2018 Wild Cards: COL vs. CHC & OAK vs. NYY — October baseball, a little wild

If the Wild Card games are any indication of how the 2018 postseason is going to be, it’s going to be one wild ride this October. The National League Wild Card reflected how tight the NL has been and ended up going down to the wire before the postseason began. And the American League Wild Card showed off the Yankees.

NL Wild Card: Rockies vs. Cubs (Tuesday)
This game was one of those super dramatic, tight games that makes these one-off games worth the effort. Both teams sent in their ace pitchers, Freeland and Lester, who both pitched deep into the game. Both only gave up 4 hits and a walk. But the Rockies got one run early in the game.

In the 1st, a lead-off walk moved to 3rd on a ground-rule double and then scored on a sacrifice fly. But then the Cubs held off the Rockies for the rest of the regular game. The Rockies pretty much matched them in offense and defense, which resulted in this insane, edge-of-your-seat kind of game.

But then, in the bottom of the 8th, with 2 outs, a Cubs’ batter singled, stole 2nd, and then scored on a double to finally tie up the game. And the hometown crowd went wild. And the game eventually went into extra innings. 13 of them.

In the 13th, with 2 outs (again), the Rockies’ batter singled, moved to 3rd on a single, and then scored on a single to break the tie. The small contingent of Colorado fans were suddenly excited. Their wish came true when their pitcher breezed his way through 3 strikeouts in the bottom of the 13th to send the Cubs back to their clubhouse to watch the rest of the postseason from their couches.

Final score: 2-1 Rockies, in 13 innings

AL Wild Card: Athletics vs. Yankees (Wednesday)
The next night, the AL Wild Card teams were ready for their own dramatic one-off game. And while the Yankees certainly outshone the Athletics in the end, the A’s weren’t exactly sitting on their hands. They are a good team. The Yankees are just better.

The A’s decided to piece together their bullpen to see if that could stop the Yankees. Yeah, it didn’t. Andrew McCutchen led-off the 1st with a walk and then scored when Aaron Judge hit a nice 2-run home run into the left field seats. But then the A’s pitchers did a good job of keeping the Yankees to those early runs.

Then in the 6th, Judge led-off with a double and then scored on Aaron Hicks’ double. After a new reliever came into the game, a wild pitch moved Hicks to 3rd and Stanton worked a walk. Stanton then stole 2nd putting both runners in scoring position. Then they did so on Luke Voit’s big triple, just inches shy of a 3-run homer in right field.

A sacrifice fly by Didi Gregorius then found Voit hustling home, barely touching home plate before being tagged. The A’s challenged the tag, but it was upheld. It wasn’t quite clear if he was tagged just before he touched the plate, but there was no proof he wasn’t either. So, the run stood. Not that it mattered. The Yankees kept rolling. And Giancarlo Stanton led-off the 8th inning with a monster solo home run into the corner of the left field seats.

Luis Severino was tapped for the start, which based on his second half showing, had many in Yankee Universe nervous. But they made it clear that if he fell apart like last year’s Wild Card game, there was a enough power in the bullpen to cover him. He didn’t really need it much because he was off to a stellar start, mostly breezing his way through the first 4 innings, including 7 sharp strikeouts.

Then in the 5th, he gave up 2 singles, his first allowed hits of the night, and instead of waiting to see if Severino could pull it together, they the Yankees went to the bullpen and called in Dellin Betances, who worked his way out of Severino’s trouble in the 5th and then sailed his way through the 6th. David Robertson followed this momentum with a clean 12-pitch 7th inning.

Zach Britton came in for the 8th and became the first Yankees pitcher to really struggle this game. He gave up a lead-off single. The next batter hit into what was originally called a double play, but the Athletics challenged and it was clear that the runner beat out the ball at 1st. So it ended up overturned as just 1 out. But then the next batter hit a 2-run home run to finally get the Athletics on the board. But then Britton tamped down and got himself out of the inning.

