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Why Masahiro Tanaka is the most important Yankee in the ALCS


Tanaka will get the first crack at the Astros in the ALCS.
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

A day after wrapping up the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians, the New York Yankees announced their ALCS starting rotation on Thursday. Masahiro Tanaka will start Game 1 against the Houston Astros, followed by Luis Severino in Game 2, CC Sabathia in Game 3, and Sonny Gray in Game 4.

To put it bluntly, Tanaka can’t falter in Game 1.

We don’t mean that in the traditional “the Game 1 starter sets the tone for the whole series” sense, either. Certainly, there’s some truth to that. When you only need four wins and can’t lose more than three times, every game is important. But the Game 1 result isn’t necessarily what’s important for Tanaka.

What’s important is that he gets outs and goes deep into the game. If he does that and New York still loses, then things still shape up relatively well for the Yankees. If, however, the team wins despite a short, quick outing from its starter, we’ll still have reason to be pessimistic about New York’s hopes for the remainder of the series.

This all boils down to a very simple idea. The exceptionally talented Yankees bullpen has been stretched out in these playoffs. Tanaka and Severino did provide something of a break in Games 3 and 4 of the ALDS. Still, it’s a group that’s been heavily taxed.

New York’s relievers have been responsible for 27.1 of the 56 innings that the team has pitched in is six postseason games. That works out to nearly 49 percent (82 of 168) of the outs that Yankees have recorded this postseason. By contrast, the Astros bullpen has locked down more than 53 percent (54 of 105) of its team’s outs. Now, if a four percent gap doesn’t seem significant, consider some other things.

One, the Astros have played two fewer games than New York. Two, Houston clinched its ALDS over the Boston Red Sox on Monday, while the Yankees clinched on Thursday. The extra two days rest is darn significant. Lastly, two of the 4.2 innings that the Astros’ bullpen was called on to pitch on Monday were handled by Justin Verlander — a starting pitcher.

If Tanaka has a short outing on Friday night, then New York’s bullpen will be out of the frying pan and right back into the fire. If the relievers are not already tired, a long night on Friday will go a long way towards wearing them down for the rest of this series.

A tired bullpen for the Yankees will spell a lot of trouble in the series, even they still manage a Game 1 win.

During the regular season, Houston was second in the league in home runs (238) and first in all three slash categories at .282/.346/.478. The Astros also struck out fewer times than any team in the league. In its four playoff games, Houston has slashed at .333/.402/.527 and hit eight home runs. So, the regular season magic has not disappeared.

This is not the team you want to face with a tired bullpen.

The Yankees defeating Houston in the ALCS would be an upset. The Astros are the better team and have home-field advantage. But despite that, a path to New York winning this series does exist. We’re not expecting it, but it wouldn’t be the upset of the century, either.

But that path starts with Tanaka eating up some innings in Game 1. The Yankees have the arms to at least limit what the Houston offense can do. But if that’s going to happen, the relievers need to be well rested and sharp for the whole series.

51 SLIDES
Every player on the 2017 ALCS rosters


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title: ‘Astros: Brian McCann, C’,
description: ‘

McCann hit 18 home runs in 97 games during the regular season and started all four games at catcher in the ALDS. He’s hit at least 18 home runs in 12 consecutive seasons.

Troy Taormina / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Yankees: Gary Sanchez, C’,
description: ‘

Sanchez has been a huge presence in the middle of the Yankees order all season, hitting .278-33-90 during the regular season. He went just 4-for-23 during the ALDS but did hit a pair of home runs.

Adam Hunger / USA Today Sports Images


}
,
{
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title: ‘Astros: Yuli Gurriel, 1B’,
description: ‘

Gurriel played his first full season in the majors after being signed out of Cuba last year. The 33-year-old hit .299-18-75 during the regular season and was a red hot 7-for-19 during the ALDS.

Shanna Lockwood / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Yankees: Greg Bird, 1B’,
description: ‘

Bird missed most of the regular season with a foot injury, but finished off the year healthy. He was 4-for-18 with two home runs during the ALDS.

Anthony Grupposo / USA Today Sports Images


}
,
{
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title: ‘Astros: Jose Altuve, 2B’,
description: ‘

Altuve is in the running for AL MVP after hitting .346-24-81 with 112 runs scored and 32 stolen bases during the regular season. He’s won three Batting Titles in the last four seasons, and hit three home runs during Game 1 of the ALDS vs. Boston.

