The Yankees are built on their bullpen, they said. It’s the offense that will carry them in October, they said.
Both of those are true. The defense, however, is what shined through as the Yankees clinched an ALDS sweep Monday. The Bombers came through with a highlight reel full of fielding gems to ward off the Twins and hold them to just one run while facing elimination.
As the illustrious Mike Axisa noted in his Patreon post Tuesday morning, the Yankees were middle of the pack defensively this year. That’s an improvement over past years, when they’ve either been plagued by players past their prime or inexperienced/downright bad fielders.
This season, they have put together a piecemeal defense that could be at its best in October. The surehanded Gio Urshela takes over for Miguel Andujar, DJ LeMahieu’s Gold Glove handles first base. Even with LeMahieu’s inexperience at first, his defensive acumen and general athleticism gives him a leg up on Luke Voit and Greg Bird.
That was made clear in Game 3 on Monday. LeMahieu snagged a line drive off Marwin Gonzalez’s bat that was ticketed for the right field corner to end the fourth inning. An inning later, in perhaps the most important spot of the game, Gleyber Torres made a lunging stop in right-center on Eddie Rosario, then LeMahieu made a pick to complete the out.
It was a play that made LeMahieu look like a Gold Glove first baseman rather than the novice level he flashed a few weeks prior, while Torres helped save a run himself.
Torres has had shaky games this season where he’s gotten too cute trying to pick grounders, but he upped his game this round. Aided by extreme shifts, he helped the Bombers from right-center to the bag at second.
As always, his double play partner outshone him a tad in the field. Didi Gregorius is past his defensive prime, but he’s still fantastic. On Monday, his diving catch in the ninth inning prevented the Twins from bringing Nelson Cruz to the plate as the tying run.
In the outfield, it’s shocking to see the Yankees have consistent success without Aaron Hicks. Hicks was the lynchpin of the defense, allowing Brett Gardner to man left field and giving Aaron Judge less room over which to worry. His arm also added a useful weapon to the Bombers’ defensive backfield.
Gardner and Judge have picked up the slack. Bobby already detailed how Judge has turned his defense around this season, but Gardner has returned to his former stomping grounds of center and handled it with aplomb. He remains an ageless wonder who still handles the middle of the outfield at a slightly-above-average level.
The stalwart Gardner didn’t face the difficult plays Judge did in the ALDS. Judge made a pair of diving grabs to rob the Twins of runs in Game 1, but he saved some of his best for Game 3.
He perfectly fielded a Jake Cave liner to turn a double into a single, and then had the catch of the night with an outstretched glove on a Miguel Sano liner in the sixth inning.
Giancarlo Stanton could be viewed as the weak link in left field as he’s more experienced in right and is coming off a significant knee sprain. The combination of proper positioning, Gardner’s range and Cameron Maybin as a defensive replacement has limited any potential issues thus far.
One would be remiss without mentioning the improvement behind the plate from Gary Sanchez, which rounds out the starting nine. Beyond his blocking, he’s improved as a framer as the season has gone on and isn’t the negative behind the plate that he was at times in previous months or years.
The team as a whole turned in just about a perfect defensive game Monday. Zack Britton aided by covering first, though he nearly had a serious injury in the process. Masahiro Tanaka helped on a 3-6-1 double play in Game 2. The Yankees have become a fundamentally sound team across the board and, in an unexpected twist, held the powerful Twins at bay with their superior defense.