What will eliminate the Yankees from the playoffs was evident Tuesday night.
They managed one hit in 10 at-bats with men on base and gifted the Red Sox their two runs. This is not the template to 12 October wins. Yet delve into the 3-2 victory and you know what emerges — a blueprint for how the Yanks could eliminate Boston in the playoffs.
There are steps to go before Oct. 5, Fenway Park, Division Series Game 1. The Yanks have to win a wild-card game, probably against the A’s, though the Rays lurk like a horror-movie villain who will not die.
But if you listed how to pull a playoff upset would you take a top three of: 1. A starter who matches up well against the favorite; 2. The superior bullpen; 3. An ability to cover up shortcomings with the long ball?
I suspect Masahiro Tanaka would start the Oct. 3 wild-card game. He has a 2.15 second-half ERA and was the Yankees’ best starter last October. But even if you thought it a coin toss between him and J.A. Happ, why not save Happ for potential Games 1 and 5 starts should the Yanks advance to face the Red Sox?
“What is best for the next series factors into [decisions] too,” manager Aaron Boone said.
Let’s assume the Yankees and Red Sox do face each other for the fourth time in a postseason series. What from Tuesday’s series opener should give the Yankees confidence of pulling a Division Series upset:
1. Happ allowed one unearned run — facilitated by yet another Gary Sanchez passed ball — in six innings against the Red Sox. The veteran lefty has allowed two or fewer earned runs in each of his last 11 starts against Boston. Happ has a 1.67 ERA in his last six starts at Fenway dating to 2016. Games 1 and 5 would be at Fenway, where the Yanks would want to use a starter as unflappable as Happ.
The opposing starter likely will be Red Sox ace Chris Sale, who has slowly been rebuilding his pitch count since returning from an inflamed left shoulder. The Yankee degree of difficulty soars if Sale is Sale. He’s held the Yanks to one run in 13 innings this year, walking one and whiffing 19.
To beat him, the Yankees would have to deploy the Pedro Martinez strategy. In Martinez’s seven Red Sox seasons (1998-2004) — during which he was the best pitcher in the world for a large portion — Boston was just 12-20 in his starts against the Yankees (postseason included). Often Martinez was brilliant in those Red Sox defeats. But the Yanks would get him out of games, create a battle of a bullpens and annually the Yankee pen was almost always better.
2. And it is better again. The Red Sox are having an historic year. But if you think they are more the 2001, 116-win Mariners (ALCS losers to the Yankees) than the 1998, 114-win Yanks (who won it all) it is because even this late into a special season, how they bridge a starter to closer Craig Kimbrel remains unresolved.
Boston’s 12 second-half blown saves were tied with Miami for the majors’ most. No. 12 came Tuesday when Brandon Workman walked two of the three batters he faced in the seventh inning while trying to protect a 1-0 lead. Ryan Brasier permitted a three-run homer to Neil Walker.
The Division Series wild card could be shifting Nathan Eovaldi to the pen. He held the Yanks scoreless for six innings Tuesday and since he was obtained by Boston in late July, the righty has held his former team scoreless on five hits in 14 innings.
The Yankee pen held Boston to one unearned run in three innings by Chad Green, David Robertson and Zach Britton. They did not use Jonathan Holder, Dellin Betances or Aroldis Chapman, who Wednesday was activated from the DL. Those six could perhaps be deployed in every playoff game. And we have learned power pens and power bats really play in the playoffs.
3. And the Yankees have power bats and the Red Sox have suddenly gone a bit quiet in that area (eight homers in the past 14 games entering Wednesday). There are complaints about the Yanks being homer reliant and, sure, it would be better if they struck out less, hit for a better average, etc.
But in the wild-card era (since 1995), when a team out-homers another in a playoff game it has won 75.2 percent of the time (401-132) and it is 83.3 percent for the Yankees (55-11) — thanks to Elias Sports Bureau.
The Yanks did so much wrong Tuesday. Sanchez’s passed ball, Aaron Hicks loafing in center to turn a double into a triple and the Yanks throwing away two potential game-ending double plays in the ninth. They could not hit with men on base. But Walker’s homer combined with Happ’s start and strong relief was enough to win 3-2 over the Red Sox.
Could that formula be enough to help the Yankees, say, win a Division Series three games to two in a few weeks?
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