The Yankees’ sweep of the Twins, aside from maybe a brief injury scare with Zack Britton and another with Aroldis Chapman after Game Three, went just about as well as the Yanks could have hoped for. Now, as the team prepares for the ALCS, attention turns to what key contributors will need a big series for the Bombers to take the next step towards their goal of winning a 28th championship.
Before the postseason began, when all the “Keys to Victory” and “X-Factor” articles flooded the internet, Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez’s names were widely mentioned, mainly because they both are pivotal pieces to the Yankees’ chances of making the World Series. Both are incredible talents capable of catching fire over a seven-game span and carrying a team, but both missed time during the regular season and had little at-bats down the stretch to fully prepare for October.
So, what did the two show in the ALDS? Of course, it’s tough to gauge given the fact that Sanchez logged just six plate appearances at the end of the regular season after returning from a groin strain, and Stanton played in 18 games all year and didn’t see regular time until late September. However, given the type of at-bats they both put up during the series, the Bombers should be looking at Stanton and Sanchez with a sense of optimism for what’s to come, as each continue to shake off any leftover rust and settle back in against live pitching.
Let’s start with Sanchez, who again, only appeared in the last two games of the regular season before jumping right into postseason play. Batting seventh in the Yankee lineup, Sanchez struggled at the plate early but clearly began to see the ball better as the series went on. This was apparent in the clinching Game Three, when he smacked a 92.5 mph single before putting together a pair of quality at-bats, one ending in a strikeout and the other in a walk. Both plate appearances took ten and nine pitches, respectively. Sanchez worked three walks in the series, an average of one per game, and while the timing wasn’t completely there, he was clearly beginning to see the ball better at the end of the series, and his last three plate appearances showed that he’s starting to get comfortable again in the box, which bodes well for the ALCS.
Stanton also ended the series with just one hit (again, through only three games), but what mattered more was his ability to see the ball at the plate, particularly the breaking balls low and away that made him appear lost in last year’s ALDS. Stanton seemed to come into this series determined to lay off those pitches, and even with very limited in-game practice, he was efficient in that game plan, which was apparent from the start. Here’s his second at-bat of the series, which ended in one of his four walks (against just two strikeouts) for the series:
That second pitch, a curveball, was called a strike, but Stanton wisely laid off that pitch as well, which was actually out of the zone. He put together another good at-bat in Game Two, with the bases loaded and the Yankees needing a crooked number on the scoreboard. Stanton sent the team on its way to that big inning by laying off a tough two-strike pitch before smacking a 99.8 mph sac fly to dead center to get a run in:
Stanton ended the series with a .455 OBP, and Sanchez ended with a mark of .417. Neither broke out and took over the series, but both put together quality at-bats and were seeing the ball well, which has to be seen as a plus given the amount of time each had to prepare for the playoffs. Now, more will be expected in the ALCS. If this series was any indication, both should continue to improve and produce as the stage gets more demanding.