Postseason Off Day Dreaming: Yankees Have Near-Perfect ALCS Setup

The Yankees are resting while the Astros and Rays are going to Game 5

There’s been too much going on to not bring the Off Day Dreaming blog from the regular season back for the postseason. The Yankees are resting for the second straight day, while the Astros and Rays are in Houston preparing for Game 5 on Thursday. It’s never felt so good to not have Yankees baseball for so long.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees on this off day as usual.

1. I don’t want Aaron Hicks to return to the team. Not that he’s necessarily going to because him saying he’s ready to go and him actually being deemed ready to go by the Yankees are two very different things, but the Yankees don’t need him and I don’t want him.

Hicks only played in 59 games this year, hasn’t played since August 3 and wasn’t good when he played. He batted .235/.325/.443 in his limited time with 12 home runs and 36 RBIs, and while the home runs translate to a 33-home run season over 162 games, that’s not all that impressive given the state of the baseball and home run totals around the league. And projecting numbers for Hicks out over 162 games, as if he would ever play a full season is funny.

Even if Hicks were to return and have only a reserve role on the team, it would likely mean Cameron Maybin would lose his postseason roster spot. Maybin deserves to be a part of this time now after earning it throughout the regular season, and he’s a better option for a role off the bench, which he most recently displayed in Game 3 with his ninth-inning home run to give the Yankees a much-needed insurance run.

Unfortunately, this is a lost season for Hicks, in what was another season in which he got hurt multiple times and failed to stay on the field. The Yankees don’t need him and they don’t have a place for a player who hasn’t played in more than two months.

2. There’s this idea it’s unwise to want to pick your opponent in the postseason, but I disagree. If given the choice before the ALDS, I’m sure the Yankees would have rather faced the team with no starting pitching in the Twins than the Astros or Rays, and when it comes to the ALCS, there’s no chance the Yankees would rather face the Astros over the Rays. A matchup against the Rays means home-field advantage for the series, a shorter flight for Games 3, 4 and 5 and the chance to play in a familiar setting where the majority of the crowd will be Yankees fans.

If you want the Yankees to face the Astros or if you’re not rooting for the Rays to win Game 5 because you don’t want to root for a division rival or because you think picking your postseason opponent has negative repercussions, take a lap.

3. Even if the Rays lose Game 5 of the ALDS to the Astros on Thursday night, they have already done more than enough to help the Yankees for the ALCS. Justin Verlander starting Game 4 of the ALDS means the earliest he can pitch in the ALCS is Game 2, and Gerrit Cole having to start Game 5 of the ALDS means the earliest he can pitch in the ALCS is Game 3. Instead of the Yankees getting Verlander in Game 1 and Cole in Game 2 in Houston (where the duo is nearly unbeatable) they would get Verlander in Game 2 in Houston and Cole in Game 3 in New York. And after seeing Cole get knocked around in Boston in the 2018 ALDS, he’s far from a sure-thing away from his home of MinuteMaid Park.

The Astros having to go the distance against the Rays means their rotation would look something like this in the ALCS:

Game 1: Zack Greinke
Game 2: Justin Verlander
Game 3: Gerrit Cole
Game 4: Wade Miley
Game 5: Zack Greinke
Game 6: Justin Verlander
Game 7: Gerrit Cole

4. If the Rays are to pull off the historic upset and eliminate the Astros in Game 5, then things get even more advantageous for the Yankees. The Yankees would then have home-field advantage for the ALCS and would play Games 1 and 2 in New York on Saturday and Sunday rather than Games 3, 4 and 5 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. That means a more raucous Stadium crowd with all day to pregame and no work obligations either day.

It also means the Yankees would face the overall lesser opponent, who they went 12-7 against in the regular season with two of the losses coming in the last week of the season when the Yankees had nothing to play for (and provided the lineups to prove it) and the Rays had everything to play for.

It’s hard to predict the Rays’ rotation if they advance to the ALCS because it’s hard to know if Charlie Morton or Blake Snell will need to come out of the bullpen in Game 5 in relief of Tyler Glasnow. But let’s say the Rays stick to their expected rotation and Morton and Snell go in turn, this is what the Rays’ ALCS rotation would look like:

Game 1: Blake Snell
Game 2: Charlie Morton
Game 3: Tyler Glasnow
Game 4: Opener
Game 5: Blake Snell
Game 6: Charlie Morton
Game 7: Tyler Glasnow

The Yankees would get Snell and Morton in New York where neither has had success.

