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ALDS Game 2: A Chance for a Commanding Lead

Mad walks, yo. (MLB Gifs)

Game 1 went more or less to plan.

Sure, the Yankees would have liked a little more out of James Paxton, but they finished with a comfortable win after holding off Minnesota in the middle innings.

With the postseason, there’s no reprieve. Game 2 is an important pivot point with the Twins trying to get back into the series. They’ll be tossing out a rookie right-hander with little professional experience. (For more on Randy Dobnak, here’s my piece from earlier.)

The Yankees will have Masahiro Tanaka.

Backed by the same lineup as yesterday, Tanaka will be pitching with a series lead for the first time in his postseason career. He had a rocky regular season, but he’s a gamer and rises to the occasion often.

To the lineups!

Twins (0-1)

Max Kepler, CF
Jorge Polanco, SS
Nelson Cruz, DH
Eddie Rosario, RF
Mitch Garver, C
Luis Arraez, 2B
Miguel Sanó, 3B
Marwin Gonzalez, 1B
Jake Cave, LF

RHP Randy Dobnak

Yankees (1-0)

DJ LeMahieu, 1B
Aaron Judge, RF
Brett Gardner, CF
Edwin Encarnación, DH
Giancarlo Stanton, LF
Gleyber Torres, 2B
Gary Sánchez, C
Didi Gregorius, SS
Gio Urshela, 3B

LHP James Paxton

News & Notes

  • Aaron Boone said he will stay away from J.A. Happ tonight, likely meaning Happ will be ready for a Game 4 start/bulk outing.
  • Mark Teixeira will throw out the first pitch, 10 years after hitting a walk-off homer in ALDS Game 2 against the Twins.
  • The Yankees have at least eight players working out as part of their taxi squad in case of injury, including Cory Gearrin, Clint Frazier, Mike Ford and Thairo Estrada, among others.

Tonight’s game is scheduled for a 5:07 p.m. first pitch. You can catch the game on FS1, WFAN and ESPN Radio. Enjoy Game 2!

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ALDS Game 2 Starter Preview: Randy Dobnak

He looks like an ace for the 1970s Oakland Athletics (MLB.tv)

Rocco Baldelli surprised many by choosing rookie pitcher Randy Dobnak for Saturday’s crucial Game 2 start over veteran Jake Odorizzi. Now, the 24-year-old with a few dozen MLB innings takes the hill in a David vs. Goliath ALDS appearance.

Basic Stats

9 appearances, 5 starts, 28 1/3 innings, 1.59 ERA (2.90 FIP, 4.60 DRA) 27 H, 9 R (5 ER), 23 K to 5 BB, 1 HR, 3 HBP

Why Dobnak over Odorizzi

Dobnak is a sinkerballer who thrives by keeping the ball in the ballpark and avoiding walks. He’s only made three full-length starts in the Majors (two were opener-type appearances), so this is new territory for the 24-year-old righty. Judging a pitcher off of 28 1/3 innings is near impossible to do.

Perhaps Dobnak’s groundball act is perfect for Yankee Stadium, but it’s important to note that he would have needed to pitch bulk innings in either Game 3 or 4 anyway, so this is more shuffling the rotation than altering it irreparably.

With Odorizzi, there’s a real question as to his health. He left with tightness in his hamstring after his start on Sept. 24 and couldn’t make his Sept. 29 start to end the season. This delay gives him extra rest.

His Story

Before we get to Dobnak’s stuff, it’s worth going into his background. Just 2.5 years ago, the right-hander was pitching at Division-II Alderson-Broaddus College. He went undrafted and pitched for the semi-pro Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League.

From there, he signed a Minor League contract with the Twins and has shot through the system in a little over two years. In the offseason, as an MiLB player with no major signing bonus, he needed another job, so he worked as an Uber/Lyft driver and has a 4.99/5 rating on Uber.

His wild (or, I guess, safe and orderly?) ride doesn’t end there. Since his last start on Sept. 25, he got married. Why would a Major League player get married at the end of September, you ask? Well, he’d been planning it for two years back when he was in A-ball after having just been undrafted. This normally would have been the offseason if he was still a Minor League player.

His Stuff

The sinkerballing Dobnak sports four pitches: A sinker, curveball, four-seam fastball and changeup. The sinker and fastball sit in the low-90s while his curve and change are in the mid-80s (change is 1.4 mph faster than the curve).

The right-hander uses the sinker to get in on the hands of right-handed batters with its two-seam action and force groundballs. It is a low-spin offering (which is ideal for sinkers as opposed to four-seamers) and gets above-average vertical movement, which allowed him to produce a 52.9 percent groundball rate in his MLB stint.

The sinker in action (MLB.tv)

The sinker isn’t much of a swing-and-miss pitch, but hitters can swing over it as he throws it at the bottom of the zone.

Sept. 15 vs. Oscar Mercado (MLB.tv)

However, if he leaves it up, it’s a meatball, as he did on the next pitch to Oscar Mercado after the above swing and miss.