And Aroldis Chapman, postseason veteran, came out for the 9th and came out clean, even fielding the final out himself, helping seal the win for the Yankees to advance.

Final score: 7-2 Yankees

This means that the Division Series are set. Thursday, the NLDS games start. The Brewers host the Rockies, and the Dodgers host the Braves. The ALDS starts Friday — the Astros host the Indians, and the Red Sox host the Yankees. The Divsion Series games run 2 games, travel day, 2 games, travel day, 1 game. The first team to 3 wins win the series and advance to the Championship Series that begin on Friday, October 12.

Postseason Predictions:

  • Wild Card
    • Predictions: Rockies over Cubs, Yankees over Athletics
    • Results: Rockies over Cubs, Yankees over Athletics
    • Success (in batting average): 1.000
  • Division Series:
    • NLDS 1: Brewers over Rockies in 4 games
    • NLDS 2: Dodgers over Braves in 4 games
    • ALDS 1: Astros over Indians in 3 games
    • ALDS 2: Yankees over Red Sox in 5 games

This means I am hoping for an NLCS between the Brewers and Dodgers, and an ALCS between the Astros and Yankees. And with my track record, chances are at least 1 or 2 of my predictions will be wrong. I’m ready for it. But fingers crossed that it won’t be the Yankees-Red Sox one.

Go Yankees!

2018 Postseason Preview

And with the finishing of the tie-breaker games in the National League, we now have a postseason set and ready to go.

In the National League, the Wild Card game on Tuesday will be the Cubs hosting the Rockies. The winner of that game will face the team with the highest number of game wins the Brewers for the NLDS. The other NLDS will be between the Braves and Dodgers, starting at Dodger Stadium.

Over in the American League, Yankee Universe will be watching expectantly as the Athletics play the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. The winner of that game will face the game leaders of MLB, the Red Sox, for the ALDS. The other ALDS game will be the Indians and Astros in Houston.

The NLDS begins on Thursday, the ALDS on Friday. The pattern once again is 2 games (at the higher seed’s stadium), travel day, 2 games (at the lower seed’s stadium), travel day, 1 game (back at the higher seed). The first team to 3 wins takes the Division Series and advances to the Championship Series. That is a 7-game series, pattern of 2-3-2, first to 4 wins. The winners of those advance to the World Series.

And we’re at that time of year that I start making foolish predictions. I’ve learned my lesson, and I will only take this one step at a time.

So, for the Wild Card games:

  • NL Wild Card (on Tuesday) — Rockies over Cubs
  • AL Wild Card (on Wednesday) — Yankees over Athletics

This means that I think the Rockies will end up facing the Brewers in the NLDS and the Yankees will face the Red Sox in the ALDS. But then I’ve been wrong before. I’ll be wrong again. And I’ll be wrong this postseason.

Go Yankees!

Game 140: NYY vs. OAK — Sevy Not So Sharp

Okay, while they deny the excuse, it’s certainly something to consider. The Yankees opted to change up their signs between pitcher and catcher. Yes, professional athletes should be able to rise above something like mixed signs, but it can’t help basic levels of frustration or high emotions in the heat of the moment. All of which certainly exacerbate even a slight error. In other words, it doesn’t matter why. It just happened, and it stinks.

In this final game against the Athletics, Luis Severino got the start and just got roughed up from the start. He threw 59 pitches into just the 3rd inning, gave up 6 hits, a walk, and 6 runs (5 earned), and struck out 3 Oakland batters. His first inning was just a mess and did enough damage that the Yankees couldn’t recover.

In that 1st inning, Severino allowed a lead-off double that moved to 3rd on the first passed ball and then scored on an RBI single to start the A’s night. After giving up another double, that runner moved to 3rd on the first wild pitch. Another double allowed that runner to score. Then a passed ball and a wild pitch moved that runner to 3rd and then score another run.

After a super quick 7-pitch 2nd inning, Severino came back for the 3rd and had some trouble again. He gave up a lead-off walk and a single before a ground out moved them into scoring position. After a strikeout, he gave up a single that scored both runners. That was it for Severino tonight.

