MLB Postseason Preview: New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays

MLB Postseason Preview: New York Yankees vs. Tampa Bay Rays

by October 5, 2020 2 comments

One side of the American League Division Series pits two AL East rivals against each other. After they swept their respective Wild Card rounds, the fifth-seeded New York Yankees and first-seeded Tampa Bay Rays meet in the mutual site of Petco Park in San Diego. This will be a best-of-five series with Game 1 tonight at 8:07 P.M. est. The Yankees outscored the Indians 22-12 in their series, while the Rays outscored the Blue Jays 11-3. There is a lot of bad blood between these two teams which will make for a very interesting playoff series. This is the first time these two are meeting up in the postseason. Buckle up.

Three keys to victory for the New York Yankees

Starting pitching behind Gerrit Cole

For the Yankees to have a chance at winning this series, the starting pitching behind their $324 million man, Cole, will have to pitch up to par. The Bombers are yet to announce the starters following Cole, but it is likely they go with Masahiro Tanaka in Game 2. Tanaka struggled in Game 2 of the Wild Card round, as he surrendered six runs on five hits and three walks over just four innings. Part of his struggles had to do with the fact he was pitching in the rain and wind. He went 1-1 with a 4.20 ERA against the Rays in three starts this season. Following that, J.A. Happ or Deivi Garcia will probably start Game 3, with the other going in Game 4 (if necessary). If the series gets to a Game 5, it would likely go back to Cole.

Jordan Montgomery is also an option at some point. Montgomery finished the season strong over his last three starts, as he had 24 strikeouts to just three walks over 15.2 innings. Happ would have been in line to start the deciding Game 3 of the Wild Card series and could even pitch Game 2 if they decide to go a different route. Over his final four starts, he struck out 27 and walked just four in 24.1 innings. Garcia is a confident rookie who will face the Rays for the first time and will look to prove that the big lights aren’t too big for him. If all these guys are on their A-games the Yankees will have a great chance to take this series.

Bullpen closes out games

The Yankees’ bullpen almost caused the ALWC to go to a decisive Game 3. Thankfully for them, the offense bailed them out. In Game 2, Chad Green, Zack Britton, and Jonathan Loaisiga combined to give up 4 hits and three runs over three innings. It isn’t just the pitchers themselves that need to be better, but the bullpen managing by Aaron Boone. In that Game 2, Boone really should have put Green in for a clean inning in the fifth. Instead, he waited until Tanaka had given up a double and a walk. That, in turn, put Green in a bad spot. Of course, it is not all on Boone, as it is the pitcher’s job to get out of tough spots. Green surrendered a game-tying, two-RBI double to Jose Ramirez.

The Yankees’ inability to trust Adam Ottavino also hurt a lot. In the seventh inning, following two walks by Britton, Boone went to Jonathan Loaisiga. Following the pitching change, Loaisiga gave up a game-tying two-RBI double to Jordan Luplow. This was just an inning after the Yankees got the lead back on a Gary Sanchez two-run homer. It has been as clear as ever that the Yankees severely miss Tommy Kahnle. If Kahnle had not had to undergo Tommy John surgery, he would have been a reliever to go to in several of those spots. Nevertheless, the Yankees bullpen will have to pitch better against the Rays. Don’t expect Ottavino to be trusted in big spots once again. He gave up three runs in 2 2/3 of an inning the last time he pitched against Tampa Bay.

Offense stays hot

Prior to the postseason, the Yankees’ offense came in cold. Outside of their second game with the Miami Marlins where they scored 11 runs, they combined to score just five runs in four of their last five games. As soon as the playoffs switched on, the Yankees flipped the switch as the Bronx came out swinging. In Game 1, backed by a dominant 13 strikeout performance by Cole, they hit four bombs. Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Brett Gardner, and Giancarlo Stanton all hit one out. They scored seven of their 12 runs off of the Cy Young winner Shane Bieber; the Judge and Torres homers came off him. The offense scored ten more runs in Game 2, which included three more home runs. The home runs came from Stanton, Gary Sanchez, and Gio Urshela. The Urshela one was a huge go-ahead grand slam in the fourth inning.

The Yankees get Blake Snell in Game 1 of this series, who they have owned in the past. He holds a 4.31 ERA and 2.09/1 strikeout to walk ratio against them in his career. Despite Kyle Higashioka being Gerrit Cole’s “personal” catcher, it would make more sense to start Sanchez. He is the Yankees’ hitter who has hit Snell the hardest. Kraken has gone 6-20 (.300) with five bombs against him in his career. The bottom line is if the Yankees get mistakes, they will make the pitcher pay in this series.

Three keys to victory for the Tampa Bay Rays

Rely on breaking stuff

The way you keep the Yankees at bay and in the yard is throwing a ton of breaking pitches to make them chase. The Rays’ pitchers will be successful if they get ahead in the count and are able to go to their wipeout stuff. The Yankees hit .126 against curveballs and sliders against the Rays and struck out at a 43.3 percent rate. What will do the Rays in, however, is if the Yankees keep up with the approach that worked well against Bieber. That being swinging early in the count and doing damage. This could especially be the case with the way Rays’ pitchers like to come right at batters with fastballs.

Score runs early and often

As the Yankees showed against the Indians, good pitching isn’t always going to beat good hitting. The Rays have had just as good or better pitching than the Indians but won’t be able to rely just on that against a Bombers team that is on fire at the plate. The Rays may have gone 8-2 against the Yankees in the regular season, but the Yankees were without Judge for the final two series and DJ LeMahieu for the Rays sweep in mid-August.

In the two games the Yankees won, Judge homered in one, and LeMahieu mashed two homers in the other. The Rays have done enough on offense this season to get the number one seed, but will probably have to do a lot more. They do a lot of things right and have shown consistency all season at the plate. Unlike the Yankees, they don’t just rely on the long ball, which could give them the edge with a series not even at the hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium.

Ji-Man Choi continues to be Yankees’ and Cole’s kryptonite

Against the Yankees this season, Choi hit .364/.433/.654 in nine games, which included a homer off Cole. If he continues to hit the Yankees hard, the Rays offense will be in a good position to score enough runs to take the series.

Analysis

There will be no shortness of bad blood and drama in this series. The Rays and Yankees are very evenly matched despite what the regular-season record says. Taking advantage of having Cole on the mound in Game 1 will be huge for the Yankees. After that, the tides can easily turn the other way. Look for this to go the full five games, but the Yankees’ offense proves too much to handle. Gerrit Cole pitches masterful games in Game 1 and Game 5 to help them get to the Championship Series.

Prediction: Yankees 3, Rays 2

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