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Yankees vs. Astros: Players to watch

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These players will have a say in how the Yankees fare in the American League Championship Series

MLB: ALDS-New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The regular season, the Wild Card game, the ALDS — they’re all over. We’ve reached the final stages of the baseball season. The cold, dreary winter months beckon, where fans pine for pitchers and catchers to report so there’s some baseball going on. For now, there are only four teams still playing, and the New York Yankees are among them.

After beating Cleveland in the Division Series, the Yankees have shown they can hang with any team. It’ll still be a tough task to get past the Astros, but this team has shown they’re up to any task. They’ll have to get four wins against the best offense in baseball and against two top-tier pitchers. Regardless of how the Yankees end up doing, these players will surely have a say in the outcome.

Aaron Judge

Maybe this should read “umpires”, but they’re not players now, are they? As Jason Cohen mentioned in his three players to watch before the Wild Card game, it’s kind of ridiculous to tell you to watch one of the best players in the league. He definitely had moments in this series like his booming two-run double in Game Four and his now series-saving catch in Game Three:

Outside of that double though, Judge’s bat was mostly a non-factor in the ALDS. As Tyler Norton pointed out, he had been the victim of an expanded strike zone.

The problem is that Judge knows the difference between a ball and a strike; he led the majors in walks. He can’t help it if balls that aren’t even close to strikes are being called as such. The Yankees got past Cleveland largely without the help of Judge, but he’ll surely need to be a factor if they are to advance to the World Series. Let’s just hope we see less of The Ump Show:

Chase Headley/Jacoby Ellsbury/Matt Holliday

Okay this is cheating a bit because I’m using three players here, but it’s mostly about the designated hitter spot. Headley and Ellsbury were downright atrocious during the ALDS. They combined for no hits and three walks (and one catcher’s interference). I did more in the ALDS than them. Then there’s Matt Holliday.

He saw exactly zero plate appearances in the ALDS. This would’ve been unfathomable in the beginning of the season when he was one of the best designated hitters in the league. Ever since he contracted Epstein-Barr Virus, though, he just hasn’t been the same. At this point, if Headley and Ellsbury are clearly showing nothing, it might be worth it to take a chance on Holliday. After all, he still has the best chance of running into one out of the there. There’s literally nothing to lose.

David Robertson

If you know me at all, you know how obsessed I am with D-Rob. He’s been my favorite since the 2009 World Series run, specifically the ALCS against the Angels. So, I may be putting him on this list out of concern more than anything else. The concern is valid though, I think. Every since Robertson came back from the White Sox, he clearly inched his way back to the top of Joe Girardi’s Circle of Trust.

He’s been so important that Girardi has been asking Robertson to do things he’s never done before. On September 11th, Girardi had the right-hander pitch 2.2 innings against the Rays in the longest outing of his career. He eclipsed that mark in the Wild Card game pitching 3.1 innings. Girardi once again asked Robertson for an increased workload in Game Five when he pitched 2.2 innings.

Robertson hasn’t really shown signs of fatigue, but he’s pitching more than he ever has before. Granted, Girardi’s only relied on him this much because he’s remained so effective and his pitch counts have been manageable. Just using him this much when he’s not used to might cause some fatigue. Hopefully he doesn’t need to call on him for many extended outings.

Dellin Betances

Betances has fallen out of Joe Girardi’s Circle of Trust, and rightfully so. He has become a box of chocolate in that you never know what you’re going to get. Even though he took the loss in Game Two, that’s probably more on Girardi trying to ride the hot hand and squeeze as much out of good Betances as he could.

Overall, he pitched pretty well over the first two games, allowing just one run in a little over three innings with five strikeouts. Girardi tried easing him back into the Circle. Betances came in the eighth inning of Game Four with a four-run lead. Perfect time to try him and out, and bad Betances showed up. He recorded exactly zero outs and walked two before Girardi saw enough and went to Tommy Kahnle.

Betances is going to need to turn things around in the ALCS, but he simply cannot be trusted in any high-leverage situations if the Yankees want to advance. If he’s pressed into it though, let’s just hope we get that sweet delicious piece of chocolate that you were actually looking for.

Honorable Mention: The Rotation

I’m going to cheat here again but it’s an honorable mention so who cares? The rotation was just announced and the Yankees are throwing out Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, and Sonny Gray in that order.

The first three make sense as they’ve been the team’s best pitchers recently, but this rotation also puts Gray on 11 days rest between starts. Regardless, they’ll all have to bring their A-game to succeed against the Astros’ potent lineup.