(MLB.tv)

The curveball works in tandem with the sinker as it moves away from right-handed batters, giving him two pitches moving in opposite directions. Though it gets less drop than the average curve, it’s been a highly effective swing-and-miss pitch with a 46.3 percent whiff rate in his short MLB stint.

It can be an out-pitch against lefties, but it’s his primary pitch to right-handers. He’s willing to use it to get a strike to begin a count, though he mostly buries it later in at-bats.

A strong curve (MLB.tv)

Dobnak carved up the Tigers’ lineup in his last time out by playing the sinker off the curve and held Detroit to just one unearned run.

Here’s a breakdown of how he uses his pitches:

% to RHB% to LHBAvg. Velo (mph)Whiff %
Sinker33.839.692.217.3
Curveball37.317.384.146.3
Four-seam FB 21.823.893.417.6
Changeup7.119.385.724.1

Against left-handed batters, Dobnak changes his approach, throwing either the sinker or fastball nearly two-thirds of the time. As one would expect, he turns to his changeup more. He still got plenty of swings and misses on the few curves he threw to lefties, but he can also backdoor his sinker to lefties.

(MLB.tv)

Dobnak attacks the zone slightly more than average and has gotten hitters to chase often. However, he primarily faced the bottom of the AL Central, so his small sample is skewed.

While the curveball is an essential pitch for Dobnak, he’ll have to tread lightly. Edwin Encarnación, DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are all among the best curveball hitters in baseball. If he tries to attack the zone with them too often, he will get burned as he did on his only home run this season. That might be why Stanton was successful in Game 1 as the Twins pitchers didn’t have a wipeout slider to offer him.

Last note on his stuff/motion: He’s quick to the plate, which should shelve most Yankees attempts to steal in the early innings.

History vs. NYY

Almost none! He did, however, face the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders in May and it came during Didi Gregorius’ rehab stint. (h/t Donnie Collins).

While Didi went 0-for-3, Dobnak walked five over 3 1/3 innings and gave up a three-run single to Ryan Lavarnway to knock him out of the game. It was just his third Triple-A start and his worst with Rochester, as well as the only time he issued five walks as a professional. The Scranton lineup featured Mikes Ford and Tauchman as well as Breyvic Valera and Brad Miller.

Keys to the Start

Defense: Dobnak is a groundball pitcher, through and through. If he’s excelling, there will be plenty of chances for the Twins’ infield. However, that’s not necessarily a good thing. We saw on Friday night how porous Minnesota’s infield can be and the team had the same issues in Dobnak’s last start, booting two routine grounders from Miguel Cabrera.

Experience: In the 2006 ALDS, the Yankees carried a 1-0 lead into Game 2 with a veteran starter opposing a rookie right-hander. That rookie right-hander was Justin Verlander, the Rookie of the Year, and he held his own against Mike Mussina as the Tigers turned around the series.

This one is different in that Dobnak has only 28 1/3 innings to his Major League ledger. In his three full starts, the team with the best offense was the Indians with a 94 wRC+ but no Jose Ramirez. Otherwise, he faced the Royals and Tigers. He has the type of game that could flummox the Yankees, but he has also never faced an offense near their level.

Home Runs: This is more of a key for the series as a whole, but Dobnak is a special case. In 46 innings in Triple-A with the MLB ball, he didn’t allow a single home run. He allowed just one in the Majors. Can he stymie the Yankees’ offense and hold them in the park?

How long can Dobnak go?: Yesterday, the Yankees ground José Berríos to a pulp over four innings, forcing Baldelli to use the bullpen earlier than he likely hoped. Dobnak is far less experienced than Berríos, but his sinker could be the key to quick outs and working deeper into the game. Dobnak has just 10 PAs the third time through the order in the Majors, yet he may get the opportunity to face Judge and co. a third time tonight.

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.

ALDS Game 1 Pitcher Preview: José Berríos

Berríos here is as hyped as the fans tonight. (MLB Gifs)

James Paxton will take the hill for his first career postseason start tonight with ALDS Game 1. Opposing him will be José Berríos, who has one relief appearance to his postseason career. The Twins’ 25-year-old ace comes in after having the best season of his career. In his Patreon preview of the series, Mike Axisa labeled Berríos as the Twins’ x-factor and it’s hard to disagree.

Let’s delve into the Twins right-hander.

Basic Stats

200 1/3 innings, 3.68 ERA (3.85 FIP, 4.44 DRA), 194 H, 195 K, 26 HR (1.17 HR/9), 23.2% K rate, 6.1% BB rate, 42.1% GB rate

His Stuff

Berríos is a fastball-first pitcher with a pair of solid offspeed/breaking offerings. The right-hander works in the mid-90s with his four-seam fastball and sinker before mixing in a curveball and changeup. That fastball really jumps out of his hand and is aided by some deception in his motion.

He attacks right-handed batters with the curveball more than either of his two fastballs, though he’ll still break out the changeup, much improved from previous seasons. Against lefties, the changeup becomes his primary offspeed offering.