Troy Taormina / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Yankees: Starlin Castro, 2B’,
description: ‘

Castro is coming off a strong year offensively, hitting .300-16-63 in 443 at-bats. He hit .273 during the ALDS.

Adam Hunger / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
src: ‘/media/f/c/fc197a9678dabbdafb4e753e6b479108e33257aa/xl/7.jpg’,
title: ‘Astros: Alex Bregman, 3B’,
description: ‘

The second overall pick in the 2015 draft, Bregman hit .284-19-71 with 17 stolen bases in his first full major league season. He also filled in at shortstop during the second half when Carlos Correa was injured.

Thomas Shea / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Yankees: Todd Frazier, 3B’,
description: ‘

Frazier has played both infield corners since being acquired from the White Sox in July. He hit .222-11-32 in 66 games with the Yankees.

David Richard / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Astros: Carlos Correa, SS’,
description: ‘

Correa was on pace for an MVP-caliber season until suffering a thumb injury at midseason. He still hit .315-24-84 in only 422 at-bats this season and had two home runs in the ALDS.

Thomas Shea / USA Today Sports Images


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{
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title: ‘Yankees: Didi Gregorius, SS’,
description: ‘

After a strong regular season, Gregorius was the Yankees hero during the ALDS against Cleveland. He hit three home runs during the series, including two long balls in the deciding Game 5 off of Corey Kluber.

Ken Blaze / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
src: ‘/media/2/7/2727af1c5d713e25ea0426ca4fbdf780761087f0/xl/5.jpg’,
title: ‘Astros: Marwin Gonzalez, UT’,
description: ‘

The versatile Gonzalez had a breakout season, hitting .303-23-90 in only 455 at-bats for Houston. He saw significant time in left field and all four infield positions this season.

Troy Taormina / USA Today Sports Images


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{
src: ‘/media/8/6/867015d3896be29b4b8c42af536b1b1d78e15ff3/xl/12.jpg’,
title: ‘Yankees: Brett Gardner, LF’,
description: ‘

A Yankee since 2008, Gardner hit a career-high 21 home runs during the regular season. He was 6-for-21 during the ALDS.

Ken Blaze / USA Today Sports Images


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{
src: ‘/media/d/1/d179e2e89ea2c82e9a0687cf20f9b5c47198aa42/xl/6.jpg’,
title: ‘Astros: George Springer, CF’,
description: ‘

Springer had another big power season in the leadoff spot for Houston, hitting .283-34-84 with 112 runs scored. He finished the year with a .367 on-base percentage.

Shanna Lockwood / USA Today Sports Images


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{
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title: ‘Yankees: Aaron Hicks, CF’,
description: ‘

Hicks has often received the nod in center field because of his strong defense. The switch-hitter had a career year, hitting .266-15-52 in only 88 games.

Adam Hunger / USA Today Sports Images


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{
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title: ‘Astros: Josh Reddick, RF’,
description: ‘

A former Gold Glove right fielder, Reddick signed a multi-year contract with Houston last offseason. He hit .314-13-82 in 134 games during the regular season.

Bob DeChiara / USA Today Sports Images


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title: ‘Yankees: Aaron Judge, RF’,
description: ‘

Judge broke Mark McGwire’s record for most home runs by a rookie with 52 during the regular season. He’s a top MVP candidate after producing a 1.049 OPS, but he struggled in the ALDS, with only one hit in 20 at-bats.

Adam Hunger / USA Today Sports Images


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title: ‘Astros: Carlos Beltran, DH’,
description: ‘

Beltran struggled at the plate this season at age 40, hitting only .231-14-51 in 467 at-bats. Likely a future Hall of Famer, he was a tremendous playoff track record hitting .325-16-52 with a 1.078 OPS in 200 career at-bats.

Andrew Dieb / USA Today Sports Images


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{
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title: ‘Yankees: Matt Holliday, DH’,
description: ‘

Holliday had another injury-plagued year, but he has significant playoff experience in his career with the Rockies and Cardinals. He hit 19 home runs in 105 games during the regular season but hasn’t appeared in the playoffs.

Wendell Cruz / USA Today Sports Images


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{
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title: ‘Astros: Evan Gattis, C/DH’,
description: ‘

Gattis had a disappointing year due to injuries but still hit .263-12-55 during the regular season. He’s still a major bat for opposing teams to account for, hitting 32 home runs in 2016.