He handed the ball over to Jonathan Holder. His first pitch became a quick line drive out to end the inning. But he had his own issues in the 4th inning. He gave up a lead-off single that moved to 2nd on a walk, ended up a 3rd on a fielder’s choice, and then scored on a grounder.

Luis Cessa then got his turn at some long-term relief for 3 innings. And for the most part, it was a decent outing. With 2 outs in the 6th, 2 doubles scored a final run for the A’s. Then, Tarpley and Kahnle split the 8th inning to close out this messy game for the Yankees.

The Yankees weren’t exactly playing the kind of game or getting the kind of hits they needed to do much of anything in tonight’s game. In fact, they were on their way to getting shut out of the game for the first 6 innings. In the 7th, Hicks led-off with a walk, and then scored as part of Gary Sanchez’s big 2-run home run. And that would be it for the Yankee offense that mattered.

Final score: 8-2 Athletics, the A’s win the series 2-1.

Next up: after an off-day/travel day tomorrow, the Yankees face the Mariners for the weekend before heading to face the Twins. Another off-day/travel day and the Yankees then begin their final home stand, a week of games to close out Bronx games this season. Then a final week on the road will close out this season and month against division rivals.

Well, this West Coast trip is not turning out how the Yankees wanted so far, but there is still two more sets of games to right the ship, as it were. Yes, that was a sea-faring metaphor in anticipation of the next opponent, the Mariners. I’m gearing up for the Yankees’ journey to Emerald City. Yes, The Wizard of Oz is set to make a few appearances too. Seattle is filled with great opportunities for metaphors.

Take a moment to vote for the Yankees’ nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award, CC Sabathia, or whomever you deem is worth your vote. Sabathia will spend his off-day tomorrow working with the local arm of his PitCCh In Foundation to give backpacks filled with school supplies to Bay area school children. Sabathia and his wife Amber grew up in nearby Vallejo and still have family in the area that help facilitate their generosity to help local kids.

Injury update: despite some recent progress, Clint Frazier is still dealing with lingering and recurring concussion symptoms. This really comes down to Frazier probably missing the rest of this season. Honestly, this might be for the best. He really needs to fully recover. Head injuries are not something to be taken lightly, as a certain other sport is just starting to realize. We continue to wish him a full recovery in whatever time it takes that best works for his body and for his safety and health.

Go Yankees!

Game 139: NYY vs. OAK — More late-inning heroics

“If you don’t have pitching, you don’t have anything.” I’ve said it far too often recently due to negative results, but tonight’s game showed the mantra can have a positive side for the Yankees too. Yankee pitchers tonight were on a roll and threw a great gave overall, only allowing 2 hits and 2 walks in this middle game against the Athletics.

JA Happ got the start tonight, threw 78 pitches in 6 innings,  gave up 2 hits, 1 walk, and the A’s only run tonight, and struck out 5 batters. His lone allowed run was a 1-out solo home run in the 2nd. Happ continues to carve his niche in the starting rotation.

David Robertson took over in the 7th to throw a strong scoreless inning, complete with 3 solid strikeouts. Britton and Betances closed out the game with their own clean innings to keep the Yankee pitching momentum going.

Meanwhile, the A’s pitchers held off the Yankee batters for most of the game, even technically running a no-hitter for 5 innings, with Torres’ 2-out single breaking that streak in the 6th. But they didn’t break through until the 7th inning.

Gardner led-off with a single, moved to 2nd on Stanton’s single, and advanced to 3rd on McCutchen’s walk that loaded the bases. Aaron Hicks then worked a walk to keep those bases loaded and scored Gardner as the tying run. But 2 strikeouts and a pitching change later, the Yankees left those base-runners stranded.

Luke Voit kicked off the 8th inning with yet another home run, a solo shot into the left field seats to give the Yankees the lead. Torres then worked a walk but was out on a fielder’s choice that Gardner hit into. On a strikeout, Gardner stole 2nd base and watch McCutchen work his own walk. Aaron Hicks singled to score Gardner, but then the A’s defense remembered how to defend and got McCutchen caught between bases to get out of the inning.

