Tag Archives: Joe Girardi

With Gabe Kapler out, what’s next for the Phillies?

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Kapler was let go after two seasons as the Philadelphia Phillies manager

 

Under tremendous fire from their fan base after a disappointing 2019 season, the Philadelphia Phillies had to make some type of change at the management level. Today, that change was announced.

The Phillies have fired manager Gabe Kapler after two seasons as the skipper and with one year remaining on his contract. The club went 80-82 in 2018 and then finished at 81-81 in the recently completed campaign under his guidance.

Telling in the decision is that it reportedly did not come from club management in the front office, but instead was made by ownership.

Per Bob Nightengale and Chris Bumbaca of USA Today: “The decision was made by Phillies owner John Middleton, and not general manager Matt Klentak, a high-ranking Phillies executive told USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity.

Middleton then released a statement himself, as reported by ESPN:

Several years ago, I promised our loyal fans that I would do everything in my power to bring a world championship team to our city. I will never waver from that commitment. … I have decided that some changes are necessary to achieve our ultimate objective. Consequently, we will replace our manager.

Just last week, I wrote that the Phillies should bring Kapler back. I felt that, while he indeed made mistakes, the injury situation was bad enough that he should be given the final year of his contract in 2020 to see if he could push the club forward.

However, Middleton reportedly took the time to not only consider the situation in his own head, but also sought out the opinions of a number of his team’s key players. It can now be assumed that those players did not aggressively back their manager.

So, the owner made the decision that most of the problems with the 2019 Philadelphia Phillies were in the clubhouse and the dugout, and not in the front office. That much became clear when Middleton also let it be known that Klentak would “lead the search” for the new manager.

Be sure of this, while Klentak sorting through the candidates during the search and lining them up for interviews may indeed be the case, no manager will be hired at this point without input and likely final approval from Middleton.

I believe you can also be sure of another thing as well – the new manager will have some real experience in that role, unlike Kapler when he was hired.

That would leave out candidates such as former Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez and the recently retired Carlos Beltran, two hot names being bandied about to fill one of the open MLB managerial positions this off-season.

While I believe he would make a perfect candidate, I do not believe that Joe Maddon will be the man. A big-league skipper for parts of 16 seasons, Maddon has an overall 1,252-1,068 record.

He has taken his teams to the postseason eight times, and won a World Series with the 2016 Chicago Cubs. Maddon was also the Tampa Bay Rays manager when they captured the American League pennant in 2008 before dropping the Fall Classic to the Phillies.

However, Maddon is widely seen as the front-runner for the open managerial position with the Los Angeles Angels. He has history there, spending more than three decades from 1975-2005 as a player, coach, scout, minor league manager, and big-league coach.

Maddon also served previously as the Angels interim manager in both 1996 and 1999. It is hard to believe that he wouldn’t take that job, hoping to help make Mike Trout and company into legitimate contenders.

So, let’s get right to it. Who do I see as the leading contenders to become the new Philadelphia Phillies manager beginning with the 2020 season? I have three leading candidates.

Buck Showalter

Now 63 years of age, Showalter has been the manager with four different organizations: New York Yankees (1992-95), Arizona Diamondbacks (1998-2000), Texas Rangers (2003-06), and Baltimore Orioles (2010-18).

Showalter has an overall record of 1,551-1,517 and won a division title with three of the four clubs. However, his teams had winning seasons in just 10 of the 19 full years that he was at the helm, and only reached the postseason five times.

It may be in his favor that he was hired for the Orioles managerial job during the time that current Phillies club president Andy MacPhail was serving in that position with Baltimore and while Klentak was their Director of Baseball Operations.

Joe Girardi

Turning 55 years of age this coming weekend, Girardi was the man in the dugout as the New York Yankees skipper when the Bronx Bombers took out the Phillies in the 2009 World Series. He put together an overall 910-710 mark in the Big Apple over 10 seasons from 2008-17.

Girardi’s teams reached the postseason six times, and reached the American League Championship Series four times. Just two falls ago, his Yanks held a 3-2 lead in the ALCS vs Houston before the Astros rallied to win the final two games.

He also won three World Series rings as a member of the Yankees late-1990’s dynasty. Girardi was the NL Manager of the Year with the Florida Marlins in 2006 after keeping a low-budget team in Wildcard contention for much of the summer. But he was fired following that one season after clashing with owner Jeffrey Loria.

