Thoughts after Yankees take ALCS Game 1

The Yankees moved within three victories of their first AL pennant in 10 years and within seven wins of World Series No. 28 on Saturday. That sounds superb, right? If you missed the recap, here’s Derek’s fine words on the game.

Before the Bombers aim to sweep the opening salvo in Houston, here are some thoughts on Game 1 and more:

1. Pulling Tanaka early: Aaron Boone faced the difficult choice yesterday: Keep in a starter who was cruising or go to a bullpen that has been lockdown all year. Masahiro Tanaka had faced the minimum and had cruised early in the game, but we’ve mentioned time and time again that he has struggled the third time through the order. That’s who was coming up in the seventh.

Meanwhile, Adam Ottavino’s role in this series is specifically to get those guys out. Boone chose Ottavino and it worked well as he got two double-play grounders, one of which was turned to end the inning. From there, easy innings from Zack Britton and Jonathan Loaisiga.

Boone explained his reasoning postgame: “He was getting tired. And the ball was kind of slipping out a little bit there in that last inning. So I considered sending him back out but then we decided against it.”

Fair enough. There may come a time in the middle part of this series where the Yankees bullpen is tired and the starter needs to go into the third time through the order, but yesterday was unnecessary. The bullpen was rested. There’s a day off Monday. Let it roll.

2. Brief notes on Tanaka’s dominance: The stat was widely circulated yesterday that Tanaka now is on the only pitcher in MLB history to allow two runs or fewer in his first seven postseason starts. Mid-game, the Daily News’ Bradford William Davis compared his turn-on-the-switch postseason mentality to a former Yankee great:

As Bradford said, only real 90s kids remember El Duque. He just had that clutch gene, the ability to be unfazed by the moment.

Here’s another great stat: Tanaka has been the starting pitcher for three shutout victories in the postseason (2019 ALCS G1, 2017 ALCS G5, 2017 ALDS G3). Those are the Yankees’ last three shutout wins in the postseason. Before Tanaka, the last time the Bombers produced a shutout in the postseason was 2001 ALDS Game 3, aka the Flip Play game started by Mike Mussina.

3. Jonny Lasagna does a Britton impression: For the final three outs yesterday, Boone turned to Jonathan Loaisiga because, hey, someone has to get those outs. It didn’t make sense to use Aroldis Chapman up seven unless he needed the work for some reason.

Loaisiga did his job, setting down the 9-1-2 hitters in Houston’s lineup in order with a pair of grounders and a well-hit flyball to the wall in left. The latter is frightening in another context, but the grounders were impressive.

He had a two-seam sinker-type offering that he threw five times, producing both grounders and a swinging strike on George Springer. Here’s that swing and miss:

I doubt he gets a high leverage spot this postseason, but these are the type of innings to build confidence for 2020. A 24-year-old inexperienced righty learning that he can pitch against the best teams in October.

Loaisiga is set up well for a transition to the bullpen, where can fire 98+ mph darts to hitters with less worry on his command and pitch count. If all goes well, he could be the Bombers’ next multi-inning weapon in the near future.

4. Who’s Hot, who’s not: This is admittedly frivolous four games in, but the postseason makes you rely upon small samples. Let’s take a look at the following four players while acknowledging that Aaron Judge, DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres are on fire.

  • Gio Urshela: 5-for-12 with 2B, HR and 3 K in last three games
  • Gary Sánchez: 2-for-7 with a BB and 2 K in last three games
  • Brett Gardner: 1-for-8 with 1 RBI and 2 K in last two games
  • Edwin Encarnación: 0-for-10 with BB since 3rd inning of ALDS Game 2

For Urshela and Sánchez, getting that kind of production from the bottom of the order is key to a deep postseason run. Simply put, you need a multitude of contributors. Urshela was driving the ball every time yesterday and got a little unlucky with a fantastic stop by Alex Bregman, though he got a cheapy homer to righty late.

Sánchez has not only held his own at the plate, getting on base safely in all four postseason games, but he’s been a rock behind the plate. He’s allowed one wild pitch, one passed ball and one stolen base that was mostly Adam Ottavino’s fault. You can tell he’s been strong behind the dish when no one is talking about his defense.

Meanwhile, Gardner and Encarnacion aren’t slumping; They’ve just had a couple off-nights. Gardner still got that key tack-on single in the third inning of Game 3, while Edwin carried the offense for the first 1.5 games. They’re allowed to make outs.

If Aaron Hicks has a path to a start this postseason, it would be from an extended slump from either of those two players. An Encarnacion slump would allow Hicks to take over in center, Gardner to shift to left and Stanton to DH, all while not messing with the infield alignment.

5. LeMahieu at first base: A month ago, DJLM had a horrendous game at first base, failing to make some routine scoops on the Rogers Centre turf. Since then, he’s been masterful.

He already gave the Yankees the best range at first of any player they’ve had there in a long while, but he’s made all the plays this postseason. The key scoop on Gleyber’s play in the hole in ALDS Game 3. Scoops on a Didi throw and Judge’s double play in ALCS Game 1. There’s no doubt that LeMahieu should be starting at first for the rest of the postseason.

6. Game 2 Thoughts: All the pressure is on the Astros. Houston needs to win this game and avoid going to the Bronx down 2-0. Otherwise, the Astros are apt to see their 107-win season end at Yankee Stadium.

However, Justin Verlander is one of the top 10 pitchers you’d want going in such a spot. He was beaten up on short rest earlier in the week, but he’s still the presumptive AL Cy Young favorite. He’s better at home (2.34 ERA to 2.82 ERA) despite a better K-BB ratio and the same number of homers (18) in nearly identical innings totals. Might just be luck there, but regardless, he’s a force at Minute Maid Park.

Home runs are the name of the game against him. He allowed 36 this year and two on Tuesday. Of the Yankees’ six runs against him in the regular season, four were via the long ball. Knock a couple into the Crawford Boxes and you have the recipe for a win.

Meanwhile, the hook on James Paxton will be short. The Yankees have their full arsenal of relievers available and if they have a lead in the 4th-6th innings, then Boone might be ready to pull Paxton at next sign of danger. Heck, like last night, Paxton could be cruising. The Yankees are going to win and lose with their bullpen if they can help it.

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