If that image scared you, good. It should. It scares the hell out of me. C.C. Sabathia is arguably the best left-handed starter in the majors. He's absolutely in the top three. This is the man the Yankees will face tonight at 6:30. He has filthy stuff (209 Ks in 241 innings this season), he has impeccable control (only 37 walks in 241 innings). He's big, he's strong, he pitches deep into games (7.09 innings per start), and he has three legit out pitches. Did I mention he's a lefty? The Yanks did not fare well against lefties this year.
The typical Yankee approach to dominant starting pitching is patience. Most of today's pitchers can't go deep into games. Sabathia averaged 105 pitches per start this year. AVERAGED. For a little perspective, Mike Mussina threw 105 pitches once in 27 starts this year. It's not going to be easy to get his pitch count up. It's not going to be easy to get into the middle of the bullpen, where the Yanks can really do damage. It's not going to be easy to win this game.How the Yankees can win:
Earlier in the week, I wrote a long post about the keys to winning playoff baseball. Those keys are even more important in game 1s. The Yankees need to take advantage of every opportunity, and that means moving runners over, putting runners in motion and playing an aggressive style in general.
Their approach to Sabathia is an interesting dilemma. The stats say you have to get to CC early in the count. His batting average against drops significantly with every pitch he throws in the count. Obviously, this goes against the Yankee offensive philosophy, and I think it would be a mistake for most of the Yankees to change their approach. Damon, Jeter, Abreu, A-Rod and Posada are good enough to be able to foul off tough pitches, and work deep into counts to wear Sabathia down. Matsui, Cano, Melky and Doug are not. Those guys should be going up there looking for that first fastball and jump all over it. If Sabathia gets ahead of those guys, they're as good as done. He'll expand the zone, and they will chase.
On the other side of the ball, the Yankees need Wang to be Wang. They need him to pound the ball low in the zone, get his ground balls, and get through the sixth with a lead. It sounds simple, because it is. Wang is the ace of this staff, he's gritty, and he can be dominant. If he doesn't have his best stuff, he'll make adjustments and rely on his slider more than usual. The Yankee infield defense needs to be solid, expect to see between 10-15 ground balls, the Bombers can't kick the ball around.How the Yankees can lose:
No matter what the Yankees do, C.C. Sabathia could shut them down. He's capable of putting 8 or 9 zeros on the scoreboard, there isn't much you can do to counter an absolutely dominant performance by the opposing pitcher. If the Yanks are content to sit around and wait for the three-run bomb or big inning, it could be a long wait.My biggest fear:
Losing this game isn't my biggest fear. I think the Yanks will probably split these games in Cleveland. My biggest fear is that we have a repeat of last season's playoff performance. The Yankees were absolutely ready to play game 1 of the series against the Tigers. They came out and completely outclassed Detroit. Then, they started believing their own hype. The passion was gone after game 1. I think the youth on this team will provide the energy, but this is still a possibility. The Yanks have played with their backs against the wall since May, it's kept them sharp, it's kept them hungry and it's kept them aggressive. They can't let a big win tonight take that away from them.
I have a special treat for tonight's live blog. I'll get the post up about a half hour before the game, so if you're watching stop by and leave your thoughts in the comments.