Mike Scioscia

A local product who was born in Upper Darby and attended Springfield High School and Penn State University, Scioscia will turn 61 years of age in late November.

He was the manager with the Angels for 19 seasons from 2000-2018, leading that franchise to their only World Series championship in 2002. During his tenure the Angels won six AL West Division titles, including over five of six seasons between 2004-09.

Scioscia had an overall 1,650-1, 428 record at the Angels helm and seven of his teams reached the postseason. However, despite having the game’s best player in Trout for most of that time, the Angels made the playoffs just once over his final nine years.

He had a 13-year playing career with the Los Angeles Dodgers and was the starting catcher on their 1981 World Series championship team. Scioscia was an NL All-Star in both 1989 and 1990.

Other possibilities who fit the bill of an experienced big-league manager who might be open to consideration for the position would include John Farrell, Dusty Baker, John Gibbons, Clint Hurdle, Brad Ausmus.

Whomever gets the job of trying to guide the Philadelphia Phillies back to the postseason from inside the locker room and dugout, both Klentak and MacPhail should now consider themselves as being squarely on the hot seat.

The Phillies have not only failed to reach the postseason during the four full seasons of the MacPhail-Klentak front office regime, but the minor league system is widely regarded as among the weakest in the game.

That comes after four years of their leading the draft and international signing process. If the Phillies cannot become winners on the field, and should that minor league organization not begin to display legitimate depth of talent, heads in the front office should be the next to roll.

What the Phillies should do with Gabe Kapler for 2020

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The Phillies have gone 161-163 during two seasons under manager Gabe Kapler

 

The Major League Baseball postseason begins on Tuesday night with the Washington Nationals hosting the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Wildcard Game.

For an eighth consecutive October, there will be no playoff baseball drama and excitement at Citizens Bank Park. That seemed an almost ludicrous possibility when the season opened back in late March with a home sweep of the division-rival Atlanta Braves.

This was the second year for the club under 44-year-old manager Gabe Kapler. He still has one year remaining on the three-year deal given when he signed to take over a team believed to be in the final stages of a rebuilding program for the 2018 season.

Under Kapler’s guidance, the Phillies surprisingly fought their way to the top of the National League East Division during his first summer at the helm. They were in first place as late as August 12.

From that point on, the club collapsed to a 15-30 finish over the final seven weeks of the 2018 campaign. Still, the ultimate 80-82, third place finish was better than many had expected when the season began.

Everything changed during the winter prior to the 2019 season, however. The Phillies, spurred by owner John Middleton, opened up their wallets in free agency and became more aggressive in the trade market.

The result was a far more experienced and dynamic starting lineup entering the 2019 season thanks to the additions of Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen on the outfield corners, shortstop Jean Segura, and catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Those four would join a returning core of first baseman Rhys Hoskins, center fielder Odubel Herrera, third baseman Maikel Franco, and second baseman Cesar Hernandez.

Once again, the Phillies got off to a strong start. Following an 11-4 victory over the Saint Louis Cardinals on May 29, the club sat a season-high 11 games over the .500 mark and held a 3.5 game lead in the division.

As late as June 11, the Phillies remained in first place. But then it all suddenly fell apart. Losses in 11 of 13 games were low-lighted by a seven-game losing streak.

It all coincided with a winning stretch by the defending division champion Atlanta Braves. By the time the losing skid was over, the Phillies had not only lost their division lead, but had fallen 6.5 games behind the surging Braves.

From June 8, the last time that the Phillies reached 10 games over the .500 mark, until the end of the season, the team played to a 44-54 mark.

On Independence Day, they fell out of second place for the first time, passed by a red-hot Washington Nationals club. On August 10, the New York Mets slipped past them, dropping the Phillies to fourth place.

Still, the Phillies managed to hang around in the race for the second and final National League Wildcard playoff berth. As late as September 10 they were just two games off the pace.

Unfortunately, they could never sustain enough of a winning streak to seriously push themselves back into the race. They never won five games in a row all year long, and finished up by losing nine of their final dozen games.

The 2019 Phillies spent just one day all season – September 26 – below the .500 mark. Aside from that June swoon slump, they never fell into a deep enough skid to get knocked completely out of the race. Until the final two weeks that is.

There are a number of reasons that the Phillies finished the 2019 season just one game better than the 2018 season. The first and most obvious is key injuries.

