Friends, that was a great ballgame last night. I would absolutely watch it again twice more, if the Yankees feel like repeating it. They now have a 1-0 lead in the ALDS over the hated Rays and it feels really good. I want more, though. Let’s make it 2-0 tonight, shall we?
Here are some outstanding thoughts as the Yankees look to do just that against Tyler Glasnow and the Rays tonight at 8:07 pm ET.
1. The Bronx Bombers are Back: The Yankee offense, essentially from top-to-bottom, has just been incredible so far in the postseason. There’s no other word for it. They’ve faced the American League’s two best pitching staffs so far in Cleveland (3.29 ERA) and Tampa Bay (3.56 ERA) and pummeled them for 31 runs in 3 games. Great pitching? No problem for this offense, at least so far. As a team, the Yankees are hitting .333/.424/.675 in with 11 home runs. It is an impressive, impressive display of force – and they are reminding everyone that home runs, in fact, do play in the postseason.
A huge reason why the offense has been so successful is because they have been so patient at the plate. I wrote about this earlier in the recap, as well as in thoughts posts yesterday and last week, so it’s definitely a well-known thing at this point, but they’re averaging over 4 pitches per plate appearance as a team over the three games. If it feels like every at-bat has been productive, that’s probably because they have been. They are making pitchers work, they’re laying off junk out of the zone, and they’re attacking when they get the pitch they want. Couldn’t draw it up any better.
Ironically, the worst player in the lineup so far has been Aaron Judge. He’s hitting just .143/.250/.571 over the three games with 5 strikeouts in 16 plate appearances. But, as is the often case with Judge, he has stepped up in the big moment. Both of his hits are home runs, and both have been huge. Last night’s was another example, which made it 4-3 Yanks:
Judge hammered a hanging Snell curveball into the seats for his 10th career playoff home run and the 5th that gave the Yankees the lead. Not too shabby. (A-Rod had 10 home runs in his entire NYY playoff career, for comparison’s sake.) Anyway, it’s good to see Judge’s power stroke return – it was missing there for a while – and let’s hope he can heat up, as the Yanks will face an imposing opponent tonight in Tyler Glasnow.
Glasnow, who held opponents to a .200 batting average against and a .673 OPS against in 2020, will rely on the Yankees chasing his nasty off-speed offering out-of-the-zone with two strikes to be successful. Here are all of Glasnow’s strikeout locations in 2020:
More of the same, right? The Yankee gameplan should be the same as it has been with Bieber and Snell. They will need to be disciplined at the plate and lay off a nasty bender, especially with two-strikes. It is easier said than done, of course. But, so far, the Yankees have done that far better than anyone could have reasonably hoped against some of the American League’s best pitchers. Let’s just hope they keep it up tonight.
2. On the Decision to Use Deivi: The Yankees really surprised me when they announced that Deivi Garcia will get the ball tonight. I did not see this one coming at all. My best guess is that they want to sandwich a lesser pitcher in-between proven playoff horses Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka to save the bullpen (more on that in a bit). Aaron Boone was definitely non-commital with using Tanaka in Game 2 so that part didn’t surprise me. But going to Deivi certainly did.
Don’t get me wrong: I love Garcia. I think that’s obvious by now. The kid is incredibly impressive and has flashed some dominant stuff in his rookie campaign. I’m just surprised he’s getting the ball in Game 2. I would have thought J.A. Happ would be the option. Happ has been great lately and even has some success against Tampa Bay to boot.
Tampa, however, mashes lefties and has never seen Garcia before. I’d guess that the latter is the biggest reason behind the decision. The Yanks and Tampa have played each other so much lately that there’s virtually element of surprise between the two clubs. Garcia changes that. The Rays have never seen this in person, after all:
And the Yankee pen is fully rested, including both J.A. Happ and Jordan Montgomery. They will probably use Deivi for one turn through the lineup, or perhaps two at most. That’s only if he’s really dealing, though. I fully expect Happ to start Game 4 (if necessary), so my best guess is that Montgomery, not Happ, will be first out of the pen tonight. Fingers crossed that he’s better than he was after the Chapman/Brosseau dust-up if that’s the case.
3. All Eyes on You, Deivi: When he takes the ball tonight, Deivi will become the youngest pitcher to ever start a playoff game for the Yankees. No pressure, kid. He’ll be looking to give the Yanks a commanding 2-0 lead in the ALDS and to be successful, he’ll just have to use his best stuff. There’s no secret weapon here, like there was with Gerrit Cole and velocity yesterday (even though the Rays hunted his fastball and couldn’t hit his curve, after all of that). In fact, the opposite is true this time.