And in the 9th, Adeiny Hechavarria got his first Yankee home run, a lead-off solo shot. Sanchez then singled, and Walker worked a walk to get a couple of potential insurance runs on base. Two outs (and a new reliever) later, a wild pitch moved both runners into scoring position, and Brett Gardner’s single scored Sanchez. But one final pitching change kept the Yankees at that score.

The A’s weren’t catching up tonight.

Final score: 5-1 Yankees

Today, the Yankees announced their nominee for the annual Roberto Clemente Award was CC Sabathia. The award was created to honor the late legendary ball player who was known for his philanthropy as well as his excellence on the field. It is to honor those who show “extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field”. Each team nominates their selection for the award, and the final winner will be announced at the World Series in October.

Sabathia and his wife Amber head the PitCChIn Foundation, an organization that works with local kids, including giving away backpacks and school supplies, renovating and equipping local ball fields, and running free baseball clinics for local Little Leagues. The Sabathias grew up in the Bay Area and will hold a special event on Thursday for kids from their nearby hometown to get them ready for this new school year.

And Miguel Andujar was announced as August’s Rookie of the Month. This really comes as no surprise to anyone who’s been following his season this year. He’s leading the Yankees in batting average, hits, and doubles, 2nd in RBIs, and has 23 home runs. He and fellow rookie Torres (who won the honor in May) have long been in the conversation for Rookie of the Year. And the biggest part of why this works for both young players is consistency, something Andujar has in spades, easily becoming one of the team’s biggest assets at the plate and at 3rd base.

Go Yankees!

Game 138: NYY vs. OAK — A Laborious Day by the Bay

The Athletics are in a position to compete for the second Wild Card spot, and with the Red Sox firmly in the lead in the AL East, that makes the Yankees the first Wild Card spot. Though you might not think so based on Twitterverse’s disparaging comments about the state of the Yankees. Fortunately, unlike the All-Star Game, it’s not a popularity contest as to who makes the postseason.

CC Sabathia got the start for the Yankees in this opener in Oakland. And on this Labor Day, he labored his way through his outing. He threw 66 pitches into the 4th, gave up 7 hits, 2 walks, and 5 runs (4 earned), and struck out 4 A’s batters. The hometown kid couldn’t find his pace in this afternoon’s game.

In the 1st, with 1 out, he gave up 2 singles to get runners on base. The next single scored the lead runner, and another loaded up the bases. The next batter walked in the next run before Sabathia got a strike out. Then a throwing error allowed another run to score the unearned run. A lead-off walk in the 2nd scored on an RBI double to add another run to the home team.

After a clean 3rd inning, Sabathia came back for the 4th and got an out and gave up a double that ended his afternoon. He handed the ball over to reliever AJ Cole, responsible for that runner at 2nd. After a pop-up, Cole gave up a single that scored that runner before eventually getting out of that inning without further damage. But he ended up giving up a 2-out solo homer in the 5th for a cap on the A’s runs today.

Chad Green’s 6th inning was a clean 13 pitches, and rookie reliever Jonathan Loaisiga got a chance to show off his skills with 2 innings that included 4 strikeouts. But these two pitchers came too late to really make an impact in the game other than just keeping the Athletics at their lead.

The Yankee offense were the ones to actually get things started today. New Yankee Andrew McCutchen collected his first Yankee hit, leading off the game with a solid single. He then stole 2nd and then, thanks to a throwing error, ended up at 3rd. Aaron Hicks’ sacrifice fly scored McCutchen to get the Yankees on the board first.

Sanchez led-off the 2nd with a walk and then scored as part of Luke Voit’s big 1-out 2-run home run. But other than that, the Yankee batters only got 2 other hits (and 3 other walks). The A’s pitching staff kept them from doing anything further to chip away at the home team’s growing lead.