McCutchen was lost for the season as June got underway. Jay Bruce stepped into the starting lineup and provided a power lefty bat and veteran presence. Until he was injured, missing roughly 50 games over the final three months.

Herrera didn’t get injured, he injured someone else, getting himself arrested in Atlantic City following a domestic assault on his 20-year-old girlfriend. He would ultimately be suspended for the season by Major League Baseball.

His replacement, Roman Quinn, did what Quinn does. He looked dynamic until he got hurt, playing in just 44 games all year and ending the season on the IL, to no one’s surprise.

But it was the bullpen where injuries struck hardest, quickest, and most often. Tommy Hunter, David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Pat Neshek, Victor Arano, Adam Morgan, and Jerad Eickhoff would all succumb to various injuries.

The rotation was healthy for much of the year, they just were never consistently effective. Aaron Nola, the presumptive ace who was a 2018 Cy Young Award finalist, was simply very good for much of the year, pitching more like a solid #2 starter.

The rest of the rotation members enjoyed what can only be described as a roller-coaster campaign. Veteran Jake Arrieta, in the second year of a big free agent contract, was pitching like a back-end starter before going down for the year after 24 starts.

Kapler began the season using a mostly set lineup in the early going when the team was winning. But it seemed that as soon as there were struggles, he abandoned that, returning to his troubling rookie managerial season habit of a new lineup nearly every day.

Not only did Kapler come up with some new configuration on a game-by-game basis, but he also was juggling players in and out. He continued to shuffle Scott Kingery all around the diamond. And Franco just seemed to fall completely out of favor with the skipper at one point, getting sent to the minor leagues.

So, where does all of this leave Kapler? Frankly, in my opinion, there is no way that you can possibly pin all – not even most – of the Phillies struggles in 2019 on him.

Kapler managed the 25 players, a few more in September, who he had available to him on any given night the best that he could. This is where the big question comes in – is Kapler’s best good enough?

Back in mid-August, with the Phillies struggles to put together a consistent winning stretch becoming more apparent with each passing week, Kapler appeared in a revealing radio interview at local sports talk 94 WIP FM. In that interview he stated the following:

“…the life of a baseball manager is that you manage until the day that you get fired and almost everyone gets fired at some point. I guess I’d say this, I’m not going to manage scared. I didn’t play scared. I fought and gave everything I had every single day. You’re going to manage in the same way. So, if I get fired I do and it’ll be a hard day for me to deal with, but I’m not going to waste a single ounce of my mental or emotional energy thinking about myself when I could be thinking about how I could help us win tonight’s game. The players, those 25 men battling out there, those are the ones that matter.”

When I see what happened to the 2019 Phillies and think about a managerial change, one question that comes to mind is, could anyone else have done better, based on the circumstances?

Two days ago, I ran a poll at my Twitter feed, asking fans who should be the Phillies manager in 2020. I gave four choices: Kapler, Joe Girardi, Joe Maddon, or “Other”, asking fans to comment if they had a different preference.

Over 18 hours, the poll received 463 votes, and results were as follows:

The comments yielded other names: Mike Scioscia (4), Clint Hurdle (2), Dusty Wathan (2), Buck Showalter, Raul Ibanez, and even Charlie Manuel.

So, I am left to consider whether experienced big-league skippers like Girardi, Maddon, Scioscia, Hurdle, and Showalter or any of the other names could have done better this year than Kapler.

Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that they could. Every one of these men is out of a job right now, and there are any number of reasons for that fact. Mostly because they simply weren’t getting it done where they were.

Kapler rubs many Phillies fans the wrong way. They dislike what is often seen as a Pollyanna style of backing his players in public, rarely willing to criticize those players even when they repeatedly fail.

He has also battled from behind from the very beginning for many of those fans due to his physical fitness, his personal blog which described his preference for coconut oil during certain activities, and especially his heavy reliance on analytics and statistics.

I was asked frequently over the last month what I thought should happen with Kapler in 2020. I repeatedly said that I was waiting until the season was over before revealing my opinion.

The fact is that I had my own bottom line. The Phillies had to finish with a winning season in order for Kapler to return in 2020. A total collapse to a losing season and there was no doubt that I would be recommending a change.

But neither happened. The Phillies finished at .500, the only team in Major League Baseball to finish with a dead-even 81-81 record this year.