Snell has been a disaster at the Stadium in his career, pitching to a 5.82 ERA, 1.616 WHIP and allowing nine home runs in 43 1/3 innings over 11 starts. He’s fared much better against the Yankees at Tropicana Field, but if the Rays use this rotation, he will only face the Yankees once at home, and the series might be over before he even gets to.

Morton has been a dominant postseason pitcher, and handled the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2017 ALCS (5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K), but in Game 3 of that series, he was removed in the fourth inning after getting rocked (3.2 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 3 K, 1 HR) at the Stadium. This season he shut the Yankees down over two starts at Tropicana Field, but couldn’t get anyone out in two starts at the Stadium.

Tropicana Field: 11.2 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 BB, 19 K, 1 HR, 0.77 ERA, 0.857 WHIP
Yankee Stadium: 9.2 IP, 9 H, 10 R, 8 ER, 8 BB, 10 K, 3 HR, 7.45 ERA, 1.758 WHIP

With this rotation, Morton would only face the Yankees in New York, where he’s been Pirates Charlie Morton and not Astros/Rays Charlie Morton.

5. Even going back to the beginning of the season, I have always been against CC Sabathia getting a postseason start, and there’s no chance of it happening now, which is great. But being on the roster and pitching out of the bullpen? That’s a different story.

Aaron Boone managed himself into a pretzel in Game 3 when he used Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino and Chad Green in the fifth inning. Thankfully, the Yankees were able to win the game by only using their elite relievers and it never truly came back to hurt the team or ruin the series. But because of his dangerous decisions, Tyler Lyons was warming up at one point. The same Tyler Lyons the Yankees signed in August after he was released by the Pirates and who gave up three home runs in 8 1/3 innings for the Yankees in the regular season. The only reason Lyons is on the roster is because both Sabathia and Dellin Betances are hurt.

I would have felt much more comfortable had Sabathia (even on one knee and with a bad shoulder) been warming up instead of Lyons. And moving forward, I hope Sabathia is healthy enough to be on the active roster, so that it will be him instead of Lyons warming up when Boone inevitably mismanages the bullpen.

6. I think it’s beyond silly to bat Brett Gardner third in the lineup and have him bat ahead of Edwin Encarnacion, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres and Gary Sanchez, but the Yankees feel it’s necessary to break up the right-handed bats (the same way they feel it’s necessary to give their players scheduled days off to prevent injuries), so they’re going to have a left-handed bat there against right-handed starters. Because of that and because the team is undefeated in the postseason with that lineup, you can expect to continue to see it in the ALCS against right-handed starters.

The right-handed starters the Yankees will see in the ALCS are either Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke, or Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow and probably opener Diego Castillo. Against left-handed pitching, Gardner would most likely slide down to the bottom of the order, and the Yankees would place Gio Urshela between Gardner and Didi Gregorius. That would give the Yankees a lineup looking something like this:

DJ LeMahieu, 1B
Aaron Judge, RF
Edwin Encarnacion, DH
Giancarlo Stanton, LF
Gleyber Torres, 2B
Gary Sanchez, C
Didi Gregorius, SS
Gio Urshela, 3B
Brett Gardner, CF

Now that’s a lineup. That’s the lineup the Yankees would use against Wade Miley and Blake Snell. I think it’s the lineup they should use every game.

7. Ottavino was used oddly in Game 3 of the ALDS, facing only Nelson Cruz before being removed for another right-handed pitcher in Green to face a left-handed hitter. It’s clear Boone is being told by the analytics department to not allow Ottavino to face left-handed batters, and that won’t be a problem if the Yankees face the Astros. Ottavino will have his work cut out for him with anticipated matchups against George Springer, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yuli Gurriel and Carlos Correa, so while it was head-scratching to see Ottavino used in a limited role against the Twins, you can expect to see a lot of him against the Astros.

