NEW YORK – If you’re going to take down that trio of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke, a collection of arms so talented that it’s hard to even get them on the same fantasy baseball team, it’s going to take a special lineup.
It’ll require a lineup deep from one to nine, filled with sluggers and contact hitters that can grind out at-bats. A lineup filled with savages, as Yankees manager Aaron Boone might say.
A lineup that features a No. 8 hitter who can hit a grand slam that all but ended a series like former three-hole hitter Didi Gregorius did Saturday night.
The type of lineup that has pounded the Minnesota Twins into submission to grab a command 2-0 series lead after Saturday’s 8-2 win in the Bronx, extending the Yankees winning streak against Minnesota to 12 games.
“I’m not surprised. I know the lineup we have and the talent we have,” designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion said. “I know we’re going to do some damage.”
With apologies to the Twins, who yet again are the Washington Generals to the Yankees’ Harlem Globetrotters, we can declare this series is over. The Twins entered this series hoping this was finally their year to be Cinderella, but the clock struck midnight once the first pitch was thrown Friday.
The Yankees’ hitters have simply been too much for the Twins, which has turned this ALDS into the exhibition bout before the heavyweight rematch with the Astros. The Twins and the world are seeing just how potent this Yankees lineup can be at full strength, a scary thought considering the Yankees led the majors in runs scored despite a record-setting number of injuries.
Now that the regulars are healthy, it’s a lineup that features an embarrassment of riches.
Giancarlo Stanton, a former NL MVP, hits fifth. Gleyber Torres, masher of 38 bombs, bats sixth. Sanchez, the game’s premier slugging catcher, is seventh. And Gregorius, who burned these Twins with a three-run homer in the 2017 wild-card game, is your eight hitter. Even in a down season, Gregorius isn’t your typical eight hitter. There simply isn’t an easy out.
Friday’s game actually marked the first time Boone used that combination of players after a season of having to rely on unheralded reserves like Mike Tauchman, Mike Ford and Cameron Maybin.
“Now we have the full lineup together, it’s very exciting,” Encarnacion said. “Everybody in this room knows what we can do.”
Putting a seven spot on the board
The Twins are seeing first-hand what these full-strength Yankees can do, and it hasn’t been pretty. Take the third inning Saturday.
Two singles and a walk loaded the bases with no outs. The Yankees had a 1-0 lead. Twins manager Rocco Baldelli went to Tyler Duffey, who posted a 2.50 ERA during the regular season. Baldelli had the pitcher he wanted for that spot, but the Yankees wouldn’t go down easily, putting on a two-strike clinic.
Duffey got ahead and tallied two strikes on each of the next four batters, yet each ended with a productive outcome for the Yankees. Stanton’s sacrifice fly made it 2-0 before Torres singled in a run for a 3-0 lead. After Sanchez was hit by a pitch, Gregorius hit his grand slam to right field to all but end the game.
Gregorius stood at home, shifting his weight back and forth, while watching his bomb before rounding the bases as the sellout crowd screamed at the top of their lungs and Too $hort’s “Blow the Whistle” blared.
“That just shows you what this team can do,” Gregorius said. “We’re not just relying on one person. This group has always been together, top two batters doing damage. If I don’t do it today or don’t do it right now, there’s a guy behind me that I’ve got enough trust in him that he’s doing to do the job anyway. It’s always been like that for us.”
The Twins have averaged 7.38 pitches per out in this series, highlighting just how savage the Yankees have been in the box.
“That’s the strength of this team, one through nine, it’s going to get to a full count, every single time, we’re going to foul off pitches, then if you’re not going to pitch to us, we’ll take our walks,” Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge said. “We’re unselfish. Everybody is next man up. That’s what this makes team great. We get into that bullpen early and that helps you in a series like this — not only in that game, but next couple of games.”
Waiting on Houston
The Twins entered this series with a team that was supposed to be different than those teams that failed in yesteryears.
Sure, those teams had the likes of Johan Santana, Michael Cuddyer, Joe Mauer and Torii Hunter, among others, but this team set an MLB record for homers. They were supposed to be the ones who could finally step up to the Bronx bullies.
Only, the bullying hasn’t stopped with the Bomba Squad being reduced to second fiddle in this series. It’s the Yankees, not the Twins, that have been the relentless offense.
Now they’re sending a message: The Yankees are ready for their shot at the Astros’ vaunted trio. Yes, they’ll be massive underdogs, but confidence goes a long way in this game. And right now, the Yankees are healthy and ready to mash —just ask the Twins’ pitchers.
“In our meetings, we said, ‘Everybody do your job.’” Judge said. “Every time you step up to the plate, it’s not just up to you in the box. You got all of us in the box, everybody in the stands, having everybody behind you, it makes the job a little bit easier.”
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