Yankees playoffs: Judgment day arrives in the ALCS

(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /
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The Past, Present, and Future

The pitching in the first two games slightly favored the Astros. But thanks to the patience of Girardi, that changed last night, perhaps irrevocably.

Many people thought Tanaka would start game three, primarily because he has pitched better at home all year. Game three is pivotal and it would line Tanaka up to pitch game seven, if need be.

Instead, Girardi started Hiro on the road in game one. Tanaka responded with his third brilliant start in a row, but that was more of a hope than a sure thing.

But what was sure was that Tanaka would be lined up for game five. It would put Tanaka at home, on full rest, in the most important game of the year.

And now that vision is coming true.

It also puts Severino, the Yankees most talented pitcher, ready for game six, and CC, the Yankees most clutch pitcher, ready for game seven. But that is just a part of how the pitching might have turned in the Yankees favor.

A Two-Headed Monster

The Astros ended the season top-heavy with pitching; it’s a not uncommon scenario. Their two best pitchers—Verlander and Keuchel—are world beaters. The rest of the staff, however, is more scary to Astros’ fans.

Lance McCullers Jr. goes tonight. He was one of the best pitchers in the AL in the early going and a key reason Houston started hot. But he might also be the reason they lose this series, as Scott Lauber points out for ESPN:

"McCullers was one of the best pitchers in the league through the season’s first three months, going 7-1 with a 2.69 ERA in 15 starts and earning an All-Star Game selection. But a back problem and arm fatigue limited him to six starts in the second half, as he posted an 8.23 ERA. Which version of McCullers will show up Tuesday evening at Yankee Stadium? The answer might just swing the series."

For those of you worried about Sonny Gray, he will enter the game as the heavy favorite.

And tomorrow, when Tanaka takes the mound, he will face off against Brad Peacock. The 29-year old had a breakout season, pitching to a 3.00 ERA in his 132 innings.

But he is the one who looks broken in the postseason. He gave up three runs in fewer than three innings against the Sox, probably due to arm fatigue.

Dreams turn Into Nightmares

Just as the Yankees past is fueling their present, the Astros is draining their best chances of success.

Houston needed Brad to take the mound 21 times this year, but his 132 innings this season are almost 100 more than he has thrown in the last two seasons combined (36.2). Now it looks like he is running on fumes.

It reminds me of the 2009 WS, when the Phillies pitching was so decimated they turned to an ancient Pedro Martinez for game two.

That means that the match-ups in games four and five greatly favor the Yankees pitchers…and the Yankees hitters. But they will still need to beat either Keuchel or Verlander eventually.

Some are suggesting Keuchel will start game five. While he might win that game, coming back on short rest feels more like a panic move. That might very well prove to be the worst decision of the playoffs.

The smart money is on beating Verlander in game seven. Justin will be 35 in a month and just threw 124 pitches in game two. He might run out of gas in the middle innings of his next start and open the door for the baby bombers.

Hopefully, Judge will be one of them.