CC Sabathia came up big in Game 3, shutting out the Astros for six innings in a blowout win for the Yankees, so they’ll turn back to the 37-year-old lefty with the season on the line. Sabathia has a mediocre 4.22 ERA in 123 innings for his postseason career, but he didn’t pitch in the playoffs from 2013-2016. He mostly struggled in two ALDS starts against the Indians before shutting down Houston on Monday, and odds are Joe Girardi will be monitoring him very closely the second time through the lineup. Sabathia hasn’t thrown 100 pitches in a game since August and has done so just once since mid-June. He’s here for a good time, not a long time.
Of course, it’s all relative. In a postseason full of short hooks for starters and heavy workloads for relievers, this will almost surely be an all-hands-on-deck game for A.J. Hinch and the Astros. They’ve chosen Charlie Morton to take the mound first after using Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 and Justin Verlander in Game 6, but Morton gave up seven runs to the Yankees in Game 3 and will be on the shortest of leashes. Morton is on full rest after matching up with Sabathia previously, and Hinch noted that “he’s been one of the unluckiest pitchers in the postseason” and “has not been hit hard.” And he’s right, but the Astros can’t really afford to show a lot of patience hoping for that luck to even out tonight. It’ll be Johnny Wholestaff.
PECOTA odds of winning: 62% Astros, 38% Yankees
Projected Starting Lineups
|Astros vs. Sabathia (L)||Yankees vs. Morton (R)|
|George Springer (R), CF||Brett Gardner (L), LF|
|Alex Bregman (R), 3B||Aaron Judge (R), RF|
|Jose Altuve (R), 2B||Didi Gregorius (L), SS|
|Carlos Correa (R), SS||Gary Sanchez (R), C|
|Yulieski Gurriel (R), 1B||Greg Bird (L), 1B|
|Evan Gattis (R), DH||Starlin Castro (R), 2B|
|Brian McCann (L), C||Aaron Hicks (S), CF|
|Marwin Gonzalez (S), LF||Todd Frazier (R), 3B|
|Josh Reddick (L), RF||Chase Headley (S), DH|
For many managers in the playoffs, mapping out bullpen usage for a given game is about which arms are fresh and which arms are off limits, but for Hinch tonight it’ll be more about which arms—if any—he has some trust in. Thanks to Verlander’s seven-inning gem last night, the Astros used only two relievers, with Brad Peacock throwing 16 pitches and Ken Giles throwing 23 pitches. As the manager told reporters afterward: “You’re going to see a game with everyone available, obviously. Probably not Verlander, but he’s superhuman, so we’ll see how he shows up tomorrow.”
If this were the early stages of the playoffs, Hinch would likely try to get 4-5 innings out of Morton and then turn the rest of the game over to the bullpen quartet of Giles, Chris Devenski, Will Harris, and Joe Musgrove, but he’s lost faith in all four. So what does that leave? Lance McCullers is the obvious answer, given that he could throw multiple innings. Keuchel in relief shouldn’t be ruled out, particularly after Hinch used Verlander out of the bullpen at Fenway Park. And really, Verlander probably can’t even be ruled out. It’ll be fascinating to watch a manager scared of using nearly everyone in his bullpen try to piece together 27 outs with a starter unlikely to get more than 12-15.
For the Yankees, Chad Green is likely unavailable after throwing 38 pitches last night. David Robertson threw just 12 pitches in his Game 6 appearance, but he coughed up four runs without recording an out and could be lower than usual in the bullpen hierarchy tonight. Expect to see Girardi lean very heavily on Tommy Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman, perhaps for two innings apiece, with Robertson as a backup plan and Adam Warren—or maybe even Sonny Gray—as an emergency option.
Rarely does a Game 7 go as expected, but on paper at least there are two clear paths to victory for the Astros. One involves the power-packed lineup doing early damage against Sabathia, while the other involves Hinch removing Morton at the right time before piecing together 12-15 outs from a bullpen that’s seemingly on the verge of falling apart. For better or worse, Hinch has a chance to put his stamp all over this game, although Girardi going out-by-out with a gaggle of relievers is never out of the question either.
New York likely has at least a bit more faith in Sabathia than Houston does in Morton, and there’s no doubt that the Yankees trust their bullpen much more than the Astros do at this point. However, the Astros are at home and, Game 3 aside, their lineup seems very capable of knocking Sabathia around to the point that late-game bullpen usage becomes a secondary story. PECOTA views the Astros as sizable favorites, but PECOTA also doesn’t realize how little faith Hinch currently has in what had been a good bullpen.