NEW YORK -- Once again, the Yankees return home to Yankee Stadium down 2-0 in a postseason series. They rallied from down 2-0 to beat the Indians in the ALDS, and now they're looking to do the same against the Astros in the ALCS. Historically, teams that lose the first two games of a best-of-seven series come back to win the series only 16.2 percent of the time.
When the Yankees take the field for ALCS Game 3 on Monday night, they'll be giving the ball to veteran left-hander CC Sabathia, who they trusted with the Game 5 start in the ALDS. And why not? Sabathia is no longer the pitcher he was in his prime, but he's reinvented himself as a cutter/changeup pitcher and has a 3.81 ERA (116 ERA+) in 57 starts and 328 1/3 innings over the last two years. If nothing else, the Yankees know Sabathia won't be overwhelmed by the moment.
"He's been that guy that we've kind of relied on. And you know that the situation hasn't been too big for him," said manager Joe Girardi during the workout day on Sunday. "But, again, I look at what [Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino] have done, and they pitched really well, too. To me, CC giving us a good five or six innings, and us scoring a few more runs."
In the past, Sabathia was a lock for six innings and would often throw seven or eight innings on a given night. He would soak up six innings even during his bad starts. Sabathia at his peak was a workhorse of the first order, but Sabathia is no longer at his peak, and getting six innings out of him in Game 3 might be took much to ask. Consider his 2017 numbers as he pitches deeper into games:
- Pitches 1-75: .243/.306/.378 against
- Pitches 76+: .258/.340/.539 against
For the first 75 pitches of his starts this season, Sabathia turned every batter he faced into Bradley Zimmer (.241/.307/.385 in 2017). Once his pitch count climbed over 75, those opposing hitters turned into his batterymate Gary Sanchez (.278/.345/.531 in 2017). At age 37, staying effective for 100-plus pitches isn't all that possible for Sabathia.
Girardi is, of course, very aware of Sabathia's issues once his pitch count climbs over 75. He yanked his erstwhile ace after 5 1/3 innings and 77 pitches in ALDS Game 2, and after 4 1/3 innings and 69 pitches in ALDS Game 5 even though Sabathia was pitching well both times. Girardi was proactive. Rather than wait for the meltdown to pull Sabathia, he pulled him before the meltdown happened and turned things over to his high-powered bullpen.
"Our bullpen is unbelievable, top to bottom. We have I think the best in the game. So it just gives you confidence to go out and do whatever you can and leave it all out there and let those guys come up and clean up the mess," said Sabathia on Sunday. "I just go out and try to be aggressive in the strike zone, throw strikes and let them swing early in the count and get deeper in the game."
Given the off-day Sunday, Sabathia's ineffectiveness after 75 pitches, and the general importance of Game 3, you can be sure Girardi will once again have a short leash with Sabathia on Monday. His bullpen is rested and falling behind 0-3 in the series has to be avoided all costs. If that means pulling an effective Sabathia after 4 1/3 effective innings and only 70-something pitches, so be it.