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Analytics worked for Yanks in choosing Luis Severino
Considering how well J.A. Happ pitched since becoming a Yankee in late July -- and how shaky Luis Severino was until recently -- it seemed risky to give Severino the wild card start. But the Yankees were actually following analytics, as they so often do.
Oakland was an excellent offensive team in the regular season, finishing second in the American League in home runs and third in OPS. But according to MLB's Statcast data, they were significantly less effective against fastballs 97 mph or higher.
With that in mind, the first inning played out exactly as Brian Cashman's analytics team hoped. Severino began with a three-pitch strikeout of Nick Martini -- 95, 97, 98. He blew through the rest of the first inning, and then navigated trouble successfully for another three frames. The Yanks' choice of starter went precisely as planned.
Looks like Aaron Judge can contribute
When Judge returned from his wrist injury, questions lingered about whether that fracture -- which has still not fully healed -- would render him only semi-powerful through the postseason. A two-run homer in the first inning soothed whatever remained of those fears. His sixth-inning double didn't hurt, either.
The A's loss didn't prove anything about bullpenning
This game was not a referendum on bullpenning. Liam Hendriks made one big mistake to Judge, and the A's kept it close until the sixth. Then Fernando Rodney and Blake Treinen didn't have it. But resist any attempts to draw larger lessons from the experiment; this is the way baseball is headed.
Aaron Boone survives a slow hook mistake
Severino appeared to empty his tank escaping a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning. He had thrown 80 pitches without allowing a hit, but was clearly not pacing himself for a long game. The expectation going into the was that Severino would contribute about four innings, and it seemed wise to remove him after the taxing fourth.
But Boone made what could have been a major blunder when he allowed Severino to start the fifth. The first two batters singled, and Boone hurried out of the dugout to summon Dellin Betances. Had Betances allowed a run, the story of the slow hook would have followed Boone throughout the winter -- but the veteran reliever bailed out his manager with a dominant frame.
Remember, Betances was a non-factor last October. Now, if he continues to pitch like he did in earning six pivotal outs on Wednesday, look out American League.
The defense was game-planned, too
According to a source, the Yankees did not just map out their bullpen strategy. They also planned before the game even started to replace Miguel Andujar with Adeiny Hechavarria for defensive purposes in the sixth inning, if they had a lead. Leading 2-0 after five, they did just that -- and Hechavarria made a spectacular catch in the seventh.
Following a similar plan, Brett Gardner replaced Andrew McCutchen in left field in the eighth inning.
Luke Voit continues to make his presence felt
It's not just that Voit, the unheralded midseason acquisition previously known as a marginal player, tripled to break open the game in the sixth. It's that he did it against Oakland relief ace Blake Treinen, who had an historically dominant season, allowing just seven earned runs all year. If Voit can get to Treinen, he is capable of hitting anyone this month.
Giancarlo Stanton homered in his first playoff game
This marquee acquisition will be judged by his Yankee Octobers, and his was not a great beginning. Stanton's strikeout in the first helped Hendriks to stabilize his wobbly inning. But Stanton's night improved from there. He drew a walk against Treinen in the sixth, and scored on Voit's knockout-punch triple. Then he hit a garbage-time homer off Treinen in the eighth that will help stave away any narratives about him being A-Rod 2.0.