Three teams left for two spots in American League

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Not only were the Yankees eliminated on Wednesday, but with the Rays and Indians both prevailing, the Orioles and Royals were likewise ruled out of the wild card chase, leaving only the Rangers in position to possibly overtake the top two in the hunt.

The up-to-the-minute standings:

Rays: 89-69
Indians: 88-70
Rangers: 87-71

All three teams have a full slate remaining. The Rays finish up their series with the Yankees on Thursday, while the Indians and Rangers begin four-game series. The Indians will travel to Minnesota, and the Rangers will host the Angels. The Rays finish up with three games in Toronto.

The schedule, which has been very kind to Cleveland of late, doesn’t seem to particularly favor any of the teams this weekend. The Twins are the weakest of the opponents, but it helps that they’ll be at home. The Indians are just 37-40 on the road this year, compared to 51-30 at home. They’re 9-6 in 15 games against the Twins.

The Rangers are an impressive 11-4 against the Angels. They’re 42-35 at home.

The Rays are 10-6 against the Blue Jays and 38-39 on the road.

All things considered, one probably has to prefer the chances of the teams currently in the drivers seats. The Rangers aren’t playing well enough to make a four-game sweep seem at all likely, and if they merely go 3-1 against the Angels, they’ll be lucky to gain the ground needed to force a one-game playoff.

 

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.