Trailing by one run in the bottom of the first inning in Game 3, DJ LeMahieu and Aaron Judge both reached on back-to-back singles. Then Brett Gardner came up instead of Gleyber Torres and the Yankees lost the game right then.
Despite the 22-year-old’s budding superstar status, his historical regular season and his performance in the ALDS, for which I gave him the ALDS MVP, Torres batted fifth in Game 5. Aaron Boone and the analytics department, or whoever creates the lineup, finally rewarded him after two seasons of production by batting him third in Games 1 and 2 in Houston, and he went 4-for-10 with a double, home run and five RBIs. But for Game 3, Torres was back batting fifth, with Gardner inexplicably batting third. Boone was asked about this egregious decision after the game, and here was his answer:
“I mean, I was just, we had a few more lefties, so spacing our lefties out. Lineup-wise, we switch it a lot based on who we have in there. With Hicks being in there and having a third lefty, just kind of getting some spacing within our lineup is all. I actually think Gleyber hit sixth the first game if I’m not mistaken.”
That answer answered nothing. Boone fumbled around his words with a combination of “I mean” and “you know” and “um” as he searched for a BS answer he could pass off as acceptable. But nothing about the decision to bat Torres fifth was acceptable, and nothing was analytical, reasonable or logical. And Boone was mistaken, Torres batted third in the first and second games of the series, not sixth.
When facing Gerrit Cole, you might only get one chance to get to him. The Yankees ended up getting multiple chances, failing in every single one of them, but the first inning ended up being their best chance of the game. Instead of facing the red-hot Torres (oh I forgot, the Yankees don’t believe in every being hot or cold), Cole retired Gardner on two pitches and slumping Edwin Encarnacion on one pitch. Torres walked against the eventual Cy Young winner with two outs and then the also-slumping Didi Gregorius ended the inning, swinging at the first pitch of his at-bat after four straight balls to Torres.
Against Cole, Torres walked on four pitches, struck out swinging in a nine-pitch battle and walked on eight pitches, as all three of his at-bats came with two outs. Once Cole was out of the game, Torres hit a home run, his second of the series and third of the postseason against the submarine-throwing, right-handed specialist Joe Smith. So the only time in the game Torres was retired was when he lost that nine-pitch at-bat to Cole, which ended in a strikeout to the pitcher with the most strikeouts in the game since Randy Johnson in 2002.
While the decision to move Torres down in the order for no reason was the most egregious of the game, it wasn’t the only thing that led to a Yankees’ loss. Luis Severino labored through yet another postseason start, and after throwing four scoreless innings against the Twins and having to get out of multiple jams to do, he once again found himself pitching out of the stretch in four of the five innings he pitched in on Tuesday. Severino allowed to long solo home runs to Jose Altuve and Josh Reddick and put eight baserunners on in 4 1/3 innings. Unfortunately, the slumping offense and Cole were too much for the Yankees to overcome the early hole Severino put them in.
Adam Ottavino also wasn’t good, and he has been the worst member of the postseason roster. He has now faced 10 batters in the series and six of them have reached base. He was unable to retire George Springer for a second straight game and was unable to record an out at all against Springer and Altuve in the seventh. His latest egg eventually turned into two insurance runs for the Astros, not that they would even need them though with Torres providing the Yankees’ lone run of the game in the eighth.
As for the offense, outside of LeMahieu, Judge and Torres, who again should all be batting consecutively, there’s no one to feel good about when they’re at the plate right now. Gardner and Encarnacion are both down to .200 with a .579 and .606 OPS respectively, Gregorius is at .227 and his OPS also isn’t good at .655 and is only even that high because of his grand slam in Game 2 of the ALDS, Sanchez has two singles in the entire postseason and isn’t having good at-bats in this series like he did in the previous series with his OPS looking like it’s missing the “O” and the “P” at .335 and Gio Urshela has been as bad as Gardner and Encarnacion. The Yankees are trying to beat the 107-win Astros with three productive batters and six near-automatic outs in their lineup. If not for Masahiro Tanaka and Torres in Game 1, the Yankees would be playing an elimination game in Game 4.
All season I was worried about two things in the postseason: Boone screwing everything up like he did last October and the lineup disappearing like it did in Games 6 and 7 of the 2017 ALCS and Games 3 and 4 of the 2018 ALDS. Well, Boone is starting to screw things up, and the offense has scored in two of the last 20 innings.
It took the Yankees one game to give home-field advantage back to the Astros. One lousy game in which the Yankees left nine on against the best pitcher in baseball. The Astros trailed in this series after one lousy game of their own and rebounded to win the next two to put the pressure back on the Yankees. Now it’s the Yankees’ turn to answer and rebound from 15 straight embarrassing innings since Judge’s two-run home run off Justin Verlander in the fourth inning of Game 2.
It’s a guarantee the nonsensical decision to bat Torres fifth will be rectified for Game 4 and he will be back hitting third where he did to open the series in Houston. It should also be a guarantee that the entire lineup should be adjusted. The Yankees need to find their offense and they have to find it in the next game. If the Yankees’ offensive trend continues the way it has since that Judge home run, they won’t have to worry about trying to win a game or games in Houston later in the series because the series won’t make it back there.
My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!