Final score: 6-3 Athletics

And in hopefully positive news for Yankee Universe, Aaron Judge finally stepped back into the batter’s box today. Well, the batter’s box in the batting cages. Still recovering for a chip fracture in his wrist after a hit by pitch at the end of July, Judge has been slower to get back into baseball activities than they originally thought. So, watching him meander to the cage with a bat in his hand set off a media firestorm.

Judge took 25 swings off a tee and 25 dry swings (like practice swings) in the cages and said he “felt good”. The next step is to try soft-toss, where the pitcher throws easy pitches for minimal contact. After that, it’s a progressively aggressive batting practice and a sort of simulated game to get back into the swing of things, so to speak.

That mean there is an update to his recovery process, making the current timeline returning him to the game in the next couple of weeks. Realistically, this means the last series at Yankee Stadium or the final road trip during the last week of this month is the most likely target.

However, like many athletes, Judge would be love to jump in and suit up for tomorrow’s game. Tempting as it is to rush things, the young outfielder still has years of play left to compete, so a full return to health is the priority and not so much the “when”.

Go Yankees!

Game 40: OAK vs. NYY — Delay start didn’t hamper Yankees’ victory on #MothersDay

A major front moved through the area, as the Yankees, the Athletics, and their fans in the Bronx waited it out for two hours and 45 minutes. Not a terrible way to spend a rainy day — hanging out at Yankee Stadium with (I’m assuming for most people) your mother and/or family on this Mother’s Day.

When game time actually happened, Luis Severino got the start, throwing 106 pitches in his 6 innings, giving up 5 hits, 2 walks, and just 1 run, while striking out 7 Oakland batters. That lone run came in the 5th when a lead-off single moved to 2nd on a 1-out single and then scored on a 2-out single (and throwing error).

The Yankees got things started on their own side in the 1st inning, quickly loaded up the bases with a single, a double, and a walk. Giancarlo Stanton’s single scored both Gardner and Judge. A double play moved Gregorius to 3rd before he then scored on Aaron Hicks’ single. In the 5th, the Yankees got that run back with Stanton’s solid 2-out solo home run into the Yankees’ bullpen.

In the 7th, with 1 out, the Yankees loaded the bases again with Judge’s walk, Stanton’s double (capping of his great offensive day of going 4-for-4), and Sanchez’s walk. Aaron Hicks hit into a fielder’s choice that scored Judge. And then Andujar led-off the 8th with a single, moved to 2nd on a wild pitch, and scored on Judge’s 2-out single.

Green and Betances sailed their way through the 7th and 8th innings, keeping the A’s to that lone run. Normally fairly reliable, Chasen Shreve came on for the 9th and somehow had quite a bit of trouble as the A’s tried to make a big splashy last-minute comeback. A 1-out solo home run doubled the A’s score, and despite 2 singles, Shreve got out of the inning without further damage.

Final score: 6-2 Yankees, Yankees win the series 2-1

As part of their Mother’s Day celebrations, the Yankees honored their own moms (and many of their wives) as well as supported breast cancer research and awareness by wearing all sorts of pink-trimmed accessories — hats, gloves, socks, special cleats, undershirts, warm-ups, sweat bands, batting and fielding gloves, and more. The Yankees also honored two breast cancer survivors and invited them to participate as “honorary bat girls” — Tina Baker (for the Athletics) and Rosa Lapaix (Yankees).

Earlier this weekend, Didi Gregorius partnered with a local florist to help deliver flowers around the Yankees’ executive offices to all the moms who work there. This is just a continuation of Gregorius’ efforts to spread good will and do good all over the City (usually tagged on social media as #DidisDeeds). We’ve seen him pay for people’s subway rides, handing out umbrellas, making burritos, and surprising young fans in a children’s hospital. What a great example to follow for Yankee fans of any age — to continually look for small ways to be kind to your community.

