John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
In the end, the Yankees overmatched the Twins in every way possible, even adding spectacular defense to their championship resume, but by far the most significant development in this ALDS sweep of the Twins was the official return of Luis Severino.
With four shutout innings in the 5-1 win that featured some gutsy escapes from jams, Severino offered reason to believe he can at least be a third potentially dominant starter the Yankees need in this post-season, and perhaps at most the ace he has been at times in his young career.
Let's face it, the 25-year old righthander had a lot to prove in his Game 3 start on Monday night, in part because he'd pitched all of 12 innings this season, and in part because he came in with a 6.26 postseason ERA that raised questions about his mental toughness.
So when the Twins loaded the bases on Severino with no outs in the second inning, well, you couldn't help but remember him lasting only 1/3 of an inning in the 2017 Wild Card Game against these same Twins, and wondering if he was about to blow up early again.
Instead he pulled off a miraculous escape that took 18 pitches to retire the next three batters -- Miguel Sano on a pop-up with a 97-mph fastball, Marwin Gonzalez on a strikeout swinging at an 85-mph down-and-in slider, and Jake Cave on a strikeout looking at an equally dazzling slider to a lefthanded hitter.
It was a spirit-crushing sequence for the Twins, who had to know at that point they had no shot of even making this a series. Indeed, for all their home run power, after setting the all-time major league record this season with 307 long balls, they managed a grand total of seven runs over three games, while being outscored 23-7.
Meanwhile, for the Yankees it had to be nothing short of inspirational seeing Severino raise his game at such a pivotal moment. They know they have all the other necessary weapons to win their first championship since 2009. If they can just match, or come close to matching the Astros' starting pitching -- if indeed the 'Stros put the Rays away -- well, how can you not like their chances of winning it all?
After all, the bullpen lived up to the hype in this series, allowing only three runs over 13 1/3 innings, as Aaron Boone had a relatively short leash with each of his starters -- in Severino's case at least partly because his limited action since returning from injury.
And their offensive firepower is obvious. The Yankees hit one fewer home run than the Twins this season, setting a new team record, but also offered a reminder in this series that they're much more equipped to win a title than last year, as DJ LeMahieu has added a contact-hitting dimension they needed, and Gleyber Torres continues to ascend toward superstardom.
What shouldn't go overlooked either is Edwin Encarnacion's presence in the No. 4 spot in the lineup. He had a major impact in the series, with Boone raving about the quality of his at-bats, and basically he gives the Yankees the type of difference-maker they thought they were getting in Giancarlo Stanton.
Which, in turn, takes all sorts of pressure off Stanton, who walked a lot in this series but managed only one hit, a bloop single Monday night.
Finally, the Yankees' defense looks championship-worthy as well, especially with LeMahieu at first base. That was never the plan when he signed on as a free agent, but Gio Urshela's rather stunning development at third base has allowed the Yankees to get creative with LeMahieu, and putting a former Gold Glove second baseman at first gives them one of the best infield defenses in all of baseball.
He and Torres put that defense on display in Game 3, combining on a spectacular play to rob Eddie Rosario of a hit in the fifth inning, killing still another Twins' rally.
And later there was Aaron Judge making a leaping catch of Sano's line drive to prevent another run, a catch that perhaps only he could have made at 6-foot-7.
But for all their ways the Yankees can win games, at some point it could come back to whether they have enough starting pitching, and that's why Severino's night was so important. None other than Judge said so, calling him "our ace" as he talked to reporters in the clubhouse afterward.
"Our ace, Severino -- we missed him a lot this year," Judge said. "But we're getting him back at just the right time."
There will be bigger games before we know that for sure, but the way Severino pitched on Monday night, it's fair to say that in more ways than one the Yankees took a huge step toward winning a championship.