American League Division Series Preview: New York Yankees vs. Minnesota Twins

The best news surrounding the American League Division Series, at least for the Yankees, is that they will be heading right out of the metaphorical gate at Yankee Stadium.  Oh, and that if they are forced to head to a Game Five with the Minnesota Twins when vying for a ticket to the American League Championship Series, they will be able to play that important fifth game at home as well.  Out of the 103 wins recorded in the regular season for the Savages, 57 of them came in the Bronx.  What’s more, out of their 59 regular-season losses, they only lost at home 24 times.  That’s it. 
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Home field advantage isn’t the only good news here.  While the Twins -- with a regular-season record of 101-61 and bragging rights over the Yanks for the all-time home run record -- are certainly a worthy opponent, the Yankees went 4-2 against them in 2019.  Home field advantage didn’t even matter; the Yankees won the three-game set against the Twins in May at Yankee Stadium as well as the three-game set in July at Target Field.  What’s more… in the history of Yankees/Twins postseason matchups, the Yankees are 5-for-5 in series victories.  While that statistic is almost irrelevant because it dates back to 2003, with entirely different teams representing both sides, it’s not irrelevant enough… considering it includes the 2017 American League Wild Card game. It goes without saying that the rosters weren’t as drastically different two years ago as they were in 2003.

Of course, October baseball is being discussed here, and to say that the Yanks have this division series “in the bag”  as evidenced by the above stats or decisions would be a tremendous misstep on my part.  Anything can happen.  What with all of the storied Yankee injuries during the regular season, that statement applies more now than it possibly ever has.  The Yankees cannot be complacent -- and for the last week of the regular season, complacency has seemed to be an issue both on the part of the Yankees themselves as well as their manager.  While those games “didn’t count” since the Eastern Division was already clinched, they do matter when discussion momentum heading into October, and they matter when discussing complacency.  However, if the Yanks stay focused, and don’t ride the coattails of the statistics that show them as the clear favorite to win… there’s no doubt in my mind that they have what it takes to advance to the ALCS.  What do they need to do to get the job done?

Utilize situational offense
In 2018, the Yankees had a situational hitting problem.  Of course, it’s difficult to look at a record-setting season filled with home runs and call that a problem.  However, it appeared as though the Yankees’ power hitters gave themselves just two options -- a home run, or a K.  This season was a bit of a different story.  While the Bombers lived up to their name, breaking their own home run record this season with 306, they did not hit the long ball alone.  A lot of those hits were thanks in large part to DJ LeMahieu, who logged 102 RBIs on 197 hits -- only 26 of which were home runs.  Gio Urshela drove in 74 runs on the season, with 21 home runs, but also 34 doubles.  Gleyber Torres, who made headlines in 2019 for his 38 home runs, also logged 26 doubles as part of 152 overall hits.  He also recorded a total of 90 RBIs.  In sum: the Yankees need to remember through the postseason that they did not reach first place in the AL East by way of the long ball alone. The Yankees saw themselves end the season with a .294 average with runners in scoring position, and this mark defines their ability to come through in the clutch.  With a team that’s as home run-heavy as the Twins is, their offensive versatility will set them apart.

Luis Severino continues to look like his pre-injury self 
Sevy, in his three showings in the 2019 regular season after spending the remainder of it on the Injured List, looked nearly like his old self. Sure, he allowed two runs on one hit and four walks on September 28 against the lesser-matched Texas Rangers, and the Yankees went on to lose that game.  But, the one run that Severino allowed in that game, after just 3.0 IP, wasn’t a tremendous deficit for the Yankees’ offense to overcome.  They could have done a lot better.  As such, it wasn’t all Sevy’s fault.  Before that game, he allowed a total of just five hits, no earned runs, no home runs and two walks.  He’s already recorded 17 strikeouts on just 12.0 total IP.  All of those stats speak to a Severino that is ready for the postseason, healed from his injury.  

