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Masahiro Tanaka (Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)

Baseball

Tanaka Dominates Jays in Final Tune-up Before Playoffs

Right-hander struck out 15 Blue Jays in final regular season start.

It might be an understatement to say New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka has been inconsistent in 2017. He’s had stretches here and there when he looked like the expected ace. He’s also had games where he looked like he shouldn’t even be in the rotation.

The Yankees, while still mathematically in the AL East race, are most likely headed for a one-game playoff against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday. At the beginning of the season, if someone asked who would pitch a one-game, win-or-go-home situation for the Yankees, just about everyone would have said Tanaka. Now? Not so much. Yankees fans would probably cringe if Tanaka was the first choice to pitch such a game, due to his up and down season. Luis Severino has been the teams ace this season and will start the Wild Card game.

However, if the Yankees advance past the Twins and into the Division Series, Tanaka will need to play a key role. It’s likely Sonny Gray would get the Game 1 start against Cleveland ace Corey Kluber. That would put Tanaka in line for the all important Game 2. Gray was roughed up by the Tampa Bay Rays Thursday night in his final regular season start.

The Yankees will hope Friday afternoon was an indication that Tanaka can go on one of those dominant streaks. Dominant is exactly what the right-handed was against Toronto in his final regular season start.

Tanaka went gave up just three hits in seven shutout innings Friday. He was able to keep the Blue Jays lineup guessing and off-balance. Tanaka struck out 15 Jays batters.

The 12 losses is the most Tanaka has had since entering Major League Baseball. The most prior was seven losses in 2015. He also has career worsts in ERA (4.94) and WHIP (1.27), both well above his career averages.

David Robertson and Dellin Betances finished off the shutout for Tanaka’s 13th win of the season, the second most of his career. Tanaka has struck out a career high 179 batters this season.

If the Yankees are to make a serious playoff run toward a potential World Series, Masahiro Tanaka will need to pitch well. Friday afternoon could be an indication he is ready for the big games.

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