Following a couple frustrating 2-1 losses to begin the ALCS, the Yankees snagged a much-needed 8-1 win over the Astros in Game 3. Their series deficit is now cut in half before Tuesday night’s Game 4. A few quick thoughts off Monday night's game:
1. HERE COMES THE JUDGE: It’s hard for any one player to own a lopsided victory, but Aaron Judge did on Monday night. In the top of the fourth, Judge took an extra-base hit away from Yulieski Gurriel with a leaping catch that had him crashing into the rightfield wall. In the bottom of the frame, he smoked the three-run shot to left off reliever Will Harris that iced the game. And in the next inning, just for good measure, he made a diving catch to take a single away from Cameron Maybin.
It was the sort of game for which the Yankees (and undoubtedly the marketing types at MLB and Fox) had been waiting all October. Judge entered Game 3 with a playoff batting line of .129/.270/.258 and just one extra-base hit against 19 strikeouts. But his at-bats had been looking better. He was laying off the right pitches, fouling back the tough ones… he wasn’t lost at the plate. He just hadn’t found himself. And now he has.
2. MORTON’S THE RAKE-HOUSE: Well, that was not a good night for Houston starter Charlie Morton, was it? His final line: 3 2/3 innings, seven runs, six hits, one hit by pitch and two walks. The drop-off from Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander to Morton and whoever starts Game 4 was an Astros shortcoming entering the series; Monday night’s outing only narrows Houston’s margin for error in its aces’ starts.
And yet Morton himself is not entirely to blame. The two fourth-inning hits that did him in—a Greg Bird double and a Chase Headley single, with a groundout and a fly-out sandwiched in between—landed as hits 4 and 12 percent of the time, according to Statcast. (Immediately after his exit Harris came in and allowed Judge’s homer.) And those hard-luck hits came after Todd Frazier put an ugly, late swing on a second-inning Morton fastball to push the ball over the right-field fence and three runs across the plate. Evidently the baseball gods decided that two nights of crisp play was enough.
The Astros’ biggest flaw all season was their defense; they ranked 12th in the AL in defensive efficiency, which measures how well a team can turn balls put in play into outs. And those struggles were on display tonight: With Cameron Maybin patrolling left, for instance, Bird’s double should have been a fly-out.
Even though Morton’s defense put him in a tough spot, it was he who put them in a position to do so. He struck out only three in his short outing on Monday night. In the ensuing 4 1/3 innings, his replacements got only three more. In Games 1 and 2, though, Houston’s pitching staff amassed 27 outs (in other words, 50 percent of all Yankee outs) via the strikeout. More balls in play means only more chances for Houston’s defense to let down its pitchers.
The relief for the Astros arrives in the form of this fact: So long as they win every Verlander and Keuchel start in this series—and they’re halfway home on that front—they win the pennant.
3. DELLIN BETANCES SHOULD NOT SEE THE MOUND FOR THE REST OF THE PLAYOFFS: There’s not a whole lot to say here. The Yankee reliever came into the ninth inning of an 8-0 game and walked two batters without recording an out. He threw 10 pitches and only two were strikes. Tommy Kahnle came in to extricate the Yankees from the jam. He allowed a single and a bases-loaded walk (causing an inherited runner to score) before getting Jose Altuve to ground into a game-ending double play.
The problem is not that Joe Girardi had to use Kahnle. It’s that he had to get Aroldis Chapman warmed up in a game he had seemed to stand no chance of losing. (According to Fangraphs, the Yankees had a 99.9% chance of victory when Betances entered the game.
There is every reason to think that Betances will eventually get his command troubles worked out and his career back on track. But if he can’t make any headway on that front with an 8-0 lead in the ninth, he won’t be doing it in 2017, so Girardi might as well not try.