Tonight the Yankees face their fourth elimination game of the postseason already, and while the wild card game was probably the most important, the first hurdle to jump, this one is exponentially more rewarding: if they were to win, they would have come back from an 0-2 deficit for the first time since 2001, which would also be the tenth team in the history of the five-game series format.
The odds of that, of course, are daunting. Unlike during the Wild Card game, where the Yankees had home field advantage, a much weaker opponent, and their ace on the mound, the Yankees have the exact disadvantage this time around; they are on the road, facing Corey Kluber. The numbers tend to agree with this. Vegas lists them as 30-35% to win, FiveThirtyEight says 33%, and FanGraphs is generous at 45.3%.
What this means, actually, is that the stakes are even higher, even earlier, in this game instead of the Wild Card game. If you’re sitting at around a 35% chance to win before first pitch, a first inning where you allow three runs means there’s a 90% chance you’re going home that night. The margin for error is even smaller with Kluber involved, because each run lost is even harder to gain back.
This is essentially how Joe Girardi managed the Wild Card game, and it needs to be the exact same model now, if not more so. When Luis Severino had nothing in that game, he was pulled as quickly as possible. Even with relievers in the ALDS, you saw that strategy applied as well. Just like when Dellin Betances lost his control in Game Four, Girardi should do that with any reliever that looks to be floundering.
Secondly, the fire man should be Chad Green. He had a horrible Game Two for obvious reasons, but that more so relates to what I just said: don’t let him get to that point. When you do catch him on fire, though, then he’s probably your best reliever. This should be in the case where CC Sabathia struggles early, sure, but I don’t think you should let him the third time through either.
With those 4 great games in the books, we are currently holding steady at a robust 8.3%. pic.twitter.com/0gG5IMUGqr— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) October 10, 2017
It was a controversial decision in Game Two, but I don’t think it’s without merit, and it’s clear from the above that it is widely used in baseball now. He doesn’t have as much of a third-time-through effect as most pitchers—his career wOBA allowed jumps two points from second time to third time through, but... you can’t discount the fact that the Indians’ hitters will have seen him a lot by that time, and if things grow dire, they need a look at a better, available reliever.
In terms of offense, there isn’t much you can do. I would probably say that bringing in Matt Holliday as a pinch hitter against a left-hander, and making sure to challenge every possibly favorable call... that’s about it. If Kluber completely shuts the Yankees down, a la Dallas Keuchel in 2015, at that point you have to tip your cap and admit you got squashed in an elimination game. There will still be questioning about Game Two, but it really doesn’t matter—this scenario could have happened without that atypical result. They could have been swept because or in spite of that game as well.
In the end, it’s just yet another nerve-wracking elimination game in an already long line of them. Girardi probably has a little voice in the back of his head telling him his job on the line, and while that’s probably not 100% true, it probably can’t hurt that that’s how he’s going to manage. Don’t take any chances—shutdown pitching, scratch a few runs against Kluber, and cross your fingers. I’ll be crossing them for the next ten hours.