The New York Yankees’ magical run fell short as they lost Game 7 of the ALCS to the Houston Astros 4-0.
Throughout the season the Yankees were full of surprises as many had the “Baby Bombers” set to finish towards the bottom of the American League Eastern Division. Aaron Judge would have none of that and thanks to his hot start, the Yankees stunned the division and found themselves in the middle of a playoff race. Gary Sanchez built on his success from his rookie season, and Luis Severino emerged as the ace the Yankees believed he could be.
Two blockbuster trades in the middle of the season put the “Baby Bombers” over the hump and made them look at the bigger picture this year. Sonny Gray, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier all came up huge as the Yankees knocked off the best team in the American League, the Cleveland Indians, in the ALDS and surprised the entire baseball world.
In the ALCS, New York found itself in an early 2-0 hole but climbed out of it to take a 3-2 series lead going back to Houston. The Astros continued to dominate at home and held the Yankees to only one run in their last two games, ending the Yankees season.
This was a successful season for the Yankees but like manager Joe Girardi said, there is room for improvement.
1 Improve play away from Yankee Stadium
Playing on the road was not something the Yankees enjoyed doing this season.
During the regular season, the Yankees finished with a 40-41 record on the road. This trend continued during the postseason where they went 1-6 on the road against the Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros. They simply are a different team in the Bronx.
Despite hitting a combined 37 home runs on the road in the regular season, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge really struggled away from home during the postseason. Sanchez was a .138 hitter away from the Bronx, with only one home run and 13 strikeouts. Judge really struggled on the road, hitting .074 after hitting .258 during the regular season away from Yankee Stadium. Judge and Sanchez would combine for 28 strikeouts in the opposition's ballpark and that really hurt the Yankees' chances of putting runs on the board.
It's startling how the Yankees are a different team on the road then they are at home. In the ALCS alone, the Yankees scored just three runs at Minute Maid Park compared to 19 runs at Yankee Stadium.
Being able to adjust in hostile environments is key when playing in the playoffs and this young Yankee team learned that. If they can improve their play away from the Bronx, they should be in good shape at making an even deeper run in 2018.
2 Cutting down on the strikeouts
Strikeouts were a major theme for the Yankees in the ALCS, which was the difference in the games played in Houston.
All the talk surrounding Aaron Judge is that he strikes out way too much. After already setting the record for the most consecutive games with a strikeout in the regular season, Judge set a record in the playoffs. No other player has struck out more in the playoffs than Aaron Judge has.
Judge isn't alone when it comes to cutting down on the strikeouts because the entire roster needs to work on it. As a team, the Yankees struck out 139 times, 70 times in the ALCS. The Astros have struck out 75 times all postseason.
Being able to put the ball in play is a lost art in baseball nowadays as strikeouts are just looked at as another out. As the Yankees saw in Game 7 when Starlin Castro struck out instead of moving Greg Bird to third with a ground ball to the right side, it can really hurt a rally. Strikeouts might not be an issue in the regular season but in the postseason, when every out is so important, strikeouts hurt the most.
No one is asking the Yankees to stop striking out entirely. That is impossible in today's game. The Yankees rely on the home run and with that, they will strike out. But if the Yankees can cut their strikeouts down by a third and put the ball in play, they will become a much better all-around team.
3 Improve defensively
Perhaps the only weakness that this Yankee team had in the postseason was their play defensively.
A key difference in the ALCS was that Houston played better defense than the Yankees did. The biggest play that most Yankee fans will remember is when Gary Sanchez could not hold onto the ball to tag the winning run in Jose Altuve and force extra innings in Game 2. The talk surrounding Sanchez all season was his inability to block pitches in the dirt, and he was good at it during the postseason. Not catching that throw from Didi Gregorius in Game 2 really hurt New York's chances at bringing the series back to Yankee Stadium. Sanchez will improve, as this was his first full year behind the plate at the MLB level, and his offense outweighs his poor defense.
Starlin Castro was reliable at second base for most of the regular season bu the playoffs were a different story for him. Castro struggled to make routine plays that really hurt the Yankees. He only had two errors throughout the postseason, but he never really looked comfortable on the field during the ALCS.
The Yankees only made nine errors as a team during their postseason run, but it was executing the simple plays that hurt them.
4 Retaining Sabathia and/or Tanaka
It is possible that two-fifths of the Yankees' starting rotation will not be back in 2018.
C.C. Sabathia will become a free agent at the end of the World Series and Masahiro Tanaka will have three days to decide if he wants to opt out of his contract once the Fall Classic ends. Sabathia has made it known to the public he wants to remain a Yankee while Tanaka hasn't shown his hand about the situation.
Despite having an inconsistent regular season for the Yankees, Tanaka saved his and the team's season during the playoffs. Tanaka went 2-1 with a 0.90 ERA in the postseason and kept the Yankees in every game he started. When he is on top of his game, Tanaka is one of the best pitchers in baseball and he showed that once again this postseason.
In 2017, Sabathia was the Yankees stopper. He went 10-1 in games following Yankee losses, the one loss being Game 7 of the ALCS. His veteran leadership is something that doesn't go unnoticed by the organization and the fans as the team rallied around the veteran left-hander when he was on the mound.
The ideal scenario for the Yankees this offseason is to keep both Tanaka and Sabathia. They control whether Sabathia could come back and Tanaka controls if he wants to return. Either way, the Yankees need to keep one or both of them on the roster for 2018.
Should one of them leave, the Yankees would have to look on the free agent market to fill in a massive hole in their rotation.
It sounds cliche, and everyone in baseball has said this, but the experience that the young Yankees had this season will only help them down the road.
With Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Luis Severino, and Greg Bird there is a new "Core Four" developing in the Bronx. All four players contributed in a big way for the Yankees in the postseason and now know what to expect on the biggest stage.
The Yankees are set up to be great for a very long time as Judge is just 25, Sanchez 24, Severino 23, and Bird 24 years old. All four players took great strides this season, and that's all the Yankees needed from them.
Judge will most likely be the AL Rookie of the Year and finish in the top three in AL MVP voting. Sanchez set a record for home runs hit by a Yankee catcher, Severino will finish in the top three for the AL Cy Young Award, and Bird showed the potential he has if he played a full season.
The future is bright for the Yankees and there are more prospects coming who will gain experience and also learn from it. Remember, the Yankees are considered ahead of schedule and they can only get better.
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