Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge hits a two-RBI home run against the Oakland Athletics in the 2018 American League wild-card playoff game on Oct. 3, 2018, at Yankee Stadium.

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Murti: Yankees Lineup Back In The Swing Of Things Heading Into ALDS

It's A Different Team Than One Sox Swept In August

Sweeny Murti
October 05, 2018 - 9:25 am
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Things I learned about the Yankees after the wild-card game:

• The lineup is healthy again and it makes a difference. When Aaron Judge was out of the lineup with a broken wrist, the Yankees managed to play over .500, but they weren’t dominant or consistent. When facing good pitching in the playoffs, consistency isn’t always a thing. But the lineup now has a top-to-bottom depth that it didn’t have when the Yanks were running Shane Robinson out there in right field. That’s due also to the healthy returns of Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez. Also the additions of Luke Voit and Andrew McCutchen. This is a far different lineup now than the one that was swept at Fenway Park in August.

• Early in spring training, Aaron Boone threw out “Control the strike zone” as one of the team’s slogans. He actually called it a bumper sticker .It was on full display in the first inning Wednesday night. McCutchen walked on five pitches, and Judge followed by working the count to 2-1. Both players took a called strike, which means they didn’t swing at any of Liam Hendriks' first eight pitches. Judge swung at his ninth pitch -- and drilled the two-run homer that signaled to just about everyone they weren’t going to lose that game.

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• Boone might try to stretch a few more outs from his starters now in a longer series after getting only 12 from Luis Severino against the A’s. But liberal bullpen usage is still a major part of the Yankees' game plan for winning this postseason. The Yankees built this team with an emphasis on relievers with high strikeout ability and now is the time when that pays off. Think of it this way: The list of the Yankees' best players includes many of their back-end pitchers. You would think Boone is crazy if he made out a lineup that left Judge or Gregorius or Miguel Andujar on the bench. So why play the most important games without using your best pitchers?

• The early hook for Andujar for the defensive upgrade to Adeiny Hechavarria was an interesting one. It likely sets a pattern for this Boston series, too, strategically trying to get the better defender on the field for the most outs. Boone made the move in the sixth inning with a two-run lead Wednesday. I would be shocked to see Andujar play all nine innings of any close game.

• It didn’t hurt them, but the Yankees' infield defense got ugly in the wild-card game. The A’s put only three balls in play on the ground in the first four innings against Severino, and the Yankees nearly botched all of them. One of Andujar’s two bad throws was saved, while Voit’s misfire to second base cost the Yankees a chance at a double play. The Yankees inability to turn two this year was historic. They turned only 95 double plays in 162 games, the lowest total in the majors.  It was also, according to Elias, the lowest total by any team in a nonstrike season since 1935. By itself, that isn’t a great indicator -- the Red Sox are second from the bottom, and they’re a pretty good team. And while the high strikeout total of the Yankees' pitchers helps take away DP chances, it’s also true that the Yankees' infield defense is subpar and could cost the Yankees a game very soon.

MORE: Keidel: Old School Trumps New Age In AL Wild-Card Game

• Yankees-Red Sox again, huh? This should be fun. It’s been a long time since the stakes were high like this. I would laugh when people would tell me over the last decade or so that the rivalry isn’t the same as it was in those famous ALCS battles of 2003 and 2004. Those were two of the most intense series in history. By the time it was over, the Yankees and Red Sox had played 52 times between April 2003 and October 2004. You want to talk rivalries? Ohio State and Michigan played one football game in that time. It was never going to get better than that, the two endings with such opposite emotions making for incredible storylines. Still my favorite moments covering baseball the last two decades. This time it will be intense, and there will be a lot on the line, although not nearly as much because the winner doesn’t get to advance straight to the World Series. If we are treated to some close games and exciting finishes, it will be special to watch. But don’t expect it to be like last time.

Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN

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