However, it’s important to remember the last time that Severino faced the Twins during a postseason game: the 2017 AL Wild Card Game.  While that’s not a night that the Yankees and their fans ever wish to discuss as far as Sevy is concerned, it deserves discussion here.  Yes, a case can be made that he learned how to pitch in the postseason, as Sevy made an excellent showing in the 2018 AL Wild Card Game.  But, Boone shouldn't repeat a mistake made by his predecessor in the 2017 postseason.  In other words, if Sevy doesn't look like he has his best stuff, Boone shouldn't leave him in for even one pitch too many.  Especially in a Game Three situation, the Yankees might be facing elimination, and Boone can't take any chances in that situation. 

Photo Credit: AP/Brandon Wade

Keep Nelson Cruz and Max Kepler at bay
Twins’ slugger Nelson Cruz hit 41 of the Twins’ 307 home runs in 2019.  He’s also faced the majority of the pitchers on the Yankees’ pitching staff.  However, the Yankees’ starters have succeeded, for the most part, in the mission of keeping Cruz’s bat quiet.  Lifetime, Cruz has faced James Paxton three times, and has succeeded in recording nothing more than a walk.  He’s a mere 3-for-27 lifetime against Masahiro Tanaka; meanwhile, Tanaka has struck out Cruz nine times.  A statistic that is a bit more cause for concern is that Cruz is 4-for-8 against Severino, but the good news there is that none of those four hits were home runs.  Going into the bullpen, assuming that J.A. Happ will serve in relief in the ALDS, Cruz is 11-for-29 lifetime against Happ.  However, in a bullpen appearance that won’t last more than two (maybe three) innings, the chances for Cruz to hit against Happ are less.  Cruz is also only 1-for-5 lifetime against Aroldis Chapman, and did not score any runs.  The biggest proof that the Yankees truly can keep Cruz’s damage to a minimum?  He’s only recorded eight of his trademark home runs against the entirety of the Yankees’ staff throughout his career.  So, the question of “can they,” can be answered with “yes.” 

Max Kepler, responsible for 32 of the Twins’ 307 home runs in 2019, is also no stranger to the Yankees’ pitching staff.  However, he’s recorded even fewer home runs against the Yanks than Cruz has -- with just three lifetime.  Unfortunately, one of those three home runs came delivered to the plate by Paxton.  The other two were courtesy of CC Sabathia pitches.  Paxton should be wary, of course, but not anxious; Kepler’s home run came as one of just two hits he’s recorded against him (going 2-for-8 against him lifetime).  Against Tanaka, Kepler is 1-for-9 and struck out twice.  Against Severino, he is 1-for-3.  Most notably on the bullpen side, Kepler is 2-for-9 against now-key bullpen player Tommy Kahnle.  Kahnle has struck out Kepler five times.  Once again, the question of “can they” can be answered with “yes” -- there just are many fewer at-bats to back up a track record.

Put the bullpen pitchers on short leashes 
Boone has decided to entertain a postseason roster which includes 13 Yankees pitchers, which include the likes of Luis Cessa, Tyler Lyons and Jonathan Loaisiaga.  Not to mention, thanks to the loss of Domingo German, Boone will also have no choice but to use an opener in at least one game of the ALDS.  The above-mentioned members of the squad don't have the postseason experience that Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, Happ, Chapman and even Kahnle have.  But, that's not to say they shouldn't be utilized -- especially since there isn't a choice.  Boone can't limit himself to only the experienced bullpen pitchers.  The extended bullpen gives more versatility in terms of righty/lefty matchups.  Not to mention, an opener situation will require all hands on deck.  That said, everyone in the bullpen should be warmed up and ready to go at a moment’s notice -- especially for those with less postseason experience.  The good news here is that there are enough bullpen pitchers to be able to keep all of them (even the more experienced pitchers) on short leashes.  The postseason is a situation in which the Joe Girardi School of Thought of how long to keep pitchers in a game should be in play for the entirety of the ALDS. 

Postseason baseball would not deliver the excitement that we fans look forward to every year if there were not some uncertainty surrounding the games.  However, the Yankees’ chances at advancing to the ALCS, even against a team that matches them in home run expertise, are still very good.  They must, however, look out for complacency... from everyone.  All of the above components can come apart in the event of the Yankees' complacency. 

Article by: Mary Grace Donaldson


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