The Rays are weak against high-velocity fastballs, which Garcia does not (technically) have. His fastball averages just 92 mph, even if it plays up to batters off his curve. He also deploys that curve and a slider, but the Rays crush both. Their .365 wOBA against curveballs and .286 batting average against such pitches are both tops in MLB, and they have the 7th best wOBA (.292) against sliders, too. It’s a tough matchup for Deivi, at least by the numbers. The Rays match up well against him.
That is in all theoretical, though. The reality is that Garcia’s stuff is highly deceptive and can clearly play at the Major League level. When he’s been on – which has been the case in 4 of his 6 MLB starts – Garcia has been extremely effective. Batters have been befuddled and looked lost. That’s no coincidence. It is a direct result of his arsenal, which is extremely deceptive despite the low-ish velocity. Look at the locations and pitch types of all of his strikeouts, for example:
That is a lot of middle fastballs, isn’t it? Especially for a 92 mph offering. It is important to remember that there is more than meets the eye with Deivi. It is very obvious that his stuff really plays up. The point I want to make here is that if Garcia is on, the Rays are going to have a tough time against him. It is really as simple as that.
This is a tough situation for the Yankee rookie, but I have full confidence in him. He was called up during a rocky stretch for the Yankees and immediately became the most reliable starter. He was a jolt of energy on a frankly very un-fun team at the time. I don’t think the moment is going to be too big for him. Not at all.
4. The Bullpen, Rested & Ready to Go: The Yankee pen should be 100% available behind Deivi (and Montgomery) tonight. This is good news for the Yanks. Last night’s huge 9th inning really paid dividends for the Yankees moving forward in this series. That grand slam from Stanton was more than just a huge personal moment for him. It also saved the Yankee pen.
The Yanks needed just two of their big relievers last night, both of whom had relatively mild workloads: Chad Green threw 20 pitches and Zack Britton threw 14. I know Chapman was warming up, but he ended up not being needed in the game. Huge. It really is, as he should be available in Games 2 and 3 if needed. Both Green and Britton should be ready to go tonight, too.
In a perfect world, I think the Yankees are counting on Deivi and Montgomery to get through 6 innings tonight, giving Boone options to attack innings 7, 8, and 9. If the Yankees have a close lead at that point, I think we’ll see the same formula as last night: Green to Britton to Chapman. Then you worry about how the pen is set up for Game 3 after (hopefully) taking a 2-0 lead in the series. (We saw how playing it conservative with the pen worked out for Kevin Cash, who got thoroughly out-managed by Boone last night.)
I also want to point out two other interesting things related to the pen. First, Britton didn’t use any of his slider yesterday. It was sinker, sinker, sinker. He pounded the ball down to the Rays and he worked a quick inning – even with the obligatory walk – as a result. Check it out:
We’ll have to see if that approach changes as the Rays see more of him. He does use his slider a lot (20%) generally. Second, Chad Green really seemed to be working lower in the zone than usual, didn’t he? Look at this plot:
That’s a lot down in the zone from Green. Certainly feels like more than usual, at least. It’s not like he was missing his spots, either. It was definitely where Higashioka was setting up. It definitely caught my eye right away during the game.
My uneducated guess? Green is trying to tunnel his curve and fastball together to create additional deception. He’s relied a lot on his curve in the postseason – too much, some might say – but I think it makes sense. I have been a big proponent of the curve all season and think it can make him an even more dynamic pitcher. (He should never be afraid to use that fastball up in the zone, though. That’s probably where it is most effective.)
It could especially make sense against the Rays, who have seen him a lot. His fastball may not have the same “surprise” velocity against them. Maybe it was just the specific plan of attack for those hitters. We’ll see, I guess. But it was definitely an interesting approach from both Green last night and I’m curious to see if it continues.
5. Just Win, Please: This last thought is going to be a bit less analytical. I just want to say that I really, really hope the Yankees win this freaking game tonight. I think the Yankees are a better team than Tampa – we’ve said that all season here. Over a full 162-game season, I still think the Yankees win the division.
Last night showed why. The Yankee lineup was actually healthy and they manhandled Blake Snell, hammered mistakes, and won easily. It was just what we thought would happen. But it’s only as good as the most recent game, right? The Yanks have to win 3 games to move on. They came out swinging last night, and that was great. But they have 2 more to go, and Tampa is not going to go away quietly.
In fact, after Gleyber Torres stole 2nd while up 6 last night – this came after the Rays brushed him back – they make try to make some noise tonight. Tensions will be high no matter what, but this one could get chippy. The Yanks took care of business last night, though. They’re in the driver’s seat. Now we just gotta hope they stay there.