Every Yankees postseason exit since their last World Series appearance can be attributed to a lack of hitting. When the Yankees couldn’t solve Cliff Lee or Colby Lewis a decade ago, their season ended two wins short of the World Series. When they stranded 11 baserunners in a do-or-die Game 5 at home to the Tigers nine years ago, they went home. When they scored six runs in 38 innings against the Tigers eight years ago, they were swept. When they were shut out by Dallas Keuchel, Tony Sipp, Will Harris and Luke Gregorson in the wild-card game five years ago, their postseason lasted nine innings. When they scored three runs in the four games in Houston three years ago, they fell one win shy of the World Series. When they scored four runs total in their two homes against the Red Sox two years ago, their season ended. And last year, when Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius, Gary Sanchez, Brett Gardner, Edwin Encarnacion, Giancarlo Stanton, Gio Urshela and Aaron Hicks combined to go 27-for-153 (.176) with 56 strikeouts against the Astros, the Yankees lost their fourth ALCS in a decade.
This postseason, while only three games so far, has been a different story. The Yankees scored 22 runs against the Indians in two games and then scored another nine in their first game against the Rays on Monday night. Their 31 runs over the three games established a major league record as the Yankees have looked like they have been hitting against Red Sox’ and Orioles’ pitching rather than Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco and Blake Snell. There hasn’t been talk about timely hitting, the need to manufacture runs or play small ball this postseason because the Yankees have been scoring in bunches, homering as if it’s early July instead of early October and putting up crooked numbers against some of the best pitchers in baseball.
The offense has mostly kept Aaron Boone in the dugout and has prevented him from ruining their season. It’s covered up a bad Masahiro Tanaka start and a bad Gerrit Cole start. It has allowed Luis Cessa to eat three of the team’s 27 innings so far (11 percent) to rest a depleted and underachieving bullpen, which is down to three trustworthy arms. It has led the Yankees to three straight wins to open the postseason and has set them up to only need to play .500 baseball over four games against the Rays to reach the ALCS for the second straight season.
Last October, the Yankees’ offense was DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres. Judge disappeared for the final four games of the ALCS and Gregorius did the same after his ALDS Game 2 grand slam. Stanton took himself out of the lineup in the ALCS, Luke Voit wasn’t on the postseason roster and Hicks missed the ALDS and returned to have one big hit. Encarnacion, Sanchez and Gardner might as well have not even taken a bat to the plate. This postseason though, everyone has contributed. Every single player. There hasn’t been a Yankee to get a plate appearance who hasn’t played a meaningful role, and that includes Tyler Wade of all Yankees, who drew a significant walk in the ninth to lead the Yankees to blowing open the game.
It’s a good thing the Yankees blew open the game because I had a bad feeling about Aroldis Chapman coming into a one-run game, the way I always do about him coming into a one-run game. You never know which Chapman you’re going to get and after Cole had already blown two leads earlier in the game, I couldn’t physically take a third blown lead in a playoff game in a best-of-5 series to the Rays.
Cole wasn’t good in Game 1. He might have gotten the win and struck out eight in six innings, but he wasn’t good. If you think otherwise, then you’re content with mediocrity from a pitcher who is supposed to the best, or at worst, second-best in the world. Three earned runs in six innings isn’t good, it’s a 4.50 ERA. A 4.50 ERA is medicore, but Cole’s start wasn’t mediocre, it was actually bad when you consider his status and reputation. After he exited the game, TBS’ Brian Anderson said, “Well, Gerrit Cole, impressive here today.” Impressive? His Game 1 start against the Indians was impressive. In Game 1 against the Rays, he was bad.
Three earned runs against him is like five to six against other pitchers. If J.A. Happ or Jordan Montgomery had pitched to Cole’s Game 1 line (6 IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 2 HR), I would likely be praising them. But they’re not Cole and I don’t expect greatness from them. Cole expects more out of himself than he prodcued in Game 1, and there’s no way he’s happy or satisfied with his performance given the type of competitor he is. I was critical of him during the game and I still am after the game the same way a parent scolds their child because they only want the best for them, and that was far from Cole’s best.
Cole’s start proved him needing Kyle Higashioka to be his personal catcher is unnecessary. The stark difference in regular-season ERA between Sanchez catching him and Higashioka catching him was a result of Sanchez catching him against the Rays, and Monday confirmed it doesn’t matter who Cole throws to against the Rays, he has trouble with them. And the majority of that trouble comes from him inexplicably being unable to retire Ji-Man Choi. It’s not like he’s unable to retire Choi in a weird, quirky way like Enrique Wilson having a great average against Pedro Martinez from a bunch of singles. Choi is hitting a home run seemingly every time he faces Cole. It’s like Sanchez vs. David Price, or Sanchez vs. Snell (6-for-20, 1 2B, 5 HR, 7 BB, .300/.481/1.100), a matchup that didn’t happen because Higashioka has to catch Cole. Thankfully, Higashioka made up for his questionable game-calling with a game-tying home run and wasn’t the automatic out with ground balls to the left side he has been so many times. (Yes, I know Higashioka’s game-calling has little to do with Cole’s success, but if it’s going to be cited as the reason he catches Cole, then it needs to be criticized when Cole gives up three runs in six innings.) I expect Sanchez to be in the lineup for Game 2, but it wouldn’t surprise if he isn’t since nothing the Yankees do surprises me anymore. Anger me? Yes. Frustrate me? Yes. Annoy me? Yes. Surprise me? No.
Actually, I shouldn’t say nothing surprises me. I couldn’t believe the Yankees hadn’t announced a Game 2 starter prior to late afternoon on Monday. Was there really an option other than Tanaka? It turns out there was and the Yankees weren’t just stalling for no reason as Deivi Garcia will get the ball on Tuesday. I, along with everyone else, assumed the Yankees would go Tanaka in Game 2, Happ in Game 3 and Garcia in Game 4, so this surprised me. But this isn’t the typical surprise from the Yankees, which is the bad kind of surprise. I really, really, really like this plan.
After winning Game 1, if the Yankees win Game 2, they will have one of the best pitchers in postseason history starting in Game 3 to close out the series. If the Yankees lose Game 2, they will have one of the best pitchers in postseason history starting in Game 3 to win an all-important swing game and push the Rays to the brink of elimination.
There isn’t any mystery left between two teams who played each other in 10 of their 60 games this season and who play each other 19 times in normal seasons. That is, except for Garcia. The Rays have never seen him, and in Game 2, that’s advantage Yankees.
Three down, 10 to go.
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