Prior to Game 5 of the ALDS, Jameson Taillon’s last start was so long ago that Aroldis Chapman was still on the Yankees’ roster. In fact, Chapman was the winning pitcher in that game, which the Yankees won in Texas on Oct. 4.
Thirteen days isn’t a very long time in the grand scheme of life, but in baseball, it may as well be an eternity. Taillon has pitched since then, diving headfirst into a Game 2 relief appearance, but it went about as poorly as it could have. Bad luck was admittedly a huge part of it — Taillon faced three batters and gave up three hits, the first two left the bat at 76.3 and 58.9 miles per hour, respectively — but the fact remains that the last taste Taillon had in his mouth after pitching was a sour one.
“He’s such a pro,” Aaron Boone said in praise of Taillon’s mental fortitude. “He’s pitched, I feel like, a handful of really big games for us over the last couple years.”
Tasked with trying to pitch the Yankees to another ALCS date with the Astros, Taillon was given the biggest assignment of his baseball life on Monday. He finished the regular season somewhat uneasily, running a 4.21 ERA in his final 12 starts. Three of those featured at least four earned runs, though there were also four starts where he gave the Yankees seven innings.
A repeat of that in Game 5 would earn the right-hander his own statue on River Avenue.
“He could definitely give us length,” Boone said. “But I would probably be fairly aggressive with everyone we have down there today depending on how the game is going.”
When Taillon got the nod for Game 5, it was with the expectation that he’d ideally go twice through the order. The Yankees would have also taken one clean trip through the order without allowing a run, as both Nestor Cortes and Domingo German can follow him and provide some length. Lou Trivino and Jonathan Loaisiga both rested in Game 4, and Wandy Peralta apparently will pitch until his arm is dangling.
Asked specifically about German, who has been dormant since the regular season, Boone hinted that he could be in line to start Game 1 of the ALCS.
“Next series, extra innings,” Boone said of potential German usage. “The right spot may pop up, where you’ve used a lot of guys. He’s almost been the guy a couple times. He was up for [Luis Severino] potentially early the other day.”
Looking ahead even more, Boone noted that injured reliever Ron Marinaccio would be “in play” should the team advance to the next round, saying that “there would be a conversation” about it. Marinaccio (stress reaction in his shin) and Frankie Montas (shoulder inflammation) have both faced live hitters in recent days. Prior to him being left off the ALDS roster, Boone said that Montas could be used in some sort of altered role during the postseason, but is not being considered as a traditional starter.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa was held out of the starting lineup on Monday for the second consecutive day. Oswaldo Cabrera got the start at shortstop again. Kiner-Falefa’s defensive blunders contributed heavily to the Yankees’ loss in Game 3, and the fact that they’ve trusted the rookie utilityman Cabrera at the infield’s most important decision says a lot about Kiner-Falefa’s current standing.
“He’ll get back in there,” Boone assured, sending a chill down several fan’s spines. “I mean, he’s not in there [Monday]. So there’s nothing I’m gonna see [in Game 5]. I love his makeup and his toughness, and he’s a great teammate. he’ll be ready to go and ready for the opportunity.”
The Yankees’ roster will surely look a lot different if they see the ALCS. In addition to the potential bullpen reinforcements, Andrew Benintendi (wrist inflammation) and DJ LeMahieu (foot fracture) could get some play as well. Boone was obviously non-committal, but some elementary reading of body language and tone makes both players still seem like long shots.
“I don’t know about Benny yet. We’ll see. He had a shot in his wrist the other day. He was letting that calm down. He was getting some residual pain and stuff. He’s hit off velo.”
As for LeMahieu, the skipper said, “We’ll see. We’ll get through tonight and have those conversations. He’s doing all right.”
Much has been made of Major League Baseball’s new playoff format. Three 100-win teams have already lost, and the 106-win Astros’ win over the Mariners was certainly not without drama. Boone was questioned about the format, which gave his team a bye, but also matched them up with a Cleveland team that had a series to get hot.
“Well, I think by definition, just adding more teams to the mix makes it more difficult of a road,” Boone said. “Especially in baseball, you know, probably a little bit more so than other sports, any team can win on a given day.”
As for the bye, which went to the top two seeds in each league, Boone said he liked that his team was rewarded for being in that upper echelon.
“That said, with this new format, I like the fact that it’s tried to put a premium on the teams that really excelled over the course of 162. Tried to at least create a little advantage there. But you know, our job is to get ready to try and win a ballgame tonight and win a series, and that’s where our focus is and not what it means. How you got here to this point doesn’t really matter.”