Being one will cement your place in postseason lore. Resisting the temptation to become one is what helped the Yankees sweep the Twins in the ALDS, argues John Flaherty.
“What is so important and impressive is the personality of the at-bats,” Flaherty, the former Yankees catcher and YES Network analyst, said.
“They are not going out of the strike zone, they are not trying to be the hero by themselves, which is always the biggest fear of any of the postseason clubs I was a part of. You walk up to the plate thinking, ‘I am going to be the guy, I am going to carry us.’ That’s a lot to put on one guy, and when I watch this lineup there is none of that.”
That’s the attitude the team will try and carry into the ALCS, where they will face the Astros, who rolled the Rays in Game 5 Thursday night to set up a rematch of the 2017 ALCS.
“I just think of an ex-catcher trying to navigate through this lineup,” Flaherty said. “There’s three guys at the top who just grind out at-bats, then the guys in the middle if you make a mistake are going to take you deep, then [Gleyber] Torres and Didi [Gregorius] at the bottom, there’s no letup in it. They just looked like a very confident group and just very well-rounded. The quality of at-bats, they showed some power, they took some walks, they put balls in play.”
It was the next-man-up attitude that defined this Yankees season through 39 trips to the injured list split among 30 different players. Those injuries are still wreaking some havoc with Dellin Betances and Miguel Andujar, two key contributors a season ago, lost for the season. But manager Aaron Boone was able to put the same lineup out for three straight games and utilize what is considered the best bullpen in baseball.
If there is a weakness it is in the rotation, but the Yankees got respectable starts from James Paxton and Luis Severino in the ALDS. But if there was one area where Flaherty disagreed, it was starting Paxton over Masahiro Tanaka to open the series.
“I was questioning down the stretch the way they were treating Tanaka,” Flaherty said, referencing using the 30-year-old out of the bullpen in his final regular-season appearance.
“From the outside looking in, this would be the one guy I’d want to keep in his routine and whatever he needs he gets to pitch Game 1. They went a different way, but to me he is the No. 1 guy. Knowing what you would get from him. I’d love him to start a series.”
Tanaka was strong in Game 2 against the Twins, allowing one run over five innings with an eight-run cushion at his disposal. In six career playoff starts, Tanaka has a 1.54 ERA and 32 strikeouts compared to eight walks.
“There are some guys, and I am not sure how you could put it on paper or into words, but the moment never gets too big,” Flaherty, who is a part of YES Network’s pre- and postgame coverage throughout the postseason, said.
“When the stage gets bigger they lock in on the details a little bit more. The ability of Tanaka to pitch backwards and not try to overpower a lineup, it was so evident against the Twins that he just wouldn’t give in. He wouldn’t give them a fastball in a fastball count. Moving forward it’s going to get tougher, but it’s a real good feeling when you are a teammate of a guy and you know what you are getting personality-wise. With Tanaka, it’s a slow heartbeat that doesn’t try to overthrow or overdo it.”