Game 4 is just a few hours away and the Yankees are in a position that appeared unforeseeable after Monday’s victory. Sentiments sure can change quickly in October, huh? I bet we’d all be pretty fired up about tomorrow if the Yankees can top the Rays tonight. With that, I have a few things I want to discuss before first pitch.
We have all winter to discuss the future of this team. I’m not denying that these last two losses have been dreadful to watch, but there’s no reason to act like this series is over. Do the Yankees have their work cut out for them? Yes. It’s not going to be easy to overcome a 2-1 deficit. At the same time, it’s not an impossible task.
It’s natural to start forward-thinking at this stage. I’m guilty of that myself; offseason scenarios have already begun to cross my mind. There are obvious needs, namely pitching depth, that the Yankees have to address this winter. Frankly, they should have addressed them at the trade deadline. But again, that’s neither here nor there. The Yankees are still alive, even with lackluster performances on the mound from everyone not named Gerrit Cole compounded by highly questionable strategies. Until the clock actually strikes midnight on the Yankees, I’m going to save my energy on the future of this team or lament about what the team didn’t do for the 2020 roster. Let’s save that for the long and cold winter.
Giancarlo Stanton has been amazing, but let’s also show Aaron Hicks some love. Stanton’s getting a ton of attention for turning this postseason into a home run derby of his own, and deservedly so. It’s really nice to hear all of his detractors shut up for once. He is one of the greatest hitters in the sport and is delivering when the Yankees need it. I take joy in dancing on the grave of horrible takes like the following, but I also never want to see something like this again:
5/LeMahieu at 1b, Voit at DH and no Stanton. I cannot see Boone not playing a healthy Stanton. But the overall ABs and certainly the defense is better that way.— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) September 28, 2020
My goodness. Tyler Wade over Giancarlo Stanton.
Anyway, I’d like to spend some time highlighting Aaron Hicks’s excellent series. Believe it or not, Hicks (+3.03 percent) has a higher championship probability added than Stanton (+1.88 percent) in the ALDS. Game level win probability is a bit closer, with Hicks at 0.29 to Stanton’s 0.22.
Hicks has five hits, three walks, and three RBIs in 14 plate appearances in the three-hole this series. His stamp was all over Game 1’s win:
The sac fly in the first opened the scoring and his RBI single in the ninth gave the Yankees a two-run lead before Stanton blew it open with his grand slam. The Yankees’ centerfielder also contributed a couple of other hits in that game, though they didn’t lead to any scoring. In Games 2 and 3, the Rays retired Hicks just once in each affair. He’s consistently had excellent at-bats against one of the league’s top pitching staffs.
Further impressive: Hicks has yet to strikeout in this series. He and Kyle Higashioka are the only two Yankees’ regulars to not have gone down on strikes yet. It’s been a terrific performance from Hicks and he’s a big reason why someone as hot as Stanton has been able to come to the plate with runners on base so often.
If there’s anything you want to poke a hole in for Hicks, it’s that he hasn’t hit for power. His lone extra base hit was an RBI double against Charlie Morton yesterday. But at the same time, it’s hard to fret about a guy with a .615 OBP and no strikeouts this series. Great job, Hicksie.
On the other side of the coin, what happened to Luke Voit, Aaron Judge, and Gio Urshela? Let’s look at the bottom-end of the win probability numbers for the Yankees’ bats:
|Player||WPA||Championship WPA (%)|
I know Gary and Gleyber are in the bottom five here, but I really want to hone in on Voit, Judge, and Urshela. These were some of the Yankees’ biggest offensive contributors during the regular season, but they’ve yet to show up in this series.
For Voit, unquestionably the team’s MVP, yesterday’s third inning at-bat against Morton was the most frustrating. With the game tied, Voit came up with the bases full and two outs and worked the count to 3-0.
Two borderline strikes that went against the Yankees. That stinks, I know, but it’s not like Voit didn’t get a hittable fastball on 3-2 either. In any case, we can’t spend all series blaming the umpires when Voit is 1-for-11. At some point he has to come through.
Then there’s Judge, who missed a huge opportunity yesterday to put up a crooked number. Same inning as Voit’s groundout, by the way. The Yankees had Morton on the ropes with Judge, Hicks, and Voit due up with the bases loaded and one out. But Judge hit a sac fly on this hanging curveball:
Tied the game at 1, which is fine, but that play actually had a negative win probability for the Yankees yesterday. It’s hard not to see why in retrospect. When Judge is right, that pitch is a grand slam.
Finally, on Urshela. It just feels like he’s been too jumpy at the plate. I’ll give him a pass though, because really, who knows where the Yankees are right now if he doesn’t hit that clutch grand slam against James Karinchak last series.
What’s the formula for victory tonight? In my mind, there are really two ways for the Yankees to force a Game 5 tonight. They either need an unexpected pitching performance from Jordan Montgomery (or another less heralded reliever) and an offensive outburst. I’m fairly confident in the latter, but I’m not terribly optimistic about the former.
I’ll touch on the offense quickly, because I think the pitching side of the equation requires more detail. Simply put: the offense figures to face Ryan Thompson and Ryan Yarbrough for the first two or three innings. Heck, maybe four. Neither of those two are daunting matchups, and certainly not part of Kevin Cash’s stable of guys who throw 98. If the Yankees can’t put up a crooked number against them, then they really don’t deserve this one. The Yankees need to score early and often before Cash tries to go for the kill with Diego Castillo or Nick Anderson.
Now, for the pitching side of things. Who knows, maybe Monty throws the game of his life tonight. I’d absolutely love to see it. Jordan, if you’re reading, please channel your Summer Camp self. Remember how good he looked? Hell, he even got off to a pretty good start in the regular season. Nonetheless, that absolute dud against the Rays in September is in the forefront of everyone’s mind. He’s got to show up in the first inning of this one.
No matter how well Monty does tonight, I’m not letting him face the Rays’ batting order more than once. That means 2 to 3 innings of work, nothing more. From there, Aaron Boone probably wants to go Deivi García, but he also will want to bring him into a clean inning. That’s where I think Adam Ottavino (gulp) may come into play. Let’s say Montgomery gets to the top of the order at some point before the end of the third inning. Let’s also assume that Cash uses a righty as his leadoff hitter. Maybe even in the two-hole as well. Perhaps Ottavino can snag an out or two before going to Deivi to start a clean fourth frame.
From there, no way I let Deivi face these hitters more than once either. And once Deivi is done, it has to be no one other than Chad Green, Zack Britton, and Aroldis Chapman. Ideally, that means García pitches clean fourth and fifth frames, leaving 12 outs for those three pitchers.
Obviously, a LOT will have to break right for the Yankees to work out like that. If you have to go to someone else, I think Jonathan Holder is next in the pecking order. It may not sound great, but he’s shown flashes of being quite good this year. I’m not sure what else you could really hope for. Other than, you know, the offense putting up a ten spot.