Well, I don’t think any of us could have asked for a better opening to the ALDS than the past two games. Backed by consecutive dominant offensive performances, along with solid pitching all around, the Yankees have jumped out to a 2-0 series lead against the Minnesota Twins. The series isn’t over yet, but the Yankees have put themselves in the best position they can be.
This ALDS was billed as a battle between two of the premier offensive clubs in the AL, and rightfully so, as both teams outperformed the rest of the league in terms of both home runs and runs scored. However, over the past two games, the Yankees have looked like the much better offensive team.
Key to the Yankees’ offensive success has been their willingness to take a walk. The Bombers have earned a whopping 16 free passes in the past two games alone, providing no shortage of big spots for their best hitters to take advantage of.
Compare that to last year’s ALDS, when the Yankees were outscored 27-14 by the Red Sox. In that frustrating series, the Yankees managed just 15 walks over four games, under four per game. That this year’s Yankees have eclipsed that total in just half as many games shows how great they’ve been at controlling the zone and not beating themselves.
Of course, one has to take into consideration the fact that the Twins’ pitching is not as good as Boston’s from last year, which makes the Yankee offense’s job that much easier. I mean, as 1-2 punches go, Jose Berríos and Randy Dobnak aren’t quite as intimidating as Chris Sale and David Price.
Yet, the Yankees’ control over the strike zone still deserves recognition. Consider this: of the 164 pitches that the Yankees made the Twins’ pitchers throw in Game Two, just six went for swinging strikes outside of the strike zone. Particularly impressive was how they handled Dobnak; of the 22 pitches that he threw that were outside the zone, the Yankees offered at just three of them, whiffing on one, fouling off one and putting one into play for an out. They spat at the rest, just like they spat on Twins fans’ hopes that their team would break their postseason losing streak against New York.
It’s certainly encouraging to see the Yankees’ bats so locked in at this stage. However, it remains to be seen whether they can keep up this discipline against tougher opponents. Minnesota’s Game Three starter, Jake Odorizzi, should be a considerably more difficult task than Dobnak, at least. And should the Yankees advance to the next stage, both the Rays and Astros have a deep collection of elite arms with nasty stuff that could coax over-eager swings from even the normally disciplined Yankees.
Going forward, the Yankees need to remember what made their offense so potent in these first two games. Sure, there were clutch hits that broke both games wide open. But what made those clutch hits possible in the first place were the good at-bats after good at-bats that led up to them. Even the best hitters in the clutch will come up short more often than not. The key is to try to generate as many clutch situations as possible. To do that, the Yankees just need to keep doing what they have been all along; swing at strikes and lay off balls. It’s easier said than done, but these Yankees are pretty good at the trick.