New York Yankees: How Masahiro Tanaka solved the Houston Astros

Masahiro Tanaka’s did not of the regular season that he and the Yankees had hoped for, but this postseason has led the Yankees to two key victories.

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The regular season means absolutely nothing when your team is in the playoffs and Masahiro Tanaka wouldn’t want it any other way.

Coming into the postseason, Tanaka did not have the season he and the Yankees saw in 2016. Tanaka saw his ERA rise from 3.07 to 4.74 this season thanks to allowing a career-worst 35 home runs. Even with the struggles, Yankees manager Joe Girardi never showed doubt in the 28-year-old right-hander.

Tanaka finished the regular season striking out a career-high 15 batters against the Toronto Blue Jays and the momentum followed him to the postseason.

Tanaka time in the Bronx

Masahiro Tanaka has been nothing but dominant this postseason, going 2-1 with a 0.09 ERA across 20 innings. Tanaka’s success this postseason, especially in this series, comes as a surprise considering that Tanaka did not have success against Houston in the regular season.

In a start in early May, Tanaka struggled and allowed eight runs in 1.2 innings in a start at Yankee Stadium. Houston hit Tanaka hard, hitting four home runs on the night the Yankees retired Derek Jeter’s number 2. This start continued the trend that the Yankees were seeing from Tanaka and was a major cause for concern. If Tanaka had not struggled in games like the regular season against Houston, the Yankees wouldn’t have had to go out and get two starters at the trade deadline.

Fast forward to the postseason and Tanaka has delivered. Whatever struggles the Astros gave Tanaka from the regular season disappeared in Games 1 and 5 of the ALCS. Tanaka changed his approach against a team that handled him pretty well. In Game 1, Tanaka went about attacking the Astros in a different way, abandoning his splitter and going primarily with his slider. That approach worked as Tanaka went six innings and only allowed two runs, but Dallas Keuchel out-dueled him in a 2-1 Houston win.

In Game 5, however, Tanaka turned the clock back and utterly dominated Houston’s lineup. This time, Tanaka relied on his fastball and sinker to attack hitters and would mix in his slider and splitter, but neither was his primary pitch. Tanaka gave the Yankees seven shutout innings and only really had one high leverage situation. After allowing a leadoff double to Yuli Gurriel in the second inning, Tanaka bore down and would strand Gurriel to keep the Astros off the board. The Yankees would score in the bottom of the inning against Keuchel and that would be all that Tanaka needed.

With this strong performance, Tanaka joined Roger Clemens and Whitey Ford as the only Yankee starters with multiple games in a single postseason with seven innings pitched and no runs.

Goin’ Back to Houston with the Yankees up 3-2

After going 3-0 in the games played at Yankee Stadium, the Yankees are one win away from going to the World Series for the first time since 2009. It won’t be easy as Houston will send Justin Verlander to the mound, and he is coming off a complete game victory in Game 1. This won’t be the same lineup that Verlander faced in Houston.

The Yankees’ lineup has gotten hot over the last three games. They have scored a combined 19 runs over that stretch after only scoring two runs in Games 1 and 2 combined. Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez have come alive, both driving in runs at key points in Games 4 and 5.

The Yankees have all the momentum as the two teams will head back to Houston with the Astros on the brink of elimination. Tanaka led the way and the Yankees will look to Luis Severino to carry that over in Game 6.