Jim Cowsert / USA Today Sports Images


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{
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title: ‘Yankees: Austin Romine, C’,
description: ‘

Romine is superior defensively behind the plate to Gary Sanchez but hit only .218 in 229 at-bats during the regular season.

Noah K. Murray / USA Today Sports Images


}
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title: ‘Astros: Juan Centeno, C’,
description: ‘

A minor league veteran, Centeno played only 22 games in the majors during the regular season and serves as their third catcher.

Bob DeChiara / USA Today Sports Images


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title: ‘Yankees: Chase Headley, 3B’,
description: ‘

The 33-year-old Headley hit .273-12-61 in 512 at-bats during the regular season for the Yankees. He was hitless in 12 at-bats during the ALDS.

Wendell Cruz / USA Today Sports Images


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title: ‘Astros: Tyler White, 1B’,
description: ‘

A very capable bat off the bench, White played only 22 games in the majors this season but posted an .853 OPS. He hit .300-25-89 this year at Triple-A Fresno.

Thomas Shea / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
src: ‘/media/c/b/cb2fe62564f35fffdbd8832f80c87fc374d84390/xl/24.jpg’,
title: ‘Yankees: Ronald Torreyes, INF’,
description: ‘

Torreyes had a strong year as a utility infielder, hitting .292 in 315 at-bats.

Adam Hunger / USA Today Sports Images


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title: ‘Astros: Derek Fisher, OF’,
description: ‘

One of Houston’s best young prospects, Fisher hit only .212-5-17 in 146 at-bats for the Astros during the regular season. However, the toolsy outfielder hit 20 home runs in the minors for the third consecutive season and has a very bright future.

Bob DeChiara / USA Today Sports Images


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title: ‘Yankees: Jacoby Ellsbury, OF’,
description: ‘

Ellsbury struggled during the regular season, hitting just .264-7-39 with 22 steals in 112 games. He’s seen 11 plate appearances during the playoffs.

Tim Heitman / USA Today Sports Images


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title: ‘Astros: Cameron Maybin, OF’,
description: ‘

Acquired from the Angels late in the season, Maybin swiped 33 bases on the year. His defense is also very well-regarded.

Shanna Lockwood / USA Today Sports Images


}
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title: ‘Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka, SP’,
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Tanaka had an up and down regular season but is set to start Game 1 of the ALCS. He finished the regular season 13-12 with a 4.74 ERA in 30 starts but did have 194 strikeouts in 178.1 innings.

Anthony Grupposo / USA Today Sports Images


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{
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title: ‘Astros: Justin Verlander, SP’,
description: ‘

Houston acquired Verlander in late August to serve as their playoff ace. The former Cy Young winner in Detroit was lights out after joining the Astros, allowing only four runs over his five regular season starts. He tallied two wins during the ALDS, starting Game 1 and pitching in relief during Game 4.

Shanna Lockwood / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Yankees: Luis Severino, SP’,
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Severino had a breakout regular season and is coming off a good showing in the ALDS. He went 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA in 31 starts during the regular season.

Adam Hunger / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Astros: Dallas Keuchel, SP’,
description: ‘

The 2015 AL Cy Young winner, Keucher rebounded from a disappointing 2016 season to post a 2.90 ERA and 14 wins in 23 starts this season. He missed time due to injury during the regular season but is back on track in the playoffs, winning Game 2 of the ALDS.

Thomas Shea / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Yankees: Sonny Gray, SP’,
description: ‘

Acquired from Oakland at the trade deadline, Gray had a 3.72 ERA in 11 starts for the Yankees late this season. He finished the year with a 3.55 ERA in 27 starts total.

Ken Blaze / USA Today Sports Images


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{
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title: ‘Astros: Brad Peacock, SP’,
description: ‘

Peacock has experience a breakout season for the Astros at age 29, posting a 3.00 ERA and 13 wins in 34 appearances. He struggled in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Red Sox, however.

Erik Williams / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Yankees: CC Sabathia, SP’,
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A former Cy Young winner, Sabathia has turned back the clock this season. He went 14-5 with a 3.69 ERA in 27 starts during the regular season and has been effective during the playoffs.

David Richard / USA Today Sports Images


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title: ‘Astros: Charlie Morton, SP’,
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Morton has made the Astros look smart for signing him to a two-year, $14 million contract last offseason, finishing the season 14-7 with a 3.62 ERA in 25 starts. He showed increased velocity beginning last season and started Game 4 of the ALDS.