I publicly criticized Kapler’s often head-scratching lineup choices on a frequent basis over the last few months. But his “style” never bothered me the way that it seemed to bother many other fans.

When evaluating Kapler, I harken back to Terry Francona, who was fired after four years as the Phillies skipper on this very date in 2000.

The Phillies were Francona’s first managerial opportunity, just as they are Kapler’s first chance to lead from the dugout in the big-leagues. After being fired in Philly, Francona went on to become one of the best and most respected managers in Major League Baseball.

His teams won 744 times over eight seasons with the Boston Red Sox. He guided them to the playoffs five times and won two World Series titles. Francona has now won 638 games over the last seven years with the Cleveland Indians, with four playoff appearances and an AL pennant.

I think Francona was a good manager in Philadelphia, albeit a bit inexperienced. But he was one without a lot of experienced, championship-caliber talent. I see no reason that he wouldn’t have eventually won here as the talent improved.

Manuel was not embraced at first by Phillies fans, but grew to become beloved. (Keith Allison)

As Kapler gains experience with another year at the helm, could a Phillies pitching staff improved by some key off-season additions this winter and just a little more luck with health in 2020 make his perceived eccentricities more palatable to the fan base?

I remember when Manuel was first hired with the Phillies. The majority of fans wanted former Pirates and Marlins skipper Jim Leyland to get the job. They saw Manuel as some country hick who would never last in Philadelphia.

Today, Manuel is the beloved ‘Uncle Charlie’, the man who guided the Phillies to five consecutive NL East titles, two National League pennants, and the 2008 World Series championship. He is a Wall of Famer who will be popular with fans until the day he dies and beyond.

Now, I don’t know whether Gabe Kapler will ever accumulate the kind of records that either Francona or Manuel have in the future. What I do know is that fans were far too quick to go negative on those two managers.

This isn’t going to be a popular opinion, based on what I am reading on social media and hearing on the radio. But emotions aside, I don’t think that any of the alternative names above can necessarily be counted on to do a better job.

I think that Kapler should come back for the 2020 season as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. I firmly believe that he does everything within his power to win every game.

It appears to me that he does everything in his power to keep his players looking ahead. I have no problem whatsoever with his trying to keep the atmosphere as positive as possible, no matter the circumstances.

Kapler has one year left on his contract. See how things go next year. Give him the final year on his deal to see if he can be a part of turning things around.

Now, if in the coming days, the Phillies decide to go in another direction, that is fine. But the real problems with the organization lie higher on the food chain for me. If they simply fire the manager without making changes higher up, nothing will really change as far as long-term contention.

Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame to honor Phillies bench coach Rob Thomson

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Thomson (L) joined the Phillies as Gabe Kapler’s bench coach for 2018

A member of the Philadelphia Phillies organization was named today as one of four men who will be honored with induction to the Hall of Fame this coming summer.

