The offense managed to put 22 runs on the scoreboard in two games, using the long ball and very clutch hitting – especially in that epic Game 2 winner – to do so. Gerrit Cole was dominant, though Masahiro Tanaka and the bullpen left something to be desired. But the job got done and now they’re headed to sunny San Diego for the ALDS against their most heated rival.
The Tampa Bay Rays got through the Toronto Blue Jays with relative ease, and the No. 1 seed is looking to continue its own dominance of the Bombers. The Yankees went 2-8 against the Rays during the regular season – a role reversal that shows how well Tampa has built its organization the past few years.
The ALDS will be an AL East battle that will likely produce the favorite to win the American League pennant when all is said and done. Let’s break down this best-of-five series and give our prediction of how this one will end...
J.A. Happ in a crucial start?
Manager Aaron Boone said if the Wild Card Round went to a Game 3, Happ was going to get the start in the do-or-die game. With Boone confirming that Cole will get the start in Game 1, Happ might be lined up for Game 3 again.
Happ has had a resurgent year in 2020, and because of that, Boone is trusting him to be a part of his rotation – something he wasn’t in 2019 due to inconsistency. Now, he will likely get the ball in the most crucial spot of the series.
Whether the Yankees are down 2-0, up 2-0, or deadlocked at 1-1, Game 3 is always the finisher or momentum-shifter. Happ isn’t a stranger to the postseason, though. He won a World Series ring with the Phillies back in 2008 and has 14 games of playoff experience overall.
Either way you roll the dice, Happ will have the pressure on him. The Yankees will hope he responds well.
Which Yankees offense will show up?
The Yanks ranked fourth in MLB with 5.25 runs per game this season. When they played the Rays, the production was worse.
When you lose eight of the 10 games you play against an opponent, the offense usually isn’t up to par. The Yankees totaled 3.4 runs per game while the Rays averaged 4.7 runs in their meetings.
After the type of performance the Bombers had in Cleveland, though, it’s hard to say that any of these bats are going to San Diego cold. They weren’t living and dying by the long ball either, which is a great sign to see for Boone. Game 2 of the series proved the Yankees can choke up and get knocks with runners in scoring position – that’s how you win playoff games -- chipping away.
If that offense shows up, the Rays will see an entirely different Yankees squad than the injured and depleted one they saw in multiple matchups during the regular season.
Tension is real
The last time these two teams saw each other, the benches cleared, multiple people were suspended (including Aroldis Chapman and Aaron Boone), and the heated rivalry these two games have fostered in recent years added even more tension.
So, if you want a battle of two divisional foes that have a low key hatred for one another, then kick back your feet on Monday night and watch it all unfold.
When Chapman threw over the head of Mike Brosseau, it was the last “punch,” so to speak, that was thrown. Will the Rays retaliate? What will set either team off this time?
The stakes are obviously higher in the postseason, and so naturally is the heat of competition. Expect emotions to be flying all throughout, as each team would love to wave goodbye as they move on to the ALCS once this is all said and done.
Prediction: Yankees in 5
This one is going to go the distance. The Rays have a very solid pitching staff, highlighted by Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell, who both had great starts in the Wild Card Round. Their bullpen is stacked with guys who throw gas as well as filthy breaking stuff and make it easy for manager Kevin Cash to navigate through games. And offensively, the Rays don’t dazzle with the long ball much (80 HR, 14th in the league during the regular season), but they know how to get runners around the bases with clutch hitting.
They’re the No. 1 seed at the end of the day, so this won’t be an easy ride for the Yankees. But this offense – finally a healthy one against the Rays – can get the job done. If the Yanks carry that momentum over from Cleveland to the west coast, they have the ability to get to Snell and Glasnow in the first couple of games. After all, they did smack around the eventual AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber for seven runs – the most he allowed all season.
Cole will lock in this time around, wanting some vengeance against the team that figured him out some this year. He’ll come away with a victory in Game 1 and get the ball for Game 5 on short rest to close things out.
One thing’s for certain: This will be a hell of a series to watch. It’s a shame there won’t be any fans in the stands to witness it in person.