At the end of the day, as fans, we just want to see the Yankees win. While it’s certainly nice that they swept the Twins and that they didn’t let the series get any more stressful than it needed to be, if New York had won in five games, we’d still feel delighted. By far the most vital factor in the ALDS was the Yankees’ ability to win three games.
In the same vein, what happens in the rest of the division series isn’t nearly as important. Sure, it helps that the juggernaut Dodgers fell on the other side of the bracket, removing a potentially terrifying World Series opponent, should the Yankees make it that far. If we’re in the business of maximizing the Yankees’ championship chances, we probably should tempt fate and root for the Cardinals and their Devil Magic to make it out of the National League.
Who wins the ALDS is more germane to the Yankees’ hopes, as the Astros stand as the scariest team in the league. Even then, though, the main takeaway from the ALDS is that the Yankees didn’t lose.
With all that said; beyond the simple fact that the Yankees won the ALDS, everything else that has unfolded resembles a near best-case scenario. While it all pales in comparison to the Yankees’ advancement in the tournament, nearly everything that a fan could have hoped for has occurred so far in the postseason’s early rounds.
The Yankees’ quick sweep of Minnesota has obvious strategic benefits going forward. I wrote in praise of Aaron Boone’s extremely aggressive bullpen management earlier this week, noting how he didn’t play any games by emptying out his bullpen in the fifth and sixth innings of the first two games of the ALDS.
That strategy, while effective for the Yankees when they only had to play three games four days, becomes progressively harder to implement the more games they must play. Had the ALDS stretched to a full five games, Boone likely would have treated the final games with as much, or more, urgency as he did the first games.
Burning the candle at both ends with the bullpen was the right move for Boone, but having to do it for five games would have left the unit slightly compromised at the outset of the ALCS. Only one off-day sits between Game One of the ALCS and a theoretical Game Five of the ALDS. Had Boone deployed an all-hands-on-deck approach at the end of the ALDS, his bullpen would have entered the first two games of the ALCS a bit more tired, a bit less flexible, and as a slightly less imposing weapon.
Instead, the ALDS ended five days before the start of the ALCS. The Yankees can line up their rotation exactly how they want. They can use their bullpen more proactively at the start of the series than if the ALDS lingered on. They will be rested, focused, and ready for the next challenge. Now, who won’t exactly have a chance to rest and get their ducks in a row before the ALCS? The Yankees’ opponent.
Across the league, the Rays and Astros have pushed each other to their respective limits. The series will conclude tonight in a Game Five in Houston. That both teams will have to expend ample resources to get through this fight is a victory for the Yankees.
Should the Astros prevail, they’ll have used their aces, Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, to do so. That will likely push the pair into Game Two and Game Three starts in the ALCS, leaving Zack Greinke to start Game One. That’s a small effect, but pushing those starters back should put a slightly tighter cap on the amount Houston can use them over a seven-game set.
Perhaps more importantly, those top Houston starters won’t enter the series fresh. They will have more wear on their arms, less rest than New York’s hurlers. We just saw how inadequate recovery can hamper a pitcher in Verlander’s ineffective Game Four start on short rest. That the Astros’ aces are expending themselves now could make them just a little less sharp later.
On the other side, if the Rays pull off the stunner, they will likely have exacted a significant toll on their pitching staff. Just to get through a must-win Game Four, the Rays used a bullpen game. They started Diego Castillo, went through four other relievers, and eventually asked reigning AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell to close out the game.
A similar effort will be required to win Game Five. There’s a strong chance the Rays use talented starter Tyler Glasnow at some point tonight. That means Charlie Morton will be the only member of the Rays rotation to enter the ALCS fresh, not having had to enter a game at an odd time to save the season.
The Rays have shown they can piece together outs with a deep pitching staff, but the Yankees can’t possibly ask for more than for that staff to get taxed to the fullest before it potentially comes to the Bronx. No matter what happens, the Yankees know their eventual opponent will not just be devoid of the luxury of rest New York currently enjoys, but will have labored to get to the championship round.
The net effect of those small advantages will likely be, well, small. If the Yankees win the ALCS, it will probably be because they outplay their opponent. Even so, the odds they outplay the Astros or Rays will be a bit higher once those teams finish a tiring five-game battle in the ALDS. The Yankees will enter the ALCS with the high ground. I have a hard time envisioning a better scenario than that.