Prior to the fifth inning of Game 6 of the ALCS, Luis Severino was dealing. He tossed 53 pitches, 42 landing for strikes, 13 fanning three batters through four scoreless innings. Justin Verlander matched him at every turn, keeping the Yankees at bay with six strikeouts through five innings (including a filthy curveball to Todd Frazier that just looked ridiculous), but it’s the Yankees who are eligible to join rare company with a win later tonight. Should they overcome a three-run deficit to defeat the Astros, either with a Game 6 victory or a Game 7 tiebreaker tomorrow evening, they’ll be the sixth MLB team to dismantle two 100+ win opponents in the same postseason.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, these are the others:
Predictably, most of the teams were World Series champions: the 2004 Red Sox, 2003 Marlins and 1988 Dodgers. The 2001 Yankees were responsible for kicking the winningest team out of the postseason after taking down the 116-win Mariners, whose record hadn’t been replicated since the 116-36 Cubs in 1906. They pushed the World Series to seven games before dropping a 3-2 nail-biter to the Diamondbacks. The 1998 Padres were even unluckier after finding themselves on the wrong end of a four-game sweep by the Yankees.
It’s not looking particularly swell for the Yankees tonight. Severino was booted in the fifth inning after Brian McCann dented the right field wall with a ground-rule RBI double and Jose Altuve cleared the bases with a two-out, two-RBI line drive. Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius put runners on corners in the sixth, but Verlander refused to relent, inducing an inning-ending groundout to preserve the Astros’ three-run lead.
Houston currently leads 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.