ALDS Game 1: Savages wear down Twins

I’m tired after this one too.

This one was a lot more stressful than the final score indicates, right? The Yankees may have won by six, but this was a nail biter for the first five or six innings. The Twins jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, and after blowing it to give the Yankees a 3-2 advantage, tied it again at 3. It looked like this was shaping up to be one of those tight high scoring affairs that we saw in Minnesota this summer, but thankfully our hearts were spared.

The offense started to pull away against Minnesota’s bullpen thanks to home runs from DJ LeMahieu and Brett Gardner. LeMahieu also broke the game wide open with a bases clearing double in the 7th inning. Oh, James Paxton pitched in this one too and did respectably. The final score: 10-4. On to the takeaways:

It’s DJ LeMahieu’s world and we’re living in it. Tonight’s game didn’t start off all that great for LeMahieu, but gosh did he make up for it.

Here’s the poor start for DJ: In the first inning, he struck out against Twins’ starter José Berríos. Then, in the second, it got ugly:

Fortunately, James Paxton bailed him out of this one. He induced an inning ending 5-4-3 double play to escape further trouble.

After that, LeMahieu started cooking. He led off the third inning with a bloop single and came around to score on Edwin Encarnación’s RBI double, which made it 2-1 Twins at the time.

LeMahieu struck out again in the fourth, but rebounded two innings later:

That solo shot increased the Yankees’ lead to 6-4. Later, with the score 7-4 and the game still feeling tight, LeMahieu let everyone exhale:

10-4. LeMahieu’s line: 3-for-5, 4 RBIs, a double, and a homer. Not bad, not bad at all.

It wasn’t just LeMahieu — Gleyber Torres and the rest of the offense are a bunch of savages too. The lineup’s first four hitters were excellent today, but there were contributions all around this evening. First, a glance at spots one through four:

We already touched on LeMahieu. Aaron Judge was on base three of four times and scored twice, though his biggest highlights in tonight’s game were on the defensive side of the field. He made two excellent diving catches to slow down Minnesota’s offense.

Shortly after LeMahieu homered in the sixth, Brett Gardner got in on the action himself:

It’s amazing how he’s turned into a power hitter this year.

And then there’s Edwin Encarnación, who immediately put to bed any health concerns. Obviously, the Yankees were confident enough to roster him, let alone bat him clean up tonight.

EE rewarded the team’s faith right away with a rocket double in the first inning. That nearly led to a run, though Minnesota barely escape on a swinging bunt groundout by Giancarlo Stanton. But, later, Encarnación opened the scoring for the Yankees with an RBI double in the third.

Hitters five through nine only had one hit — Gleyber Torres’ tie-breaking two-run double in the fifth that put the Yankees up for good.

In fairness, the latter half of the lineup contributed by working Twins’ pitchers hard. They reached base via free pass six times, three for Stanton alone.

James Paxton had a solid playoff debut. The Big Maple’s final line wasn’t pretty, but all things considered, his first playoff start was a success. Minnesota’s lineup is a bear to deal with, and that he allowed 3 runs in 4 2/3 innings is no small feat.

In spite of a first inning solo homer allowed to Jorge Polanco, you could tell Paxton was sharp from the start. He struck out 3 in that first frame and 8 overall while generating 12 whiffs on 86 pitches. Let’s circle back to Polanco’s dinger for a second though, which gave the Twins a quick 1-0 advantage.

Polanco ambushed a 97.7 MPH four-seamer for the homer. Can’t say I expected that. Earlier this week, I had noted how poorly Polanco hits from the right side of the plate. So of course, Polanco also got a clutch hit against Paxton in the fifth inning that knocked him out of the game: a two-out RBI single that tied the score at 3. That time, Polanco looped a knuckle curve into left field for the hit. Go figure.

Paxton’s only other mistake of the night was against Nelson Cruz.

It’s no shame to get beat by Cruz, of course. He’s very, very tough to get out.

Obviously, I’d love to have seen Paxton shove against Minnesota, but that’s a tall task against that lineup. More importantly, it didn’t look like Paxton was rattled one bit. He looked composed throughout the entire outing.

Aaron Boone was aggressive with his bullpen. So, how did everyone feel about Boone’s managing tonight? After all, we haven’t seen him put to the test on in-game decisions for at least a month or so now. The division had been all but locked up for September. Here were the big moves:

  • Brought in Adam Ottavino to face Nelson Cruz in the fifth inning with two on and two out. The score was 3-3 at the time.
  • After Ottavino walked Cruz, Boone summoned Tommy Kahnle to face Eddie Rosario. Kahnle retired Rosario on a fly out.
  • In the sixth, Kahnle was yanked with one on and one out. The Yankees had a 5-3 lead to start the frame, but Kahnle allowed a leadoff homer to Miguel Sanó to cut the lead to one. After a walk and a strikeout, in came Chad Green.
  • Green pitched got the next two outs and was done. Zack Britton pitched a clean 7th to hold onto a 7-4 lead.

