuses — He didn’t want to take Green out of his rhythm! His replay tech didn’t have a definitive view! — but they weren’t convincing. After a night’s sleep, Girardi acknowledged that he messed up. While trying to maintain his positivity afterward, he did say later that “it was as difficult a loss as [he’s] had as a manager.”

He also noted that what happened in the remainder of the series would “determine the severity” of his blunder. He was certainly right about that. Because, as we sit here this morning, a mistake that even the least excitable Yankees fans I know suggested should cost Girardi his job is now beginning to form the narrative foundation of what is shaping up to be an improbably deep postseason run.

The Yankees won twice in The Bronx to get back to Cleveland and then finished off the series comeback by clobbering Corey Kluber, who is likely to take home the A.L. Cy Young hardware. All of that was impressive and all of that was attributable to Yankees players executing and, in some cases, taking their games to a whole new level. That play and those wins also take Girardi off the hook. If you don’t believe that, just listen to what Girardi’s boss, Brian Cashman, said after the game:

“This turns the page. The storyline changed. Instead of the focus maybe being on a mistake made that cost something, it’s not in the past and the focus is on a team winning something rather than an individual issue that occurred during a series. That’s why you want all these series to play out. You don’t want it because somebody made an error or made the wrong pitch. You want it to come out to be more about the success of the 25 guys, the manager, the coaching staff, the organization and they found a way to win versus being blamed for the loss.”

In the space of a few days, what looked like a job-ending mistake is now the basis for a “we battled adversity and came together as a team” narrative. It’s rare enough for the New York Yankees to be cast in that sort of role — when they win it’s because they’re supposed to win, not because they overcame anything — yet here we are.

Has any manager experienced such a dramatic change of fortune in so short a period of time as Joe Girardi has? I can’t think of one. It’s almost enough to make you think that all of this — the comeback and the redemption — is being written in advance someplace rather than just playing out in real time.

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.