Next up: after an off-day tomorrow (Monday), the Yankees head down the Coast a bit to D.C. to play a 2-game micro-series against the Nationals. They’ll take another off-day/travel day on Thursday to head over to Kansas City for their 3-game weekend series there. The Nationals are a pretty good team this year in fairly tough division (4 of the 5 NL East teams are above .500), but the Royals are just struggling (nearly the worst team in MLB) this year.

And finally, a Happy Mother’s Day to my own mother, my grandmothers, my great grandmothers, my aunts, and so many of my close friends and family who are celebrating today. So many of you are/were also deeply devoted baseball fans (across the league — Indians, Pirates, Phillies, Cubs, Braves, Rays, Padres, Tigers, and Yankees), and it’s an honor to cheer along side you under normal circumstances, but especially as you are cheered on today for your hard work “off-the-field”.

Go Yankees!

Game 39: OAK vs. NYY — Walker’s 11th inning walk-off

Both starters in this afternoon’s game gave up the 6 runs that would kick the game into the extra innings it would take to win the game and neither of them pitched beyond the 5th inning. That means it would be up to the bullpens and defense to determine who would come out on top.

The Yankees offense struck first on the backs of Gary Sanchez and Aaron Hicks, who each hit a solo home run in the 2nd inning to get things started. Domingo German got start today in this middle game of the series against the visiting Athletics. He threw 75 pitches in his 5 innings, gave up 6 hits and 3 walks (and those 6 runs), and struck out just a single batter along the way.

German held the A’s scoreless until the 4th inning, giving up a single and walk that scored as part of a 1-out 3-run home run to push the A’s into the lead. Then with 2 more allowed walks, a 2-out single scored both of those runners and Hicks made the good defensive call to get that batter out trying to grab 2nd in that same play to end their rally. And in the 5th, a lead-off single moved to 2nd on another single, advanced to 3rd on a ground out, and then scored on a sacrifice fly.

The Yankees tried to chip away at the Athletics’ lead in the bottom of the 5th as Gardner led-off with a walk and scored as part of Aaron Judge’s big 2-run home run to the left field seats. Gregorius then singled and stole 2nd, and Sanchez worked a 1-out walk. That was the end of the A’s starter’s night, and they went to their bullpen. But Neil Walker kept things going with a 2-out single to scored Gregorius, and after another pitching change, Miguel Andujar’s single scored Sanchez to officially tie up the game at that point.

The Yankees made every attempt to break that tie, even loading up the bases in the 6th, but they were left stranded. So it was up to their bullpen to maintain until they could find another breakthrough. Holder, Green, and Betances each took an inning and breezed through the A’s roster. Aroldis Chapman walked his first 3 batters and then got out of his own self-inflicted jam with a strikeout and double play, thanks to Brett Gardner’s amazing arm from left field and Sanchez’s reach at the plate for the tag there. (Replays overturned the original call of safe there, rightly so, and had my mother screaming, “See, you don’t run on Gardy either!”)

And then it was on to newly signed reliever AJ Cole to keep things under control from the mound, which he did for the 10th and 11th innings, despite some moments of fretting for the afternoon crowd in the Bronx. The A’s tried to match this as their 10th inning reliever came out for his 2nd inning, but instead, the Yankees found their opportunity.

With 1 out, Stanton walked, Sanchez hit into a fielder’s choice out at 2nd, and Hicks worked a walk. Then it was down to Neil Walker to make a difference. He hit kind of a bloop single to shallow center field and had Sanchez racing home for the walk-off win. The frenzied crowd came alive as Gardner poured the purple Gatorade over the willing Walker.

Final score: 7-6 Yankees, in 11 innings

The Yankees close out their home stand tomorrow with their afternoon game against the Athletics. And brace for the pink tomorrow, as it’s Mother’s Day in the US, and MLB always does a good job of tying in breast cancer awareness with the holiday (similar to what they do with prostate cancer and Father’s Day in June).

Also, with the Red Sox’s win against the Blue Jays today, the tie between the Yankees and Red Sox atop MLB standings continues.

Go Yankees!