4 Yankees under most pressure in 2020 MLB playoffs

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Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the New York Yankees (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

3. Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka has long been the Yankees’ playoff ace. This time, a new contract is on the line.

No one has looked more unflappable for the Yankees in the postseason than Masahiro Tanaka over the past half-decade, but this season, the script has flipped a little bit.

We’re not saying he’s going to feel the added pressure, but there’s some personal incentive embedded in pitching particularly well during this playoff run. Tanaka’s role has also changed quite a bit.

In 2017, he was the stabilizing force behind the electric Luis Severino. In 2018, same situation, except with JA Happ (lol, yeah, oops) starting Game 1 of the DS after Severino took the Wild Card Game. Just last season, Tanaka and James Paxton alternated series openers.

This year, there’s an undisputed ace on the staff in Gerrit Cole, but Tanaka’s the last “sure thing,” preceding young Deivi Garcia, Happ himself, and a potential Jordan Montgomery start. If Tanaka falters, there isn’t much insurance behind him who you can absolutely count on in a pinch. Fans are assuming greatness, which is a Cole-like bummer. Either you’re near-perfect and it’s expected, or you scuffle a bit, and the whole plan is upended.

This time around, Tanaka’s livelihood depends on being a playoff ace, too. A free agent without the safety net of an option for the first time in his MLB career, a lot of teams will be watching Tanaka like a hawk, who also might be pitching to justify his return to the Yankees.

Let’s see how he handles a postseason that looks a little different, both in terms of the bubble and his personal security.