The New York Yankees were the first team to secure their ticket to the Championship Series, and they did it in style by sweeping the Minnesota Twins, a team that won 101 games in the regular season. The Bombers outscored their opponent 23-7.
The Yankees did their job on the offensive side, and then some. They averaged 7.66 runs per game and came through with some timely hits with men on base. They hit five home runs and eight doubles, and crucially displayed supreme patience (17 walks in the three games) and some baserunning prowess, with four steals without being caught. Their defensive play was also outstanding, with a couple of flashy plays in the infield and the outfield.
However, the contributions by the bullpen should not be overlooked, especially in a series in which no Yankee starter surpassed five innings. The relief corps took the hill for a total of 13.1 frames against the Twins, and for the most part, they were extremely effective.
Yankee relief pitchers allowed only three earned runs in those 13.1 innings, for an ERA of 2.03. They conceded ten hits and seven walks for a somewhat elevated WHIP of 1.27, but they usually got out of jams thanks to their 16 collective strikeouts.
Sure, there was some occasional hard contact and control problems, but this group managed to deliver when it mattered the most, and now the team is moving on to a new challenge. In total, the Twins could only connect ten hits in 50 at-bats, for an average of .200, against the Yankees’ bullpen.
Every Yankee pitcher in the roster, except for Luis Cessa, pitched against the Twins. However, none of them should be considered “overworked” for the ALCS: the relievers that pitched the most were Aroldis Chapman (2.2 innings) Tommy Kahnle, Zack Britton (2.1 each) and Chad Green, with 2.0.
Among relievers, only Kahnle, Britton and Jonathan Loaisiga allowed runs (one each, the first two on solo home runs.) Everybody else had clean appearances in a series that didn’t provide too many scares in the late innings. Even Tyler Lyons, arguably the weakest link in the Yankees bullpen, came through with one scoreless inning, with no hits or walks allowed and a pair of strikeouts.
The American League Championship Series won’t start until Saturday, which will give all Yankee hurlers enough time to recharge batteries for what is shaping up to be a long, hard set of games. Everybody should be fresh.
It speaks volumes of the Yankees’ depth that they swept the Division Series with none of the starters pitching going beyond the fifth inning. And there could be reinforcements in the way for the next round, pending CC Sabathia’s health and Aaron Boone’s decisions.
Of the teams that are still standing, there are a couple of them that boast remarkable rotations. However, the Yankees’ strength is at their relief corps, which can shorten any game and help them prevent their starters from having to face the opponent’s lineup for a third time if the game flow doesn’t dictate it.
Of course, it would be fantastic if the starters would pitch past the sixth or seventh inning, especially in a seven-game series. We know that James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and Luis Severino are all capable of doing it. However, manager Aaron Boone can rest assured that he will have the majors’ strongest relief corps at his disposal if things go south.