The Houston Astros put on a clinic during Game 1 of their ALCS matchup against the Yankees. While New York jumped out to a second-inning lead thanks to a home run from Harrison Bader, the Astros immediately answered in the bottom of the frame with a run of their own.
Then, Houston’s dominant pitching, featuring Justin Verlander, took over long enough for the Astros to put runs on the board and secure a victory. The biggest statistic coming out of this game is probably Houston striking out 17 hitters, while the Yankees whiffed just two. Heck, Houston’s three relievers (Hector Neris, Rafael Montero, and Ryan Pressly) combined to strike out more hitters (six) than New York did all game. And they only pitched for three total innings.
But what really didn’t make sense was manager Aaron Boone’s decisions in relief of starter Jameson Taillon. The right-hander lasted 4.1 innings before giving way to Clarke Schmidt. His October struggles continued by surrendering back-to-back home runs to Yuli Gurriel and Chas McCormick in the sixth inning.
That ended up being the difference in the ballgame. A pitcher in Boone’s ‘pen that has been available for all six Yankees postseason games but not used once is Domingo German.
Why hasn’t he been called upon yet? Here was Boone’s reasoning (quote via NJ.com):
He’s in the calculations every night. But more of a lengthy role.
Then, after saying German is healthy and will serve as the bullpen’s “length”, he said this:
There’s going to come a time where he’s going to need to be in there in an important spot, in a shorter way, but I didn’t feel like tonight was that.
I’m sorry, sir — this is a Wendy’s.
I understand that Boone (and/or the front office) might be hesitant to call on German, who is primarily a starter, to come in during the middle of an inning. But outside of 26 relief big-league relief appearances in 2022, Schmidt has almost exclusively been a starter himself. Plus, getting out of the fifth and coming back for the sixth inning is something they both can do.
Things got more confusing with Frankie Montas pitching the seventh inning. This is another starter who has struggled since getting acquired by the Yankees (6.35 ERA in 39.2 innings) and last pitched on September 16th. He registered one of New York’s two strikeouts but also surrendered a homer to give Houston an insurance run.
What I don’t understand is this. The Yankees are just starting an ALCS that they’re expecting (i.e. hoping) to be a heavyweight bout. The Astros have a relentless offense, so it’d make sense to try and be economical with relievers. If there was ever a time to try and get some length out of the bullpen, it would’ve been when Taillon couldn’t get out of the fifth inning in a tie game. And it’s not like German has to finish the game. Two innings would’ve been plenty.
He’s rested and performed well enough in 72.1 innings this year (3.61 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Instead of bringing him in, New York went with a guy who has struggled so far in the playoffs. And then after using Lou Trivino to get out of the sixth, the Yankees brought in a struggling starter who hasn’t pitched in a month.
How does this all make sense? Those “calculations” sound like fuzzy math if you ask me. As any team starts a postseason series on the road, the bare minimum goal is to take one of the first two games. Losing Game 1 doesn’t mean the Yankees can’t come back to win Game 2 before traveling home to Yankee Stadium.
However, stealing Game 1 was within their grasp, even with striking out as much as they did. Now they’ll have to beat a Houston squad that posted a .679 winning percentage at home during the regular season. They’re also undefeated in the postseason and are sending Framber Valdez to the mound.
It’s not an impossible hill to climb for the Yankees, but it sure seems like they’ve made it harder than it needed to be.