Despite some scary moments early in Tuesday night’s AL Wild Card Game against the Minnesota Twins, the New York Yankees are advancing to the real playoffs, where they will face the Cleveland Indians starting on Thursday night. The Bronx Bombers rode their stellar bullpen and their big bats to an 8-4 victory over the outmatched Twins, and New York now stands as a really scary 4-seed for Cleveland and, beyond, for the winner of the Red Sox vs. Astros series. At the head of the Yankees’ season has been massive Adonis Aaron Judge, whose 52 home runs this year are a new rookie record. Judge went yard on Tuesday, helping separate the Yankees from the Twins at a key moment, but that’s almost expected at this point. One of New York’s biggest advantages this season comes in the form of their other young superstar-in-the-making: Dominican catcher Gary Sánchez.
Before Judge went from home run novelty to legitimate MVP candidate, it was Sánchez that received all the hype following last year’s cameo appearance. In his first extended stay in the major leagues, Sánchez played in 53 games in 2016, finishing with a ridiculous 20 home runs and 42 RBIs, which earned him a second-place finish in the AL Rookie of the Year race despite playing just a third of the season. He followed that up with the most overshadowed season in recent memory, as Judge’s monster debut towered over Sánchez’s bid to become the best offensive catcher in baseball.
A .278/.345/.531 slash line puts him at the head of the pack, especially when it comes to postseason catchers, which range from “fine” to “near catastrophe” at the plate. Having Sánchez providing them with powerful offense from the backstop is an advantage the Yankees should be thanking their lucky stars for; that he hit 33 dingers to break the single-season team record for home runs by a catcher (previously held by legend Yogi Berra and all-around good dude Jorge Posada) is just the cherry on top of the 6’2″ sundae. Getting that kind of offensive production from a position generally known for its defense and game-calling (two aspects of the game where Sánchez is adequate enough) is almost unheard of.
While Sánchez’s contribution to the Wild Card game came mostly at the expense of his little Gary (pitcher David Robertson’s reaction even overshadowed the initial, unfortunate foul ball), against Cleveland and its stable of great arms, the 24-year-old Dominican will be just as important as his taller, more hyped up teammate in right field. If Sánchez can replicate his regular season form, or even top it, the Yankees will be able to turn their massive catcher advantage into tangible, postseason results. For a team that prides itself on its 27 World Series titles, getting #28 would be sweet, but knowing you have two young superstars to guide you to #29 and beyond would be even better. Just don’t forget that it takes two freakishly talented youngsters to tango.