That was fun, wasn’t it?
The Yankees, hot on the heels of a two-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians, now fly to the AL bubble in San Diego, turning their attention to the Tampa Bay Rays, who have admittedly had their number all regular season long.
A not-very-close Game One, where the Yankees offense absolutely rocked Shane Bieber for seven runs in 4 2/3 innings, preceded a very-very-close Game Two that will likely survive the test of time as a Yankees playoff classic, featuring heroics by Gio Urshela and DJ LeMahieu among others.
Game One was a bludgeoning in every sense of the word—the Yankees staked themselves to a 2-0 lead four pitches into the game and never trailed the rest of the way, finishing with a record 12 runs—a number they had not hit since the dreaded 2004 season (I happen to have been born that year. Please slander me). Gerrit Cole looked every bit the ace we paid him to be—stifling the Indians’ bats and allowing only two runs through seven frames.
Game Two was quite the opposite—some clunky mismanagement of a rain delay meant Masahiro Tanaka took the mound in the middle of a hurricane to start the bottom of the first. He gave up one run before a second rain delay was called and then gave up another three before finishing the inning. Giancarlo Stanton promptly hit a piss missile to right to wake up the offense, and the Yankees continued to work Indians’ start Carlos Carrasco’s pitch count. They got him out of the game by the fourth and in came their lights-out setup man James Karinchak, with the bases loaded and nobody out.
Gio Urshela promptly took him deep for a grand slam. Shove those lights up your ass, Cleveland.
The lead continued to change hands after some shaky performances from the bullpen. The Yankees were down 8-9 going into the ninth but strung together a great ninth-inning rally off Brad Hand—who, by the way, hadn’t blown a save all season. Gary Sánchez drove in the game-tying run on a sac fly before—who else—DJ LeMahieu poked in what would be the game-winning run on a single up the middle.
And with that, 2020’s round one of four was sealed with a W in the New York history books. On to Tampon Bay. The Yankees went 2-8 against the Rays in the regular season, but not only does that mean squat in terms of the playoffs being a completely different animal, but the Yankees also played a majority of those games either at the dumpster fire that is Tropicana Field (which, by the way, is also responsible for derailing Aaron Judge’s MVP season) or at half-strength. So you can take that record and throw it out the window.
The Yankees will open Game One pitching Gerrit Cole opposite Blake Snell. Snell, to his credit, also pitched excellently in his team’s Wild Card series against the Blue Jays. Snell has pitched well in his starts against the Yankees this year, allowing three runs in eight innings across two starts. In his career as a whole, however, the Yankees have whacked him around. Through 77 innings pitched against the Yankees, he sports a less-than-gleaming 4.50 ERA. The Yankees have not announced their rotation beyond Cole, but we know they’ll be running out Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ, and Deivi Garcia. The Rays have set a rotation of Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton following Snell.
The Rays’ offense, contrary to popular belief, actually has an exceedingly high strikeout rate. With many of the Yankees’ pitchers relying heavily on whiffs to succeed, playing to the Rays’ weakness will be crucial.
The Yankees’ primary weakness—and this is something likely no one could have expected going into the season—will be their bullpen. The Yankees’ bullpen carries a 4.51 ERA and comparable FIP, and Aaron Boone’s trust tree is running thin. Ottavino hasn’t been in a high-leverage situation in weeks, and there’s only so far you can ride Chapman, Britton, and Green. They felt the repercussions of this strategy last year when the bullpen was flat-out burnt by the end of the ALCS, leading to their elimination. The Yankees are going to have to A) hope for some great length and B) be really, really smart with deployment, as the Rays have been for years now.
First pitch is only a couple hours away. It’s time to put the Rays in their place