That would be the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame, and the honoree will be Phillies bench coach Rob Thomson.
Joining Thomson will be the current Milwaukee Brewers vice-president of baseball projects Gordon Ash, who was the former general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. Ash had grown through the Toronto organization beginning with a job in their ticket department when the club was an expansion team back in 1978.
The other two honorees this year will be former players Jason Bay and Ryan Dempster.
Bay was the 2004 NL Rookie of the Year with the Pittsburgh Pirates. During an 11-year career with five clubs from 2003-13 he became a 3x all-star. He won a Silver Slugger with the Boston Red Sox in 2009.
Dempster had a 16-year big-league career with five clubs, including nine seasons with the Chicago Cubs. He won 132 games and was a 2x all-star, finishing sixth in the 2008 NL Cy Young Award voting.
Scott Crawford, the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s director of operations, described the four honorees:
Each of this year’s inductees is a proud Canadian that has had a tremendous impact on baseball in this country. Jason Bay and Ryan Dempster were major league all-stars and are two of the most successful Canadian players of all-time, while Rob Thomson and Gord Ash have seven World Series rings between them and are highly respected in the professional baseball community.
Thomson was a third baseman in the Detroit Tigers organization back in the mid-1980’s. Following his playing career, Thomson became a coach in Detroit’s minor league system.
Then in 1990, Thomson was hired by the New York Yankees for a role in their minor league system. He would rise through the Yankees system to become their director of player development, and then eventually joined the big-league coaching staff.
Prior to the 2008 season, Thomson was named the bench coach by manager Joe Girardi. Thomson would also serve as the Yankees third base coach for six seasons, including during the 2009 World Series victory over the Phillies.
In December 2017, Thomson was hired as new manager Gabe Kapler‘s bench coach with the Phillies. He served in that role last season and will return to the dugout for the 2019 campaign as well.
I wrote about Thomson’s contributions last August here at Phillies Nation. In that piece, I quoted Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman as reported originally by NBC Sports Philly’s Jim Salisbury“He’s tough. He will be brutally honest. He’ll say what a player needs to hear, not necessarily what a player wants to hear. And he’ll always relate well to players because he always has their best interest at heart. The Phillies got one of the best.”
On being notified of his honor, Thomson made the following statement per the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame website:
I am humbled and honoured to be inducted into Canada’s Baseball Hall of Fame! Growing up in Corunna, Ontario, I would have never dreamt that such an honour would be bestowed onto me. Congratulations to Gord, Ryan and Jason! My Canadian pride will be shining at its brightest as I get inducted on the same day with three fellow Canadians who have achieved so many fantastic things in our great sport. I look forward to June 15th to not only share the day with Gord, Ryan and Jason but also with my family and many people that have touched my life and continue to do so!
Kapler and the Phillies are fortunate to have a man with such a strong baseball pedigree helping in their locker room and dugout. Now it can be said that they have a Hall of Famer in that role. The official ceremony honoring Thomson and the others will take place on June 15 at the Hall of Fame ground in St. Mary’s, Ontario.

Yankees find life as C.C. Sabathia turns back the clock

Sabathia gem helps cut Yankees ALCS deficit in half

The New York Yankees were in desperate shape entering Game Three of the 2017 American League Championship Series.

The Yanks trailed the Houston Astros by two games to none in the best-of-seven series. A loss back home in the Bronx would put them in an almost impossible 3-0 hole.

Manager Joe Girardi handed the ball to 37-year old, 17-year veteran C.C. Sabathia for the pivotal starting assignment on the mound.

Sabathia delivered, and then some. He would shut out the tough Houston lineup for six innings over which he threw 99 pitches. The big lefty surrendered just three hits, walked four, and struck out five batters in what he described as a “smoke and mirrors” performance per MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch.

Despite his age, there is no one his team would have wanted more in that position. Per Hoch, Sabathia is now 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts following a Yankees loss during the 2017 regular season and postseason.

“Obviously you want to go out and have a good performance in the playoffs and give us a chance to get back in the series. Hopefully we did that tonight. We can come out tomorrow, swing the bats and score some more runs.” ~ Sabathia, per Hoch

Swing the bats they did last night as well. The Bronx Bombers came out bombing early and often against Houston starter Charlie Morton. The veteran right-hander yielded seven earned runs on six hits and two walks over just 3.2 innings of work.

Todd Frazier got it started in the bottom of the second inning. The former Little League World Series hero reached out and poked a three-run homer just over the right field wall. That blast got the offense rolling in what would become an eventual 8-1 Yankees victory.

For all of the offensive fireworks that followed, including yet another prodigious home run from mammoth rookie Aaron Judge, it was the work of Sabathia in keeping Houston’s own potent offense in check that would make the biggest difference.

With the left-hander taking the hill against his club, Houston skipper A.J. Hinch loaded his lineup with right-handed hitters. Hinch had Evan Gattis and Cameron Maybin take the places of Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. He also moved shortstop Alex Bregman up into the two-hole in the batting order.

None of it mattered in the end. Maybin delivered a hit, but it was one of only four that the Houston order would generate on the night against Sabathia and a trio of Yankees relievers.

He comes up big for us when we need him,’’ said outfielder Brett Gardner per Mark Herrmann for Newsday. “He’s a big-game pitcher. He might not have the velocity that he used to have, but he’s a better pitcher and has better command than he’s had. He knows what he’s doing out there. We’re lucky to have him on our side.”

SABATHIA’S BIG LEAGUE HISTORY

Sabathia was the first round pick of the Cleveland Indians all the way back in the 1998 MLB Draft at 20th overall. Just three years later he was in Cleveland, winning 17 games as a 20-year old and finishing as the AL Rookie of the Year runner-up to a legend named Ichiro Suzuki.

