Three events occurred in last night’s AL Wild Card game where the Yankees were victorious over the surprise Oakland Athletics:
- A starting pitcher went just four innings
- There were two home runs, from a team that has the most all-time
- There were a ton of off-speed pitches and sliders, from the team with the lowest fastball percentage
I’m not going to ignore with the Athletics did, either. They employed the first Opener in postseason history, utilizing Liam Hendriks for just one inning despite the mixed results. It depends how you consider “mixed,” of course, because plenty of good pitchers still give up home runs to Aaron Judge.
The rest of their bullpen use has to be applauded as well. Lou Trivino went three innings and his slider/cutter isn’t a picnic itself, as he struck out four and allowed just one hit. Blake Treinen wasn’t nearly as effective, allowing more runs in one game than he has ever allowed in a month this season, and Francisco Rodney allowed a run after facing just two batters. For a team that was built on that kind of depth, it just happened to go the wrong way last night, but the strategy won’t be forgotten.
The Yankees it seemed were using the opposite strategy, going with their supposed ace, but it was just as new-age as it could be. I don’t have the game pitch data on me but, just anecdotally, he was virtually pitching backwards, leaning on his change and always-deadly slider while pumping the triple-digits heat when it was needed, like to get out of his bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning.
The formula beyond that was no different than the A’s—going to Dellin Betances in the fifth (despite leaving in Severino maybe two batters too long) for two innings, then David Robertson, Zach Britton, and Aroldis Chapman, the only real blemish being a two-run home from Davis off of Britton.
The Yankees stayed true to form in a year where they seemed boom-or-bust (yes, even while winning 100 games), and the main feature was that the whole team was healthy, despite for much of July and August.
The only in-game data I do have is courtesy of Statcast, and it’s pretty self-explanatory:
That was only the third home run Treinen allowed all season, and it would have qualified as the hardest hit ball for any player but the top ten or so. So, when I talk about this team embodying the juiced ball era, I also mean the Statcast era, because there are no two players better suited for these numbers, and they came to light at the highest possible leverage time (maybe not Stanton, which was more garbage time-esque).
The next gauntlet is way more formidable, facing Chris Sale and David Price at Fenway Park. If they’re going to be successful, then that same new-age strategy is going to apply; hitting the long ball, using sliders and off-speed heavily, and going to the bullpen early and often. I can’t even imagine one of the three of the Astros, Red Sox, and Yankees being victorious over each other considering how much of a juggernaut each is; I would imagine this is the first time in the wild card era where three of the four LDS teams are 100-win teams. But if any team were to be baseball in 2018 distilled into a vial, it’s probably the Yankees.