Since the Yankees’ lineup will be right-handed heavy, this should be one of Berríos’ most curveball-heavy outings. He’s going to need to both get ahead and put the Bombers away with it. Here’s one of his better curves:

The curve and changeup gets swings and misses and are his best putaway options alongside his four-seamer, while his sinker does what any good sinker does: Keeps the ball on the ground.

Here’s a breakdown of velocity and whiff rate by pitch with usage rate by platoo (Stats from Baseball Savant).

% to RHB% to LHBAvg velo (mph)wOBAWhiff %
Four-seam FB25.936.393.1.31024.3
Curveball34.723.181.2.29829.0
Sinker29.021.292.1.32112.8
Changeup10.319.482.5.27329.0

Berríos went through a rough stretch in August as his velocity dipped. However, he made an adjustment to his post-start routine, which helped him overcome his problems and start throwing in the mid-90s again. With his improved velocity, he threw his four-seamer more than 40 percent of the time in September.

With the hype of the postseason, Berríos should be pumping his fastball hard in the first inning. However, the question becomes if he can maintain that velocity. His performance has fluctuated in line with his fastball, and the postseason should be no different.

In-Depth Results

Despite possessing quality stuff, Berríos has an average swinging strike and overall strikeout rate for an MLB starter. He’s able to get batters to swing and miss on curves and changeups out of the zone, though he goes into strike zone more often than his peers. Baseball Prospectus’ leaderboards have him with slightly above-average command.

Where Berríos truly excels is in inducing weak contact and is above the 80ths percentile in exit velocity and hard-hit rate. As can be expected, his offspeed offerings aren’t slammed as hard as his fastball and sinker. However, of the 26 home runs he allowed this season, 10 were on curveballs (as opposed to nine on his four-seamer).

Berríos can officially be called a workhorse after completing his first 200 inning season. He pitched fewer than five innings just twice all season in his 32 starts. The right-hander has no drop-off when facing a lineup a second time, and has maintained effectiveness into the third time through an order. This might not come into play if Rocco Baldelli is aggressive with the bullpen, but Berríos’ worst inning by far this season has been the sixth inning.

In the second half, as his velocity wavered, Berríos actually struck out more batters, though that came with a corresponding rise in his walk rate. He’s petered out in the second half in recent seasons, though his strong September gives reason to think he could be back in form for October.

History vs. NYY

Berríos has all of four appearances against the Yankees, including his loss in the 2017 Wild Card Game. The right-hander, though, hasn’t faced the Bombers since April 2018, so he has an advantage there despite a modicum of familiarity.

Of the Yankees who have faced him, Edwin Encarnacion, Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez all have a home run against Berríos. Judge, Gregorius and Brett Gardner have hit him especially well with a double each and an OPS above 1.000. Since none of this has come in the last 1.5 years, most of this is near meaningless (but here’s the Didi homer anyway).

He put up identical results against teams above and below .500. He has a fantastic outing early in the season against the Astros and pitched well against Cleveland while putting up middling results against the Athletics and Rays. The Red Sox and Braves both hit him well over three combined starts.

Yankees unveil Division Series roster; Voit beats out Ford

The Yankees finally unveiled their Division Series roster with Game 1 mere hours away.

Catchers (2)

Gary Sánchez, Austin Romine

Infielders (6)

Edwin Encarnación, Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Didi Gregorius, Gio Urshela

Outfielders (4)

Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner, Cameron Maybin, Aaron Judge

Utility Man (1)

Tyler Wade

Starting Pitchers (4)

Luis Severino, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ

Relievers (8)

Adam Ottavino, Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, Tyler Lyons

Reaction

The big news is that Voit held off Mike Ford for the final spot on the position player side, while Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga and Tyler Lyons earned the final spots in relief.

Voit struggled down the stretch, but he was still hitting the ball hard. Despite Ford’s mashing at the plate, Voit’s track record was too much to ignore.

The trio of relievers aren’t too surprising given the Yankees’ injuries and absences. Lyons fills the role of another left-handed one-out guy (LOOGY) with CC Sabathia on the shelf, while Cessa and Loaisiga are presumably for low leverage bulk innings. They all beat out Cory Gearrin and Stephen Tarpley.

The Yankees will have J.A. Happ and co. for bulk innings in a Game 4, though they’ll have to see where they are after three games before they decide that. Happ will be available out of the pen in Games 1 and 2.

On the position player side, Encarnación and Sánchez proved they were healthy enough to make the roster, which is a major boost for the Bombers and also something worth monitoring. Now, we wait to see who earns spots in the starting lineup, which will presumably leave Voit on the bench.

Twins Roster

No major surprises with the Twins’ roster. As expected, Max Kepler, Marwin Gonzalez and Luis Arráez are all healthy enough to play in this series. They went with 12 pitchers and left off Martín Pérez, leaving Randy Dobnak and Devin Smeltzer as potential bulk guys for Games 3 and 4.

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