3 keys for Yankees success heading into Blue Jays series

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Giancarlo Stanton/Aaron Judge/Vladimir Guerrero Jr./Jose Berrios Treated Image
Giancarlo Stanton/Aaron Judge/Vladimir Guerrero Jr./Jose Berrios Treated Image

The Yankees got the job done in Boston. Honestly, they did the unthinkable at this point in the season, sweeping the Red Sox out of their own building and cementing their spot at the top of the Wild Card race in the American League.

For now.

Entering Tuesday, an even bigger series with more consequences than the one this past weekend begins against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Yanks head to Rogers Centre in Toronto to face a very hungry Jays team that’s one game back of the second Wild Card at the moment.

You don’t have to explain to the Yanks what’s at stake here. Win the series and you likely can spare a game, maybe even two depending on how the rest of the division shakes out, against the Tampa Bay Rays and you’re still in the Wild Card Game on Oct. 5.

Lose the series and you head home to face the best team in the AL with postseason hopes on the line.

So, you know, no pressure at all. But seriously, the Yanks have answered under pressure, fighting back in one of the most hostile environments in baseball up in Boston. I’m sure they thanked Giancarlo Stanton tremendously for his historic weekend.

Whether it’s Stanton or someone else to start this new series, the Yanks won’t care as long as they win. Here are three keys to making sure that happens in Toronto over their next three:

1) Control Marcus Semien

It’s kind of obvious that the Yanks need to worry when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette come to the plate. They’ve been homer happy off the Yanks this season.

But let’s not forget about another All-Star who is slashing .306/.411/.677 with a 1.088 OPS against the Yanks in 16 games this season.

Semien has crushed Yanks pitching, with his seven homers being the most against any opponent this season. He’s also driven in 14 RBI and that’s from the two hole on most nights.

The veteran middle infielder can be a tone setter even though George Springer is above him in the leadoff spot. With Semien on base, that makes pitching to guys like Guerrero, Bichette, and Teoscar Hernandez extra scary because they’re all run producers.

2) Short leash on Taillon & Kluber

These are playoff games at this point, and manager Aaron Boone must act accordingly. Of course, he’s going to have faith in his starters. But Gerrit Cole is the one he can trust most on the road here.

It’s Jameson Taillon and Corey Kluber who should make him slightly nervous.

Taillon’s last start came against the Blue Jays, and he did well, allowing three runs over seven innings despite taking the loss. As for Kluber, he has just one start since returning to the team and he allowed three runs on eight hits over 4.1 innings last time out against a lowly Texas Rangers team. The Blue Jays’ offense is vastly better.

So it would bode well if Boone keeps an especially close eye on Taillon Tuesday night and Kluber on Thursday. You obviously don’t want to burn the bullpen right away with still a whole Rays series to play at the end of the regular season, but Boone can’t allow these two to work through too much trouble.

Luis Severino is back and has pitched well, while Domingo German has been activated from the IL and not used yet. Boone mentioned that Jonathan Loaisiga may be back Tuesday to begin the series, too.

So there are more than enough options and Boone should be utilizing them.

Sep 21, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino (40) pitches against the Texas Rangers during the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium.
Sep 21, 2021; Bronx, New York, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Luis Severino (40) pitches against the Texas Rangers during the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium.

3) Work Every At-Bat

Sounds simple enough, right? But it’s crucial when you see the Jays’ three best starters as the probables this week.

It’s Hyun Jin Ryu first followed by Jose Berrios and Robbie Ray on Wednesday and Thursday respectfully. Getting these guys out of the game, though very hard, usually works with pitch count. Brett Gardner is the best at working good at-bats, and out or not, forcing pitchers to throw the gauntlet at him. But with two lefties, you’d figure Boone starts him against Berrios on Wednesday night to give that to his team.

That leaves the rest of the group to make sure they’re not chasing out of the zone and making these guys work. Ryu, for example, has a plethora of pitches and has success against New York this season. Not chasing his breaking stuff and picking your spots when you’re up in the count will be a major key to knock him out of the game early and get to the bullpen.

Ray is another pitcher with a tremendous curveball, but Berrios will attack with his high-octane stuff. Each pitcher gives a different look for New York, but the approach remains the same: Stay patient and let these guys throw strikes.

Trying to do too much or jump on the first pitch, though it works in some cases, isn’t the right philosophy here. As we’ve seen from the Boston series, a single here or a walk there can do wonders.

So drive up the pitch count, make the starters sweat it out, and see how quickly the bullpen needs to start warming up for Toronto.

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