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.
There was a lot of talk about JA Happ’s performance last night and with good reason. He wasn’t good at all. JA finished his night with a line of 2.2IP, 5H, 4ER, 3BB, 2K, and a 13.50ERA. Guys and gals, that is bad. He didn’t have anything working. The stuff wasn’t crisp and the command was worse. Here is his pitch chart by pitch type:
There are some sinkers that are higher in the zone than some four-seamers. That isn’t a good thing. Happ threw almost double the number of sinkers than four-seamers. We’ve mentioned the Rays’ struggles against fastballs many times on this site. The decision to go with two seamers instead of busting the Rays’ hitters inside repeatedly with four seamers was curious. He didn’t have great command on the night but it appears the four-seamer had a little more control than the sinker.
It is pretty clear Happ wasn’t good last night. I don’t believe this was entirely his fault. Going back to this opener strategy, I believe Happ wasn’t put in a position to succeed. He is a 37 year old starting pitcher who hasn’t filled the bulk guy role. The Yankees didn’t use him in this manner one time during the regular season. Happ heavily relies on his routine to get ready for a start. That wasn’t the case last night. Boone curiously had him up in the pen three pitches into the inning. Presumably, he sat down when the Yankees were up to bat and then he entered in the second inning. None of that is routine for a guy like Happ. It shouldn’t be totally surprising that he didn’t have his command.
There was talk about Happ entering the game with a clean inning. For me, that is totally irrelevant. The issue isn’t when he entered the game. It is about having the opportunity to be fully prepared for when he entered the game. If you’re going to go the opener route, why not start Happ and then go to Deivi? Deivi has experience coming out of the pen during his short stint in AAA last season. Boone’s job is to place all of his players in the best position to excel. It doesn’t feel like that happened last night.
I know people don’t want to read this because most of our minds are made up about JA Happ. I get it. People are tired of his post game interviews. They’re tired of him seemingly making excuse after excuse. He hasn’t earned the benefit of the doubt up until this point. Last night feels like an exception though. Yes, he had a clean inning. With that said, it was in a relief appearance that should’ve never existed. We have to look at the larger context of the situation.
I can’t think of many people on the pitching side who were put in an optimal position. The Yankees were scrambling all night. They didn’t need to scramble. They were scrambling under a manager who’s weakness is clearly bullpen management. That was self-inflicted. Happ is going to take the fall for this but I think he has some partners on this one.
The Offense Was Good Enough
I don’t have much criticism of the Yankees lineup. They were able to put up five runs against the Rays’ absolute best. They continued their approach of grinding the opposing team’s starter and getting him out of the game early. Tyler Glasnow had a great night in the strikeout column but he wasn’t totally dominant of the lineup. He had some help from the home plate umpire and even then couldn’t get into the sixth inning. The Yankees did exactly what they were supposed to do when facing a pitcher like Glasnow. They made him work and they punished the few mistakes that they saw.
Speaking of mistakes, Giancarlo Stanton ain’t havin’ it. Sit back, relax and enjoy your round trip flight on Stanton Airlines:
I hope you all enjoyed your flight.
Again, the offense did a good job of getting runs against some filthy pitchers. They got some walks. They were able to work at-bats long enough to see good pitches to hit. There were guys who struggled, notably Gary Sánchez, but the overall performance was good. If you put up five runs against that stable of arms, you should win the game. The pitching and managing let the team down on this night.
The Home Plate Umpire
CB Bucknor is a bum and shouldn’t umpire any of my softball leagues let alone a MLB playoff game. I think that covers it.
It’s Only One Game
We all have a tendency to make the dealings of one game larger than what they actually are. Did that game suck? Yes. Did the Yankees lose the series? No. This is now a three-game series. The Yankees still have a great chance to move on to the ALCS. Masahiro Tanaka gets the ball. Instead of having a chance to close it out, Masa has a great chance to put the Yankees one win away from sending the Rays home. All hope is not lost. There is plenty of baseball left to be played. The Yankees will be ready. Last night is over. The only thing that matters now is tonight. They will put their best foot forward and they will win.