In parts of eight seasons with the Tribe, Sabathia amassed a 106-71 record. He was the 2007 American League Cy Young Award winner, as well as a three-time AL All-Star.


With Sabathia headed for free agency, the Indians dealt him to the Milwaukee Brewers at the 2008 trade deadline. He went 11-2 for the Brew Crew, helping them to the playoffs, and then entered free agency.


Entering his age 28 season, an ace-caliber starting pitcher, Sabathia was one of the most coveted free agents on the market. He received a huge nine-year, $202 million dollar contract from the Yankees. That deal expires following this season.




With the Yankees, Sabathia has added on another 120 victories to his personal career win column. He also has three more AL All-Star Game nods, has finished in the top four of the AL Cy Young voting three times, and helped lead New York to their last World Series championship in 2009.

GEM CUTS YANKS DEFICIT IN HALF


We wanted him on the mound tonight,” Girardi said per Peter Botte of the New York Daily News. “We thought we had the right guy on the mound. Six innings, just an outstanding effort. Couldn’t ask for anything more.

Adam Warren followed Sabathia, tossing a pair of shutout innings. The only Houston offense was generated off Dellin Betances in the top of the 9th inning, but Tommy Kahnle came in to shut the Astros down and close out the victory.

The turn-back-the-clock Sabathia win cuts the Yankees deficit to 2-1 now, with the next two games slated for Tuesday and Wednesday. Those will once again take place in the postseason hotbed of Yankee Stadium.

On Tuesday for a late afternoon 5pm EDT start, Girardi will send Sonny Gray to the mound. Hinch will go with Lance McCullers in Game Four. Both managers will be hoping for a performance as clutch as the one delivered by Sabathia on Monday night.

ALCS: Houston Astros vs New York Yankees preview and prediction

Judge (top), Altuve lead teams into ALCS

The Houston Astros are right where most baseball pundits thought they would be when the 2017 MLB postseason began. The club will begin play in the American League Championship Series beginning on Friday night.

The Astros finished 101-61, the second best record in the American League. The surprise is that they will be opening this ALCS at home in Minute Maid Park.

The vast majority of those pundits, myself included, believed that Houston would be traveling to Cleveland to face the Indians, who won 102 games, the best record in the American League.

However, the Tribe were stunned in the ALDS by the New York Yankees. That was after favored Cleveland had jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the series.

Game Three was a nail-biting 1-0 affair. With a chance to sweep, the Indians had two runners on and two out in the 9th inning. But Carlos Santana’s drive to deep left-center field was hauled in by Aaron Hicks, and the Yanks stayed alive.

New York then tied the series up behind a gem from young ace Luis Severino, and finished the comeback with Brett Gardner’s huge two-out, two-run single in the top of the 9th inning of Game Five.

So it will be the Astros hosting those Yankees for the first two games. For Houston, this will mark the franchise first ALCS appearance. The club moved from the NL Central to the AL West for the 2013 season.

As members of the National League, the Astros won a half-dozen division crowns, making four appearances in the NLCS. They won just a single National League pennant in that time, going on to suffer a sweep at the hands of the Chicago White Sox in the 2005 World Series.

The Yankees went 91-71 to capture the top AL Wildcard playoff berth this season. They spotted the Minnesota Twins a 3-run first inning, and came roaring back to win that AL Wildcard Game by an 8-4 score. That led to the drama against Cleveland.

Houston captured their ALDS by 3-1 over the Boston Red Sox. The Astros scored three times over the final two innings, then held on at Fenway Park for a tough 5-4 victory in Game Four to seal the deal.

Both managers, Houston’s A.J. Hinch and the Yankees Joe Girardi, were big league backup journeyman catchers.

Hinch played seven seasons from 1998-2004 with seven different teams. He was with Oakland from 1998-2000, but did not appear in the 2000 ALDS in which the A’s were edged out 3-2 by the Yankees.

Girardi spent 15 MLB seasons spread across four organizations, with five of those coming as what would be considered the starting catcher. He won two World Series, with the Yankees in 1998 and 1999.

As a manager, Girardi guided New York to a victory in the 2009 World Series. The club has won three AL East crowns under his watch, but none since 2012. His Yankees teams have now come in second place in three of the last four seasons.

This is Hinch’s third year at the helm in Houston. He skippered the Arizona Diamondbacks for parts of two earlier seasons. This was the club’s first division crown in the American League, and so obviously the first under Hinch.

