The New York Yankees are one loss away from going home for the winter. Saturday night the Yankees blew a 5-3 ninth inning lead in a 6-5 walk-off loss to the Cleveland Guardians in Game 3 of the ALDS. Cleveland leads the best-of-five series 2-1. One more win and the Guardians will take on the Houston Astros in the ALCS.
“Move on,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said when asked how you deal with a loss like Game 3. “It stings right now and it’s raw. You know, you’re frustrated because you’re so close to the end there, but we got to turn the page … We got Gerrit [Cole] going [Sunday]. We expect to come out here and win.”
The Yankees are certainly capable of coming back from the 2-1 deficit — six years ago they erased a 2-0 ALDS deficit against Cleveland — though it won’t be easy, and they’ll need a few things to fall into place for it to become a reality. Here are five things that must happen for the Yankees to mount an ALDS comeback.
1. Get a dominant start from Cole
This almost goes without saying. Gerrit Cole will start Game 4, and thanks to the unusual ALDS schedule, he will be on normal rest following his Game 1 outing last Tuesday. Cole was very good in Game 1 and a repeat performance will be necessary in Game 4. The Yankees need Cole to keep the Guardians in check and also chew up innings because the bullpen is both taxed and shorthanded due to injury..
2. Judge builds on Game 3
Aaron Judge looked about as bad as a hitter can look in Games 1 and 2.then in Game 3 he hit a towering 449-foot two-run homer to center field that tied the contest at two in the third inning.
Judge hit another ball to the warning track later in the game. Needless to say, the Yankees need Judge to continue walloping the baseball and carrying his team like he did during his MVP-caliber regular season. There were times during the summer when New York’s lineup was so decimated by injuries that Judge was a one-many army dragging his team to wins. They need that guy again.
Also, the Yankees badly need Giancarlo Stanton (1 for 9 in the ALDS), Gleyber Torres (2 for 12), and a few others to wake up at the plate. Rookie Oswaldo Cabrera went 0 for 8 with five strikeouts in Games 1 and 2 before breaking out with a double and a two-run homer in Game 3. The supporting cast definitely needs to step up as well.
3. Someone else picks up big outs in relief
The Yankees have used righty Jonathan Loáisiga and lefty Wandy Peralta in all three games this series, including Peralta for an extended seven-batter outing in Game 3. I can’t imagine they won’t be available with the season on the line in Game 4, although both will be pitching for the third straight day, which could compromise them. They may not be at their optimum level of effectiveness should either need to take the hill.
In that case, the Yankees need someone else — preferably someones else — to come out of the bullpen and get important outs at some point. The offense can help by giving the pitching staff breathing room, but you can’t expect an avalanche of runs in the postseason. Here is New York’s ALDS bullpen:
Castro, Hermán, and Luetge have not yet pitched in the series — Castro and Luetge haven’t even warmed up — and Taillon only faced three batters in Game 2. The career starter entered into the tenth inning of a tie game, so he was in the Circle of Trust™, although he allowed two runs that inning and the Yankees may not want to throw him back into the fire if they can help it.
Point is, Loáisiga and Peralta can’t do all the heavy lifting out of the bullpen the rest of the series. Whether Boone likes it or not, he’s going to have to ask someone else to get big outs at some point. Maybe it’s Taillon, maybe it’s Castro, maybe it’s someone else entirely. It has to happen though. The Yankees have at least 18 innings to cover if they plan on winning this series.
4. Clean up the defense
The Yankees led all teams with 129 defensive runs saved during the regular season — the Dodgers were second with 84 — and their .720 defensive efficiency was second-best behind the Dodgers’ .729. I’m not sure I trust those exact numbers, but I buy the Yankees being one of the best defensive teams in baseball during the regular season. They revamped their roster with that goal in mind.
That top notch defense has not been evident in the ALDS thus far. Josh Donaldson made a costly throwing error on José Ramírez’s bloop double in the decisive tenth inning in Game 2, and Isiah Kiner-Falefa botched two players at short in Game 3. Both plays led directly to runs and forced the pitchers to throw more pitches. Extra outs are always bad news, but they’re especially expensive in the playoffs.
Cleveland puts the ball in play so much that playing sound defense is imperative. They’re going to test you and, if you don’t make the play, they’re going to take the extra base and force the issue. The Yankees have to clean up the defensive mistakes and stop giving the Guardians so many extra outs and extra bases.
5. Get lucky
It’s better to be lucky than good, but it’s best to be lucky oath good. A little luck — a favorable call, a lucky bounce, etc. — wouldn’t hurt the Yankees at this point. They could use a break (or two or three) to turn the tide and begin to shift the series back in their favor. There’s no shame in getting a little help along the way.