With season on line, here's what Yanks need

October 9th, 2020

When Yankees infielder was asked before Game 4 of the American League Division Series about the pressure that comes with facing elimination, he responded, “I feel like we play our best when our backs are against the wall.”

The remark held true on Thursday night as the Yanks took a 5-1 victory over Tampa Bay at Petco Park. Now, they will try to do it again in Game 5 on Friday. Entering this year, teams that had trailed 2-1 in any best-of-five postseason series had come back to win 25 out of 87 times (29 percent). But 25 of the 45 clubs (56 percent) that won Game 4 proceeded to also win Game 5 to advance.

Will New York be able to complete the comeback to move on to the AL Championship Series to face the Astros for the second consecutive year? Here are three keys to victory for the Yankees in Game 5:

1. Get five innings from
This seems pretty doable for someone who lasted at least five innings in all but one of his 12 regular-season starts this year. But this outing is unlike any he has made before. In his eight seasons in the big leagues, including four previous trips to the postseason, Cole has never made a start on short rest.

In Game 1 of the ALDS against the Rays on Monday, Cole gave up three runs on six hits (two homers) in six innings. From the moment the game ended, he has been preparing to toe the rubber again. For the Yankees to be able to advance, they’ll need their ace to lead the way.

“I’m excited to see him go pitch, there’s no question,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “To be able to hand the ball to probably the best pitcher in the game, there’s some comfort in that.”

2. Keep Randy Arozarena in check
Even in the Yankees’ 9-3 victory on Monday, Arozarena was a difficult out, going 3-for-4 with a solo homer. In the Rays’ wins in Games 2 and 3, he hit a combined 5-for-8 with two RBIs and two home runs. But if the Yanks can silence the hot-hitting rookie’s bat like they did on Thursday night, their chances of winning will escalate.

Arozarena went 0-for-4 -- his first hitless game of the postseason -- with two strikeouts in Game 4. But the Yankees have learned just how dangerous he can be, as the 25-year-old has still hit .500 with a 1.592 OPS during the series.

3. Take advantage with runners in scoring position
The Yankees did a decent job of this through the series' first three games, hitting .300 (6-for-20) in such situations. But Thursday night presented more challenges. Although it didn’t change the outcome of Game 4, New York went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and left 10 men on base.

In the second inning, hit a leadoff homer before three consecutive walks loaded the bases with no outs. However, the Yankees mustered just one run on a sacrifice fly from LeMahieu and will need to do better in Game 5.

Who needs to break out?
The Yankees need Judge. For a brief moment, it looked like the slugger was emerging from his end-of-season slump when he launched a two-run homer in his first postseason at-bat against Shane Bieber last week, but he has yet to find his footing since. During the ALDS, Judge has gone just 2-for-18 (.111) with a homer and two RBIs, providing little help to the top of the order:

1. LeMahieu: .333 average, .714 OPS
2. Judge: .111 average, .428 OPS
3. Aaron Hicks: .429 average, 1.000 OPS
4. Giancarlo Stanton: .375 average, 1.599 OPS

Pick to click:
Who could be the unsung hero of Game 5? Frazier flexed his muscles in Game 1 of the ALDS, recording a homer as his first career postseason hit. He got the start again in Game 2 against Tyler Glasnow -- who will start on Friday -- and went 1-for-4 with three strikeouts.

Stanton has taken the spotlight throughout the series, but the depth of the Yankees’ lineup leaves a possibility for anyone to be the hero. And with Frazier’s raw power and tremendous bat speed, he could certainly deliver a timely hit.

Who needs to get big outs?
This could be the moment for García to shine. Chad Green, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman combined to throw five innings without allowing a hit on Thursday. While those three hurlers will likely be in consideration to contribute in the deciding Game 5, García is a fresh arm that the Yankees may need, especially if Cole exits early. The 21-year-old was the opener in Game 2, tossing just one frame and allowing one run. Despite his lack of experience, he could be needed to deliver in another win-or-go-home game.