On Wednesday night, in a quick turnaround Game 1 of the ALCS in Houston, the Yankees didn’t cash in on a few early opportunities against Justin Verlander, ultimately didn’t hit much at all, and were sunk by a few incorrectly-pressed relief buttons in the middle innings.
Most fans expected a loss out of the Verlander/Jameson Taillon battle, but those fans resigned to defeat probably thought a bludgeoning was coming rather than a rerun of the past seven years of Yankees-Astros dogfights.
As usual in Houston, neither team hit all that much, but Houston delivered the crucial homers and won the coin flip contest. Both teams went 0-for-4 with RISP. Both teams left the yard (Yankees twice, Astros three times).
But, very crucially, the Houston Astros struck out two times in this nine-inning game against Yankee pitching. The Yankees? They went down 17 times, a losing formula no matter what team’s stalking you from the other dugout.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, but the men batting fifth and sixth in Wednesday’s lineup were the worst offenders: Josh Donaldson (no sympathy) and Matt Carpenter (all the sympathy in the world, but…).
Yankees must replace Matt Carpenter, Josh Donaldson for ALCS Game 2
If Aaron Boone must use Donaldson, and prefers him to Isiah Kiner-Falefa at third (an unfortunate choice, either way you slice it), then he at least must move the defense-first veteran out of the five spot and into the eight hole. Besides bat-flipping a long single in Game 1 of the ALDS, he’s 3-for-18 otherwise and has been without pop. If the Yankees go on to lose this series, his feckless, Todd Frazier-esque strikeouts against Verlander (with two on in the first and runners on second and third with one out in the third) will be the lingering image of the opener.
All season long, Donaldson has mostly been deficient, but has flown under the radar because of his veteran pedigree and power potential. No longer.
Carpenter, on the other hand, fought valiantly to get back in the lineup after a superstar summer was cut short by a foot fracture. Fans — and, apparently, the front office — are wholly focused on the slugger having a redemptive moment. Sadly, he just isn’t ready, striking out in all six playoff at-bats thus far. His timing has left him. His swing isn’t right. The Yankees’ plan to test him out in the four-game Texas series before the ALDS seemed like a wise one, but it never came to fruition. And so … here he is, batting in two spotlight scenarios in Game 1 of a grudge match with the Astros, hardly in midseason form.
A full-strength Carpenter would be a massive win for the Yankees, but there’s no telling when he’ll arrive. Best to save his potential bullets for another pinch-hitting appearance and go with a surer thing against Framber Valdez.
Donaldson stays at third for defensive purposes, but bats eighth. Giancarlo Stanton stays in left. Oswald Peraza plays short. Oswaldo Cabrera at DH.
Too extreme for the Yankees? Fine. Cabrera in left, Stanton at DH, IKF at short. Just make sure Donaldson moves down and Carpenter’s replaced by someone who’s ready.
God, where’s Andrew Benintendi’s intact wrist when you need it?