Well, the long off-season begins. And it begins with sadness as the Yankees lost two games in Houston that I thought were winnable. But, a team that doesn't score runs can't win, and to close out the playoffs, the Yankees didn't score runs.
I think as fans, observers from afar, things often look clearer to us than things really are. A baseball manger has a whole lot to consider when making moves (or not making moves). I think, as the Yankees reached these final two games, that Joe Girardi must have known that his bullpen was overtaxed and didn't have much left. At least I hope that's the case, because I felt that his pitching decisions the last two games were a little lacking. I felt Luis Severino was left in too long (once he started walking batters, it was clear to me that his night was over) in Game Six and that CC Sabathia was left in too long in Game Seven. Sabathia was not sharp in any inning - and he kept missing high, right where a batter could do damage. Sabathia was helped by a great Aaron Judge catch that saved a home run, but no giant, not even Judge, was going to catch Evan Gattis' long blast that gave Houston the lead. I would have had a much quicker hook and would have gone to Sonny Gray. But, again, I say that not knowing the extent of the wear and tear on each pitcher's arms. It could be that Joe Girardi knew that his bullpen wasn't as deep as it looked on paper these last two games.
I think, in a way, the bullpen never fully recovered from the extensive use in the Wild Card game. That's understandable. The Yankees rode their pitchers as far they could. I don't think any one could have hoped or dreamed for more at the start of the post season.
As I noted in an earlier post, the Yankees far exceeded their expectations this year. Losing stinks, but making it to Game Seven of the American League Championship Series is something to be proud of. This is something all fans should relish. It was a great season! It also whets the appetite for the future. (More on that in a moment.) These playoffs were all gravy. But, once the team got there, I wanted the gravy, the potatoes, the meat, the vegetables, and the desert. I leave this table (the season) somewhat satisfied, but, truly feeling unfulfilled. It's tough to get that close to the World Series and fall short.
I am, and have always been, a fan of Joe Girardi. I think he's an excellent manager who does not get the credit he deserves. Sure, he should have challenged the call in Game Two of the ALDS. Sure, I think he had a slow hook in the ALCS in Games Six and Seven, but, truth be told, I'm not sure the Yankees would have advanced this far with any other manager. I think the players like and respect Girardi and play hard for him. He keeps the clubhouse free from controversy. He handles the media well. Girardi has kept the Yankees competitive and exceeding expectations throughout this re-build. I am eager to see what he can do with this young team. I'm eager to see how far Girardi and this team can go together. I think the Yankees are on the precipice of a period of sustained excellence.
Somehow, though, I don't think Joe Girardi will be the Yankees Manager in 2018. I just have a strong feeling that he doesn't wish to come back. I think the Yankees will ask him back and offer a fair deal, but, I think Girardi walks away. (More on this if it happens, of course, but I see the three leading contenders for the job to be Robby Thompson, Tony Pena, and Don Mattingly.) I hope I am very wrong about this.
Going back to the series, and again this is just a fan talking, and fans see the game through their own hopeful eyes, but, I thought the umpiring was very inconsistent in regard to balls and strikes. I also felt that the Yankees had a lot of crucial balls and strikes called against them throughout the last two games. I have no charts or statistics to back this up - and hope to see them in the coming days to prove (or disprove this point). Casual fans might say, "a pitch here or there doesn't make much of a difference," but, there is a huge difference between a 1-2 count and a 2-1 count. And, it seemed just when the Yankees batters were about to gain a slight advantage to get to a "hitter's count," a pitch off the plate or down low was called a strike. Again, maybe this was just my hopeful eyes... If I'm correct, those tough calls helped make the task of scoring runs that much more difficult.
The Astros pitchers at home were remarkable. The Yankees scored a total of three runs in four games. A team can't win when it doesn't score runs. The Astros pitchers deserve a ton of credit.
Teams that exceed expectations, as this team did, often face a "coming back to earth" season the next year. It is very hard to sustain such excellence. That being said, it didn't seem as though this team won just by luck. Some statistics (one run games for example) actually indicate that the Yankees played to hard luck this year. That should be a good portent of things to come. The narrative next year will either be, "The Yankees are coming off a season where they did better than expected and are now playing as they should" (if they struggle) or "The Yankees were so close to tasting it all that they were determined to win in 2018." (Narratives like this often come after the real life story is actually played out.)
This is a very important off-season for the Yankees players. Some players get caught up in the hype and don't stay as focused in the off season. Other players might feel that the need to "bulk" up to get in even better shape (which doesn't always result in improved performance). A great deal of what happens in 2018 will be determined by the individual choices the players make over the next four months. If they can keep their focus and stay humble and follow the routines that brought them the success they enjoyed, they should be fine. But if the players get caught up in the trappings of success, the decisions they make this winter could negatively impact on their futures and the team's as well.
Speaking of futures, we will have some exciting blog news coming out over the next few days and weeks. Please stay tuned!
I enjoyed the 2017 season more than I have enjoyed baseball in close to a decade. It was a great ride. I am always very sad when the baseball season ends. I miss the day-to-day consistency that baseball brings me. When the season ends, I always feel as though I have lost a close friend. And the 2017 team was a friend I really enjoyed being around. Without baseball it is always a long, cold, lonely winter.