My two cents: I liked the Ottavino move. He’s the Yankees’ best option to retire Cruz in big spots. Yes, he walked him, but not before Cruz spit on a bunch of nasty sliders. I don’t love the fact that he was burned after just one batter, but I also understand not wanting him to face the lefty in Rosario.

I also liked that he didn’t push things with Kahnle, who didn’t look all that great in September anyway. Also, I expected Green to pitch the seventh, but no dice. That would have allowed Britton to stay in the ‘pen until the 8th.

Before LeMahieu’s double, it got a little scary when we saw JA Happ warming for the eighth inning with a three run lead. It was no certainty that Britton would pitch a second inning. Thankfully, the insurance runs allowed the Yankees to exhale and use Happ.

Leftovers

  • Cameron Maybin pinch ran for Giancarlo Stanton in the 7th. Maybin stole second and later stole third on a double steal with Gleyber Torres trailing. Stanton’s fine by the way — G’s a good fielder generally speaking, but given his health this season and Maybin’s skills, the move made sense.
  • So, about that Twins’ bullpen. They allowed 7 runs in 5 innings tonight, though they really only pitched one of their good relievers, Tyler Duffey. Part of that was Rocco Baldelli’s fault, who oddly brought in Zack Littell to start the fifth in a 3-3 game. He walked Judge and plunked Gardner and was promptly pulled. Both of those runs were inherited by Duffey and came around to score.
  • Happ put up a zero in the eighth inning and Aroldis Chapman pitched a clean ninth frame in a non-save situation.

That was a long one, huh? Worth it though! The Yankees lead the best of 5 series 1-0. These two sides are right back at it tomorrow at 5:07pm in the Bronx.

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9 Comments

  1. RetroRob

    No issues with the Ottavino move. I was mildly surprised, but it does show how aggressive the Yankees and Boone will be with their bullpen. Usage patterns will be a little different than what we saw during the regular season.

    Ottavino’s OPS was 200 points higher facing lefties vs. righties. Not to say he’s bad against lefties, but his .361 OBP, and 753 OPS vs lefties indicates he’s no sure out either. Rosario is a tough lefty, whose quick swing is a short ride from a ball sailing over the porch in right. Kahnle’s OPS is about 80 points lower than Otto’s vs. lefty batters. Is that huge? No, but it’s not insignificant. Boone’s usage indicates he plans to maximize every advantage his bullpen offers in this short series.

    The good part is all the relievers were rested coming in, and none of them threw game one. They’re all available for game 2, which will be followed by a rest day. We expected to see the bullpen deployed heavily, and that’s what we got.

  2. Brian

    I feel like we undersell how good judge was tonight in the field. And other than his arm we always do. He’s a really good defender! Those were clutch dives

    • CountryClub

      Via Katie Sharp: Judge and Bellinger had the most defensive runs saved this year (19) for RFers. Just did it in 136 less innings.

  3. Dan A.

    Terrific win! Gotta keep it going tomorrow.

    Not to be a downer, but I genuinely don’t get Ottavino for one batter. We have 4 very good relievers–a lot more than any other team can say–but if you use one for only a batter, you’re in trouble later on. The offense bailed us out from having Happ in a 1 run game.

    • aaronjudgemvp

      I was really surprised that he didn’t have Green pitch the 7th inning

    • Eric Quail

      Boone said during the PostGame presser that he was prepared to have Britton pitch the 8th as well, with Chapman getting an out or two if necessary. I don’t think Happ was going to pitch in a close game.

      • aaronjudgemvp

        Yea, me neither. I figured he was trying to get 9 oute between britton and chapman. I still thought it was kind of weird seeing Green only get 2 outs considering how he has been used lately

    • RetroRob

      As a counter, if Boone had left Ottavino in and Rosario popped the ball for a HR, people would question why they didn’t go to Kahnle, whose OPS is 80 points better vs. lefty batters. When there’s a lefty up in a close game, expect to see Kahnle. He’s been tough on them.

      As for Happ, Boone would have altered his bullpen usage if it was only a one-run game. The good part is Happ got some work in.

  4. Nice job on the recap. The home plate umpire did I good job not calling strikes out of the zone tonight.

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