Good morning, everyone. It sure is a good one. It’s always a good morning the day after a Yankee playoff win and even better after a playoff series win. The Yankees defeated the Twins 5-1 last night to take the series, which wasn’t particularly close at any point. The Bombers outscored the Twins 23-7 during the 3 games and were thoroughly the better team in every single possible capacity. It was great to watch. So much for the “new Twins.” I would feel bad for them but I have to be honest: I don’t.
Anyway, the Yankees don’t play again until Saturday. We don’t even know where–if Houston wins, it’ll be in Houston; if Tampa wins, in New York–so we just have to sit back and enjoy the remaining game(s) in the ALDS. May they be an exhausting slog. Here’s what’s on my mind this morning.
1. Defensive Shifting Wizardry: I can’t shake the feeling that expert shifting played a key role in the Yankees’ victory last night. They made a number of truly outstanding defensive plays and that was in large part because the players were perfectly positioned. Particularly this one:
That’s a true game changing play right there, and it all starts with Torres’ positioning. It’s funny, because just last week, the Yankees were saying that their shifting wasn’t as effective this year. Funny how that works. Anyway, I tip my cap to the Yanks and their shifting schemes because I truly do believe that it won them this game and series. It was impressive work.
The same is true of their defense overall, though. Judge, Gregorius, Torres, and LeMahieu each made stellar defensive plays in big moments last night in critical situations–the Twins had runners on all night and were lining the ball up and down the park. It didn’t matter, though, because the Yankees always made the play. Every time. I still can’t really believe the Twins only scored one run, and the defense is a major, major reason why that is the case. Wild how just last year defense was a major liability for the team, or so it felt. What a difference a year makes.
2. What Pitching Problems: I think we all heard all week, and for good reason, that the Twins were an offensive juggernaut. That’s because it’s true. They hit 307 home runs and their lineup was littered with good players having career or breakout years. I know it feels like it’s not the case but it really is true. This Twins team was no joke but the Yankees and their pitching staff held them to only 7 runs in 3 games across a full 27 innings. Remember when we all griped about the Yankee pitching last time they were in Minnesota? Well, the arms sure did show up when it counted. Here’s how each part of the team did:
- Starters: 13.2 IP, 12 H, 4 R, 4 B, 19 K, 2 HR
- Relievers: 13.1 IP, 10 H, 3 R, 7 BB, 16 K, 2 HR
I’d say that will get the job done right there. 3 of those 4 runs for the starters came in James Paxton’s Game 1, so after that, the Yankee staff mostly limited the damage, especially in big spots. I’m curious how the Yanks will line up their rotation (it’ll probably be Paxton/Tanaka/Severino again), but I sure do feel a lot better about it now than I did a few months ago. Trust in the talent, and things usually work out. This is another reminder of that.
3. The Dawning of the Age of Gregorius: Think about the biggest Yankee playoff moments in the last few seasons for a second, and then pause to think about how Didi Gregorius has been at the center of nearly all of them. With the exception of the Greg Bird off Andrew Miller home run, he has hit nearly every notable homer–the 3-run game tying blast in the ’17 Wild Card Game, two jacks off Corey Kluber in Game 5 of the ’17 ALDS , Saturday’s grand slam. He certainly has a flair for the dramatic. He also added two huge RBI last night to give the Yankees some breathing room and made that truly spectacular play with one out in the 9th that quelled a potential Twins rally before it began.
It’s great to see his bat heat up, but it’s his defensive wizardry that I want to focus on for a second. Much was made about Didi’s slump, and many fans argued that he should sit on the bench for the playoffs. There was some logic in that–he was the team’s worst regular offensively by a significant margin–but he never lost a step defensively. It’s tough to imagine another Yankee shortstop, even including Torres, making that play last night. That’s why the Yanks stuck with him, and he only rewarded them with tremendous defense and some of the biggest hits of the season. The Dawning of the Age of Gregorius, indeed.
4. Gleyber Torres, Bonafide Superstar: I have said a lot about Torres in the last 12 hours so I’m not going to spend a lot more time here, because there is nothing else to say about this kid. He is a legitimate superstar and it is incredible to watch. He made his debut just last April and is now the second-best player on a star-studded Yankees team. His performance led them to the ALCS last night. Make no mistake about it. He drilled three extra-base hits, including the go-ahead HR in the 2nd inning, he was a defensive wizard, and all the while he stayed composed and in control. He is just 22-years-old. I cannot possibly levy enough praise upon the alter of Gleyber Torres. He is so impressive in every single way.
The Yankees presented him with the championship belt last night, and it was extremely well-deserved. There are a million reasons to be excited about the Yankees for the remainder of 2019 and in the years to come, but I think watching the continued growth of Torres–he was so good last year and is considerably better now–is atop the list by a fairly wide margin. What a player.
5. A Big Series for Stanton Incoming: It really feels like Giancarlo Stanton is poised for a monster series next round. Consider that my prediction, however lukewarm it is. With the sole exception of his first AB last night, Giancarlo has looked locked in at the plate and ready to go. He’s been taking pitches, drawing walks, and battling through some tough counts. He started 0-2 on Saturday with the bases loaded with nobody out, spit on two balls, and then rocketed a ball to CF for a sac fly that, if hit in the gap, would likely have been the biggest hit of his career. He looks as though he’s rounding into form, and I feel like with Stanton in particular, you can see his hot streaks coming. He starts taking pitches, isn’t flailing, and has a certain aura about him. It feels like that right now, and I think it’s going to pay off in a major way in the next round.
6. Never A Day Without An Injury Scare: Thank goodness for a few days off, because Britton hurt his ankle covering first in the 8th last night, as you probably already know, even though he and Cashman both insisted he was fine. It was not the sight you wanted to see. And then Chapman had his hand wrapped after the game because he got hit with a bottle during the celebration. He also insisted he was fine, but I don’t think anything encapsulates the 2019 Yankees more than this. They can’t even dominate a series without us worrying about some dumb, freak injuries. It’s ridiculous.
Anyway, with no games until Saturday, it will be more time to get folks rested and healthy, so hopefully this is just what it sounds like and it’s a whole lot of nothing. It’s something to think about, though, because of course it is. It’s still 2019, after all.
7. Total Dominance in the ALDS: I can’t get over how thoroughly the Yankees dominated the Twins. That was a good team–yes, I know about their division–and the Yankees just thoroughly dominated them. The Twins didn’t even look like they belonged on the same field, and they were talking after the series about just being totally overwhelmed by the energy and noise at Yankee Stadium. I love that. I really do. The Yankees have been a team on a mission all year and they weren’t going to let a feel-good Twins team with some power stand in the way. They took care of business, never left a doubt, and steamrolled a good team. There’s a certain feeling about this team, you guys. I think you know what I’m getting at.
8. ALDS Rooting Guide: I am not going to tell you how to root during the other ALDS series, because I always think it’s foolish to choose your opponents. Besides, I think there’s some logic to wanting to beat Houston (you want to beat the best teams if you want the most satisfying title run) or Tampa (who are the Rays and also a weaker team than juggernaut Houston). So I leave that to you.
What I will say is that we should all be rooting for the Rays tonight (first pitch 7:10 pm EST) to force a Game 5. Both teams will be tough in the ALCS, so any advantage is worthwhile, and I think a less rested, not ideally-lined-up team is better than not. So, I cannot believe I’m saying this, but: Go Rays. At least for tonight.