Game 2 of the ALDS was bizarre. It was bizarre before the game even started. That theme continued after the game as well. It is a bit difficult to recall a pre-game strategy potentially influencing an entire playoff series to this degree. The Yankees and Rays are tied 1-1. Even after calming down from last night’s rollercoaster experience, I still believe a different approach delivers a commanding 2-0 series lead. Here are some thoughts.
The Opener Plan Didn’t Make Sense
The Tampa Bay Rays have a middle of the pack offense. Outside of Randy Arozarena, aka Randy Trout, and Brandon Lowe, there aren’t many dynamic offensive players on their roster. Here are some of their numbers and rankings in various offensive categories:
- 109 WRC+ (9th)
- .325 wOBA (13th)
- .425 SLG (15th)
- 26.9 K% (2nd)
- 0.40 BB/K (15th)
- 289 R (12th)
- 608 K (1st)
This isn’t a dominant lineup in any sense of the word. It would be unfair to say the Rays construct their lineups using smoke and mirrors but they have to employ non-traditional approaches to maximize their talent. This is one major reason why they rely so much on platoon situations. They can’t throw nine guys out there, sit back and watch the lineup do their thing. In other words, they don’t have the luxury of trotting out a lineup like the Yankees or Dodgers. So, if that is the case, why are the Yankees developing a pitching game plan rooted in concern for the Rays platoon approach?
Aaron Boone wanted to force the Rays’ hand by counteracting their lefty lineup with JA Happ. Boone went on to say the Yankees didn’t go into the game limiting Deivi to just one inning. The length of Deivi’s outing was dependent upon what they saw from the young starter. One definitive aspect of this strategy was going to Happ early in the game. The Yankees didn’t know exactly when they would go to him.
None of this makes any sense. The foundational logic of the strategy has flaws. As we all know by now, there are no off days on the ALDS schedule. The Yankees have a short bullpen for multiple reasons. One of those reasons being a lack of dependable options. The team willingly entered a bullpen game with a 1-0 series lead, no off days, and few trustworthy arms. Yes, there is the potential for a bullpen game at some point in this series but why push it up to the second game of the series when you have a fantastic opportunity to take a commanding lead? If you take care of business in the first three games, there is no need for a bullpen heavy game.
You have to gameplan for that day’s game. This idea that you need one eye on today and one eye on the future leaves you cross-eyed and tied in a huge playoff series. Overall, the Yankees need length from their starters. They don’t need less of it. García had some jitters. He gave up a home run to Arozarena but there wasn’t anything alarming about his lone inning of work. The platoon game isn’t a strong enough reason to immediately turn to Happ in the second inning. It especially doesn’t make sense because Deivi got the two lefties out and gave up a home run to a red hot righty hitter. Also, if you didn’t know when you were going to Happ, why was he up in the pen after three pitches? It is confounding that a team with limited pitching depth consciously chose to burn two pitchers in two innings because of some perceived platoon advantage.
Speaking of perceived platoon advantage, Kevin Cash and the Rays didn’t even take the bait. The Yankees plan was so out of left field the Rays probably knew something funky was up. Boone showed his hand before the game even started. The Rays didn’t scramble and start playing the match-up game. Cash showed faith in their game plan. The team who has to use innovative approaches to win just threw their guys out there and competed. That should tell you all you need to know about the Yankees plan last night. The team that needs creativity to survive went the traditional route. The team with the imposing roster got cute for no reason and paid for it. It may be a better strategy to just assert your dominance and win a series.
One other confusing aspect of the Yankees’ strategy is building the game plan around the team’s most inconsistent starter. JA Happ hasn’t earned the right to be the centerpiece of a playoff game plan. Happ pitched well in his last couple of starts in the regular season. The overall body of work still remains. It feels shortsighted to allow a few productive starts to influence a pitching strategy that is already undermining the situation and context of the entire series. And to make matters worse, the “bulk” guy didn’t provide much bulk. Happ went 2 2/3 innings and probably should’ve been pulled earlier. The opener strategy didn’t make much sense in a conceptual manner and the execution of the strategy made matters worse. It was a bad strategy that truly earned its results.