If it’s the Rays who advance, Ottavino’s role will be less prominent as the Rays have a much more balanced lineup, but even then, their left-handed bats are nowhere near as fearsome as the left-handed bats of the Twins or Astros. Either way, expect to see more Ottavino in the next round, and expect to see a┬álot of him if the Yankees play the Astros.

8. Aside from sweeping the division series and getting a four-day, complete-day layoff before the ALCS, the best part about the ALDS was that everyone in the lineup contributed.

LeMahieu hit two doubles, a home run and had four RBIs. Judge reached base in seven of his 13 plate appearances. Gardner homered in Game 1 and drove in the huge second run in Game 3. Encarnacion went 4-for-13 with two doubles and two RBIs. Stanton reached base in five of his 11 plate appearances. Torres gave the Yankees the lead in Games 1 and 3, had three doubles, a home run, four RBIs, two stolen bases and a 1.378 OPS and was the ALDS MVP. Sanchez reached base in five of his 12 plate appearances and saw 28 pitches in Game 3.Gregorius had the grand slam in Game 2, drove in two insurance runs in Game 3 and led the team with 6 RBIs in the series. Urshela had three hits, including a double.

When the worst hitter on your team in a series is your 9-hitter (Urshela here), which is supposed to be your worst hitter, and even he goes 3-for-12 with a double in the series, you know things are going well. When you score 23 runs in three games despite not getting a home run from Judge, Encarnacion, Stanton or Sanchez, well, that’s just scary.

Too many times since 2001 have the Yankees lost postseason series because the entire team or nearly the entire team is cold at the same time. I don’t expect the Yankees to have the kind of three-game offensive outburst they had in the ALDS in the ALCS or the World Series if they make it that far, but getting production and timely hits from different players each game, like they did in the ALDS, is what wins in October.

9. Odds are the Yankees will stay with their ALDS rotation in the ALCS, but there are a few things for them to think about depending on which team wins.

If the Rays win, I think it’s a guarantee we see the same rotation order in the ALCS, setting up this rotation:

Game 1: James Paxton
Game 2: Masahiro Tanaka
Game 3: Luis Severino
Game 4: Opener/J.A. Happ
Game 5: James Paxton
Game 6: Masahiro Tanaka
Game 7: Luis Severino

That would allow both Paxton and Tanaka to pitch at home in Games 1 and 2 and would bring Tanaka back at home in Game 6, where’s he much better than on he is on the road.

If the Astros win, things could change. Paxton, despite being a left-hander against the Astros’ right-handed heavy lineup of Springer, Altuve, Bregman, Gurriel and Correa has dominated the Astros in his career, winning all four of his starts against them in 2018 as a Mariner. I wouldn’t feel great about having a lefty opening the series on the road against that right-handed lineup, but I still think he would be the Yankees’ Game 1 choice, even though he pitched the worst of three starters in the ALDS.

I think the Yankees might flip Tanaka and Severino if they have to play the Astros. Tanaka did pitch well in Game 1 in Houston in the 2017 ALCS, and Severino did OK in Game 2 of that series, but it’s clear the Yankees would rather have Tanaka start at home than on the road this postseason. If the Yankees were to leave Paxton and flip Tanaka and Severino, the rotation would look like this:

Game 1: James Paxton
Game 2: Luis Severino
Game 3: Masahiro Tanaka
Game 4: Opener/J.A. Happ
Game 5: James Paxton
Game 6: Luis Severino
Game 7: Masahiro Tanaka

The Yankees have a lot to think about when it comes to their rotation, and I’m sure they already know what they will do depending on which team wins the other series, but at least they will get to line up their rotation on their terms after sweeping their division series.

10. I needed this four-day layoff as much as the Yankees after spending Friday and Saturday at the Stadium and then having the stressful Game 3 on Tuesday. It’s nice to sit back and enjoy the other series and not have to worry about a winner-take-all game like Astros, Rays, Dodgers, Nationals, Braves and Cardinals fans have to worry about on Wednesday and Thursday.

The Yankees might not have won home-field advantage for the American League postseason in the regular season, but they are one Rays win from getting it, and they are now in a much better position to face the Astros if the Astros win.

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My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is now available as an ebook!