When the Yankees announced their rotation for the ALCS, some questioned the team’s rationale. Fans wondered why Sonny Gray needed 11 days of rest. Others worried about starting Masahiro Tanaka on the road, given his dramatic home and away splits. One thing everyone could agree on, however, was that CC Sabathia absolutely needed to pitch Game Three. If the series opened on a sour note — which it did — he could return to Yankee Stadium and put out the fire.
Throughout his career, Sabathia earned a reputation as a stopper. He became the pitcher a team would turn to in order to stop a losing streak. While always a battler on the mound, he seemed to relish the big moments. His intensity and demeanor suited him for these situations.
In 2017, the numbers back up this idea. The big left-hander owns a 1.71 ERA across 10 starts following a Yankees’ loss. He’s the kind of pitcher who stops the bleeding. Sabathia did just that in Game Two of the ALDS. He held the Indians to four runs over 5.1 innings, but only two of which were earned. Trust me when I say he pitched better than his line indicates. He also stepped up in the decisive Game Five, tossing 4.1 innings of two-run ball.
This is precisely what the Bombers need right now. They’re down two games to none against the Astros. A third consecutive loss would prove close to fatal. In turning to Sabathia, the team places their trust in the stalwart workhorse. For his part, the veteran southpaw isn’t intimidated by the scenario.
“I don't do anything different after a win or a loss," Sabathia told the New York Daily News. His game plan? “Just go out and try to be aggressive in the strike zone. Throw strikes and let them try to swing early in the count and get deeper in the game. Nothing different than I always do.”
Sabathia’s trusting this scouting report as he somehow missed the Astros this season. He’s had some success against their lineup, though. For example, he’s held Carlos Beltran to a .229/.341/.343 batting line over 41 plate appearances. His numbers against Josh Reddick and Brian McCann are even better. On the bright side, in an extremely limited sample size, he’s handled Carlos Correa. Yet Jose Altuve, to the surprise of no one, has hit Sabathia well in six plate appearances.
The Yankees technically aren’t facing a must-win situation in Game Three, but pulling off a victory is imperative. To do that, the Bombers turn to their stopper. This is exactly the reason why the team lined up the rotation in this fashion. It also gives them the option to use the big left-hander in Game Seven, should the series reach that point. First things first, though, is to win tonight. In a big situation, Sabathia gives them the best chance to do that.