Shanna Lockwood / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Yankees: Aroldis Chapman, CL’,
description: ‘

The flamethrowing Chapman had a poor season for his purposes with a 3.22 ERA and 22 saves, but he’s gotten on track in the playoffs with four scoreless appearances.

Anthony Grupposo / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Astros: Lance McCullers Jr., RHP’,
description: ‘

An extreme groundball pitcher with terrific stuff, McCullers got off to a tremendous start early in the year but has struggled in the second half with back and arm issues. He pitched three innings out of the pen during the ALDS.

Troy Taormina / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Yankees: Dellin Betances, RHP’,
description: ‘

Betances struggled with walks this season but fanned 100 batters for the fourth straight season. He allowed one run in three innings during the ALDS.

Ken Blaze / USA Today Sports Images


}
,
{
src: ‘/media/9/2/92231249995cbccdfabb87ce7a632b7ca701c51e/xl/20.jpg’,
title: ‘Astros: Ken Giles, CL’,
description: ‘

Giles was a dominant closer for the Astros this season, with 34 saves and a 2.30 ERA in 63 appearances. He finished two games during the ALDS.

Bob DeChiara / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Yankees: Jaime Garcia, LHP’,
description: ‘

Garcia is conditioned as a starter and capable of going multiple innings. He threw 2.2 innings during his one appearances in the ALDS.

David Richard / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Astros: Chris Devenski, RHP’,
description: ‘

A Swiss Army Knife out of the pen for manager A.J. Hinch, Devenski has shown the ability to pitch multiple innings and fluster lefties with his changeup. He had a 2.68 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 80.2 innings during the season.

Thomas Shea / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Yankees: Chad Green, RHP’,
description: ‘

Green was terrific out of the pen for the Yankees this season, with a 1.83 ERA in 40 appearances. He’s allowed four runs in only 2.1 innings during the playoffs, however.

Ken Blaze / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Astros: Luke Gregerson, RHP’,
description: ‘

Houston’s former closer, Gregerson struggled with the long ball during the regular season and posted a 4.57 ERA in 65 appearances. He did have two scoreless appearances in the ALDS.

Shanna Lockwood / USA Today Sports Images


}
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{
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title: ‘Yankees: Tommy Kahnle, RHP’,
description: ‘

Acquired from the White Sox this season, Kahnle finished the year with a 2.59 ERA in 69 appearances. He had 96 strikeouts in only 62.2 innings.

Ken Blaze / USA Today Sports Images


}
,
{
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title: ‘Astros: Will Harris, RHP’,
description: ‘

Harris has been a key weapon in the Houston pen over the last three seasons. He had a 2.98 ERA and 7.43 K/BB ratio in 45.1 innings during the season.

Bob DeChiara / USA Today Sports Images


}
,
{
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title: ‘Yankees: Jordan Montgomery, LHP’,
description: ‘

Montgomery saw 29 starts during the regular season, with a 3.88 ERA. He’s yet to appear in the playoffs.

Adam Hunger / USA Today Sports Images


}
,
{
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title: ‘Astros: Francisco Liriano, LHP’,
description: ‘

A seasoned starting pitcher, Liriano has pitched out of the pen since coming over from Toronto at the trade deadline. He pitched in a specialist role during the ALDS.

Bob DeChiara / USA Today Sports Images


}
,
{
src: ‘/media/4/a/4a16b26502f6bd3a6fa744e6b6b0ae9a9bfa3477/xl/48.jpg’,
title: ‘Yankees: David Robertson, RHP’,
description: ‘

Robertson began the season as the White Sox closer. He had a 1.03 ERA in 30 appearances after being traded to the Yankees.

Anthony Grupposo / USA Today Sports Images


}
,
{
src: ‘/media/2/a/2ada3bd12f86571857ba8b37a99589142c6aa9a0/xl/25.jpg’,
title: ‘Astros: Joe Musgrove, RHP’,
description: ‘

Musgrove started the season in the starting rotation, but the control artist has found his groove in the bullpen. He had a 1.44 ERA in 23 relief appearances during the season and made two appearances during the ALDS.

Soobum Im / USA Today Sports Images


}
,
{
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title: ‘Yankees: Adam Warren, RHP’,
description: ‘

Warren was terrific out of the pen during the regular season, with a 2.35 ERA in 57.1 innings. He made one appearance during the ALDS.

Ken Blaze / USA Today Sports Images


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