The Houston lineup is led by AL MVP candidate Jose Altuve.  The diminutive second baseman went 8-11 with five runs scored over the first three games of the ALDS, including a three-homer performance in the opener. He hit for a .346/.410/.547 slash in the regular season, with 24 homers and a team-high 32 steals.

The left-side infield combo of shortstop Carlos Correa and third baseman Alex Bregman is one of the youngest and most talented in all of baseball. Center fielder George Springer led Houston with 34 home runs and tied Altuve for the team lead with 112 runs scored.

In addition to their young talent, the Astros have a bevy of savvy veterans, many of whom bring playoff experience. The group includes Marwin Gonzalez, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Evan Gattis, Cameron Maybe, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick.

The Yankees also have a group of talented youngsters, including the lead AL Rookie of the Year contender in right fielder Aaron Judge. His prodigious power produced 52 home runs this year. Judge also led the team with 128 runs scored and 114 RBI.

Catcher Gary Sanchez slammed 33 homers during the season. He and slugging young first baseman Greg Bird each slammed a pair of ALDS home runs. The middle infield of second baseman Starlin Castro and shortstop Didi Gregorius is strong defensively, and both can hit, including with power.

There is plenty of veteran support in the Yankees lineup and dugout as well. Gardner, Hicks, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Holliday, Chase Headley, and Todd Frazier providing that experience and leadership.

Both Girardi and Hinch have chosen to go with an extra pitcher on their ALCS rosters, carrying a dozen arms apiece. This is a clear nod to the possibility of needing to utilize the “bullpenning” trend that has taken Major League Baseball by storm in the postseason.

Girardi is giving the ball to Masahiro Tanaka to take the mound for the opener, with Hinch opting for lefty Dallas Keuchel.

The 28-year old Tanaka won 13 games during the regular season. It was his brilliant Game Three outing that started the Yankees ALDS comeback. He shut the Indians out on three hits over seven innings in that start, striking out seven and allowing just one walk.

Keuchel was the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner. The 29-year old won 14 games this season despite missing most of June and July to injury. Seven of his last nine regular season outings were of the Quality Start variety. He then won Game Two of the ALDS vs Boston with 5.2 strong innings.

Two years ago, it was Tanaka vs Keuchel when these same two clubs met in the AL Wildcard Game. In that one, Keuchel got the better with a brilliant outing, shutting the Yankees out on three hits over six innings in which he struck out seven. The Astros won 3-0 to advance.

Game Two will feature a pair of aces at opposite ends of the age and experience poles. The 23-year old Severino will go for New York. He will face 34-year old veteran trade deadline acquisition Justin Verlander for Houston.

Back in the Bronx for Game Three, the managers have announced a battle of veterans. 33-year old right-hander Charlie Morton is scheduled to go for Houston against 37-year old lefty C.C. Sabathia for the Yanks.

Girardi has already announced that Sonny Gray will be his Game Four starter. Hinch has not tipped his hand as yet for that game, which won’t take place until next Tuesday. That start likely will go to one from among a trio of righties: Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, or Brad Peacock, depending on their usage out of the bullpen.

The Yankee skipper wouldn’t mind at all if this turned into a battle of the bullpens. He can call on one of the game’s best and deepest with right-handers Dellin Batances, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, Adam Warren, Jordan Montgomery, and David Robertson. From the left-side he can bring Jaime Garcia and his fireballing closer Aroldis Chapman.

Hinch will try to mix-and-match with right-handers Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Luke Gregerson, Joe Musgrave, and closer Ken Giles. He could also call on any of those potential Game Four starters listed previously. From the left side it’s only Francisco Liriano available, though Keuchel could conceivably see action later in the series.

These two ball clubs met seven times during the regular season. Houston captured five of the seven. The Astros won three of four at Yankee Stadium mid-May, then two of three in Houston as June turned to July.

Each of the Yankees wins this year over the Astros came when the Bronx Bombers opened up offensively. They scored 11 and 13 runs respectively in those two victories. New York scored just 13 runs in the five Houston victories.

I underestimated the Yankees against the Indians. I am not doing the same thing again – but I am once again picking against them. I am calling it Astros in six games. This should be an exciting series, one that I believe Houston will find enough in to advance to only the second World Series appearance in franchise history.