The New York Yankees are trailing the Houston Astros 2-0 in the 2017 ALCS, but have only allowed a whopping four runs. Therefore, with runs coming at a premium, the often-overlooked facets of the game—baserunning and defense—loom large.
Baserunning and Defense Leave the Yankees Down 2-0
Through two games, the Yankees have had one less baserunner than the Astros.
He allowed just four hits and walked one, but was in trouble with two outs in the fifth inning. With two men on, Aaron Judge—who has been struggling this postseason—slapped a 3-2 breaking ball into left field.
Joe Espada, New York’s third base coach, then sent first baseman Greg Bird home, even with two outs and Didi Gregorius due up next. Bird, who missed a majority of this season with a lower leg injury, was promptly gunned down by Astros left fielder Marwin Gonzalez and the Yanks were held scoreless until the ninth inning.
Since the game ended 2-1, Espada’s gutsy call is certainly worthy of some Captain Hindsight analysis. His decision seemed even more significant, when the Yankees made another baserunning blunder in Game Two of the series.
In the third inning, Yankees lead-off hitter Brett Gardner was gunned down trying to stretch a double into a triple by Josh Reddick. Gardner was waved around by Espada, even with Judge on deck and in spite of Reddick’s above average throwing arm.
Never mind the fact that almost any hit by Judge would’ve scored the speedy Gardner from second anyway or that one of baseball’s cardinal rules is to not make the first or last out at third base, the most egregious part of this move was that Espada’s over-aggressiveness had not changed at all from the night prior.
History Repeating Itself
Furthermore, the Yankees aggression on the base paths ended two of their regular season games against the Astros this season.
In the first game, on May 11, the Yankees trailed 3-1 in the ninth inning when catcher Gary Sanchez lined a base hit into left field. Jacoby Ellsbury, the tying run, was waved home from second and was promptly cut down by Jake Marisnick at home.
The second game sticks out even more, considering that it was yet another debacle which involved Gardner and Reddick. Houston was leading 7-6, with two outs in the ninth inning.
Brett Gardner hit a soft line drive into left center field and Reddick swiftly cut the ball off to get it in. Gardner half-heartedly rounded first and sheepishly took off for second, but quickly headed back towards first after seeing Reddick’s strong throw. Gardner, much like in yesterday’s game, was cut down and the inning ended.
Espada’s inability or unwillingness to learn from his past mistakes has cost the Yanks multiple times this season, but more importantly it might cost him his job.
The 2017 Yankees are a team built around strikeouts and home runs. Defense on the other hand, particularly behind the plate, has been far from a strength.
In the first game of the ALCS, Masahiro Tanaka was the ace that he had been in years past. He gave up four hits, walked one, and allowed just two runs in six innings of work.
In the fourth inning, MVP-candidate Jose Altuve singled with one out. Then, he proceeded to swipe second base with relative ease. Of course, shortstop Carlos Correa then drove him in on a single to left field.
Correa then advanced to second on a fielder’s choice groundout and was brought home by Yuli Gurriel on a two out single.
While catching Altuve stealing is no small feat, for any catcher, if Sanchez were able to gun him down it would have completely changed the complexion of that inning and potentially of the rest of the game.
Nonetheless, all hypotheticals aside, the Yankees went on to lose the game 2-1.
Yesterday’s loss can also be traced back to two defensive plays, the former by Judge and the latter, again, by Sanchez.
Once again in the bottom of the fourth inning, Correa put the Astros ahead 1-0. This time, he sliced a line drive to right field which landed just out of reach of Judge and in the glove of a young fan in the first row.
Conspiratorial Jeffrey Maier comments about that young man aside, it seemed like Judge could have made a play on that ball. Furthermore, after seeing his play which swung the momentum of Game 3 of the ALDS, it seems like he could have and should have made that play.
The Yanks battled back against Justin Verlander and entered the bottom of the ninth inning tied 1-1. Altuve started the rally with a simple single to left, then Correa doubled to left center field.
Judge tossed the ball in to Gregorius covering second base, who then darted the ball home to Sanchez who was unable to scoop the throw on a short hop. Altuve slid to the outside of home plate and scored the game-winning run.
Gregorius’ throw was far from perfect, but it was certainly playable for Sanchez. The throw beat Altuve by at least 10 feet, but the miscue gave the Astros a 2-1 victory and a 2-0 series.
Sanchez’s defensive play has drawn the ire of Yankees fans and coaches throughout the season, but this play might follow him and the Yankees into the offseason.
The 2017 ALCS continues on Monday evening at 8 p.m. in New York. Aging former ace CC Sabathia will take the bump as the Yanks try to avoid a 3-0 series deficit, which has only been overcome once in the history of Major League Baseball.