The Yankees have earned another trip back to the ALCS after an easy three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins. Before the championship series begins against the Houston Astros or the Tampa Bay Rays, the Yankees are resting and preparing for the next three days.
No matter which opponent the Yankees face, there are a couple players worth paying attention to on the Yankees’ side. If the Bombers are to advance to their 41st World Series, these three guys will have to step up in the ALCS.
Arguably no Yankee was talked about more in the ALDS than Stanton, who came back for the playoffs after just 18 regular season games. Although Stanton had just one hit in the ALDS, he made his presence felt and actually ended up having a large impact on the series. His .455 on-base percentage was the third-best figure on the team, thanks in large part to four walks.
Stanton’s plate discipline looked much improved against the Twins. Minnesota consistently baited him with sliders down and away, and Stanton (mostly) laid off. The Yankees often removed Stanton late in games for Cameron Maybin for speed and defense purposes, but they may not be able to do that as often this time around as the team plays more close games.
Stanton is the piece that puts the already-good Yankees lineup over the top. When he’s “on” in the middle of the order, there are no weak spots for an opposing pitcher. Still, Stanton has just one extra-base hit in eight playoff games as a Yankee. He showed a lot of good signs against the Twins, and could be poised for a huge series in the ALCS.
Paxton got the ball in Game One of the ALDS, and more or less did his job – he kept the team in the game. However, he didn’t provide the length expected of a front-line starter and left the game tied. Faced with getting Jorge Polanco out to escape the fifth inning with the lead, Paxton couldn’t do it, and and his night ended after just 4.2 innings.
Still, Paxton wasn’t bad by any means. He struck out eight Twins and only walked one, and the two home runs he gave up barely left the ballpark. He may have just gotten a bit unlucky at times against Minnesota, but if the Yankees are planning on starting him again in Game One, they’ll need a little more out of him.
Masahiro Tanaka has activated “Postseason Tanaka” mode and Luis Severino was solid in his start, so the Yankees have other options. Paxton is the guy projected to get the ball three times in a seven-game series as of now. If that’s the case, the Yankees will need him to step up.
Ottavino was Aaron Boone’s go-to guy in the regular season. No Yankee pitched in more games than him, and only one (Chad Green) notched more strikeouts out of the bullpen. However, Ottavino struggled in the ALDS. He pitched in all three games, although twice he was pulled after facing just a single batter, who he walked both times. The uncharacteristic quick hook seemed to rattle Ottavino each time he was taken off the mound, but few things are more dangerous in the postseason than a leadoff walk.
Ottavino is not a true-talent pitcher with a 3.00 WHIP, so I’d expect his numbers to improve as he gets a larger sample size. We know the Yankees will have to use their bullpen often in the ALCS, and an effective Ottavino will go a long way in neutralizing Houston or Tampa Bay.