On Saturday night the New York Yankees flexed their muscle at Fenway Park. They slugged their way to a road win that has tied the series at a game apiece. After their comeback fell short in Game one, the Yankees wasted no time getting ahead first in game two. They took an early 3-0 lead and never looked back. With this series now tied, here are three key things to watch for the remaining two or three games.
Gary Sanchez‘ Hot Bat
Gary Sanchez was the story of game two as he launched two home runs. One was a game-sealing three-run bomb off of Eduardo Rodriguez in the 7th inning. For the past two seasons, the Yankees have become accustomed to Gary Sanchez having an inhumane August at the plate. This season, Gary Sanchez did not take a single at-bat in August, so we did not get a chance to see what 2018 August Sanchez would be like. However, we might be getting August Gary in October.
Though Sanchez started the postseason 0-6, he was having good at-bats, looking more disciplined than he had in a long while. “I feel like the at-bats have started to improve even when he wasn’t getting a lot of results yet,” said Yankees skipper Aaron Boone in a press conference on Sunday. “We’ve started to see the walks happen a little bit, just control the strike zone a little bit better, and now all of a sudden, hopefully, a little bit of success kind of unleashes what is a massively talented offensive player.”
That seemed to culminate in game two of the ALDS against the Red Sox when he smacked two home runs. If Gary Sanchez can find his form that the Yankees knew at the end of 2016 and in 2017, then this Yankees lineup becomes even more difficult to traverse for nine innings.
Giancarlo Stanton‘s Struggles
Probably the biggest concern for the Yankees thus far has been Giancarlo Stanton’s struggles at the plate. Giancarlo is 3-13 with six strikeouts to start the playoffs. He looks like the Giancarlo from the first week in April. In the Wild Card Game, with the exception of his garbage-time home run, he was chasing way too many pitches. In game one of the ALDS, he had one of the worst possible high-leverage at-bats a player could have against Craig Kimbrel. He was again quiet in game two.
Giancarlo is finding himself in too many 0-2 counts. If pitchers are going to be willing to come right at him when he comes to the plate, Giancarlo has to be willing to ambush. Otherwise, when he gets to two strikes early, his notorious chase rate will rear its ugly head. It’s possible that Giancarlo is just getting a little bit more anxious in his first playoff appearance. But, if the Yankees want to win this series, they are going to need Giancarlo Stanton to lock in.
Zach Britton‘s Improvements
Despite a little bit of a hiccup in a low-leverage spot against the Oakland Athletics where he gave up two earned runs and a home run in an inning pitched, Zach Britton has been the reliable ground-ball reliever that the Yankees traded for. In three innings pitched in the postseason, Zach Britton has a GB% of 83.3% against 14 batters faced.
Towards the end of the season, we saw Britton’s velocity increase and his walks allowed decrease. There seemed to be signs that he might be getting back to 100%. Britton, other than Chapman, is the only lefty in the Yankees bullpen. If the Yankees want to make a deep run, they need Zach Britton to be reliable. If he can keep the ball down while at the same time limiting his walks, then he is nearly untouchable. He’s been solid in his last two outings against Boston, so it is nice to see the left-handed reliever getting back into form at the right time.
The Yankees still have a lot of work to do if they want to advance to the ALCS to face either the Cleveland Indians or Houston Astros. However, they do appear to be coming together as a team at the right time. They are as healthy as they have been all season long, and their bullpen has been nothing short of lights out. Not only has Zach Britton been better, but Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman have both flexed their muscle. As for the hitters, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez have led the charge, while Andrew McCutchen has been a spark plug at the top of the lineup. Top to bottom, the Yankees are poised for a deep playoff run. They just have to capitalize when they get their chances in high-leverage spots.