Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman spoke to the media yesterday afternoon. Each took the better part of an hour for their discussions with the media, though I think folks were a bit more curious to hear what the general manager had to say. We had already heard Boone talk a bit after the Game 5 loss, though yesterday came with a few days to marinate after the end of the season. I know I was more interested in what Cashman had to say, at least.
I do have one thing I want to say about Boone’s presser, but the rest of my thoughts relate to Cashman’s briefing. Without further ado, let’s get to it.
Aaron Boone needs to stop saying how close the Yankees are to winning a title.
Aaron Boone: We’re trying to get a little bit better all the time … but it’s important to realize how close we are. pic.twitter.com/XOgQIzKKqm
This is grating. Boone said this in what seemed like a dozen different ways yesterday. Close? If this is close, then how do you describe the 2001 Yankees? Or the 2011 Rangers? Maybe make a World Series before you start saying that this team is close. Here’s how Boone’s seasons have ended since taking the helm:
2018: 100-62, Wild Card, Lost ALDS to Red Sox 3-1
2019: 103-59, Division Title, Lost ALCS to Astros 4-2
2020: 33-27, Wild Card, Lost ALDS to Rays 3-2
The “closest” Boone’s Yankees have gotten was a year ago. I don’t think there’s any other way to describe 2020 except as a step back for this group, unusual circumstances of this season notwithstanding.
Well, last night’s game sure was great. I know that these Yankees have a reputation with some fans for backing down when the going gets tough, but I don’t see it. They’ve consistently not gone away all season – even when they folded for a bit in September, they stormed back to win 10 in a row – and last night was no different. They needed to win, and they did. In dominating fashion, really.
This sets up a do-or-die, must-win Game 5 against Tampa Bay tonight. I am amped up and extremely ready. This is why we’re fans, right? For games like these. Anyway, here is what’s on my mind heading into this one.
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.
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.
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.
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.