The Yankees feel they are primed for a long run in the 2020 post-season, but are they really?
How good is this Yankee team? Is this the team that started 16-6? Is this the team that lost 15 of 20? Is this the team that won 10 in a row? Is this the team that lost 6 of their last 8?
The Yankee season went from being a favorite to win the division, to nearly being in jeopardy of missing the playoffs altogether, to playing for a fifth place or eighth place spot. The Yankees demonstrated a “Jekyll and Hyde” profile and it was a big reason why they have to play the first round series on the road.
The regular season has now passed and the Yankees are matched up with a Cleveland team that may not be as good as past Indians’ teams but are still very dangerous in a two-of-three first round. The Yankees have not played the Indians in over a year so there’s a level of unfamiliarity.
There is a narrative that the Yankees have a deep lineup, but if you look at some of the players who did not perform up to par, that depth may not be there.
If you’re read this column before, you know that I have harped on the fact that the Yankees have a weakness with a lack of left hand hitting. That lack of balance may have contributed mightily to the Yankees streakiness this season. The Yankees have a power laden lineup, but beyond D.J. LeMahieu, they strike out too, too much and they’ve shown they can be shut down.
Let’s be honest. Do you trust Giancarlo Stanton in post-season play? How about Aaron Judge, who did not hit a home run since coming back from the calf injury. At least, Judge has shown he can produce in post season play so he can squash that with one swing, but it’s still a question until there is an answer.
The Yankees stick to the idea that they have right handed hitters who can reach the seats in right field at Yankee Stadium. That factor plays in the Bronx, but it doesn’t play well on the road and the Yankees were not a good road team this season. (11-18 away from the Bronx)
There are some questions about the lineup. Gary Sanchez has been a disaster and he won’t be Gerrit Cole’s catcher in game one. The Yankees won’t use Sanchez as the DH with Stanton available, but can he suddenly awake from his 2020 slumber, not to mention the questions about his defense that still remain.
The infield is set but the outfield may have a dilemma. Judge will be in right field and Aaron Hicks in center, but who’s the left fielder. Clint Frazier nabbed the starting job but he struggled to the tune of 1 for 21 down the stretch. Brett Gardner showed his age but had a good stretch to close the season. Will Mgr. Aaron Boone contemplate using Gardner over Frazier? Remember this. Gardner has been awful in post season play. His post season slash line in 61 games reads like this, .196/.260/.252, OPS .511. Boone may “roll the dice” with Gardner to get another left hand bat in the lineup against the Indians’ right handed pitchers. Think back to 2015 when then Yankee Manager Joe Girardi had a choice to play either Gardner, or Jacoby Ellsbury against Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel in the AL Wild Card game. Not that Ellsbury was any great shakes, but Girardi chose Gardner, who struck out three times and never got the ball out of the infield in four at-bats.
Gardner is not the only Yankee who has struggled in post season play. Hicks slash line in 21 playoff games is .191/.286/.324, OPS of .609. Stanton is .235/.325/.412, OPS .737. Luke Voit, who has only played in 5 post season games, could be an “X” factor. He was injured last post season and didn’t get an at-bat. Voit has yet to hit a post season home run, so coming off his power laden regular season, he’ll be under enormous pressure to produce and help the Yankees advance in the playoffs.
The Yankees are not a very good defensive team and they are lacking in fundamentals, two factors that will be costly in a post season series.
You think it was embarrassing when the Yankees blew that rundown that cost them the game against Miami. You do that in the playoffs, and it costs you a game or a series, that’s something people will remember for a long time.
The Yankees pitching could be a strength, but the bullpen has been inconsistent at times and they can’t afford that in a short series, that is shorter than usual.
The pick: Indians in 3
As is the case with the Yankees/Indians series, some of these teams have not seen each other all year long. That alone could set up a couple of upsets in this opening round.
Tampa Bay can be described with one word, “Team.” The Rays play like a complete team, they’re solid defensively, they have good pitching and they seem to have a knack for the timely hit. Toronto is up and coming but they’re not there yet and their pitching is not as good as the Rays. Having the games at the Trop is a huge advantage for Tampa Bay, but Toronto did not play that badly there, winning three of the seven games there.
The Pick: Rays in 3
Some pundits are picking the Astros in this series, citing pitchers like Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers, who has been pitching well of late. Minnesota is a really good team and a great team at home. The Twins hit a lot of home runs but are not totally reliant on the long ball to generate their offense. Houston’s offense has not been as productive as in previous years. Houston is 9-23 on the road, the Twins were an incredible 24-7 at home. The sentiment against the Astros over the cheating scandal is still there and Minnesota would love to send them packing.
The pick: Twins in 2
Even though the White Sox played poorly down the stretch, the pressure is squarely on Oakland. The A’s have been a notable underachiever in recent post season play and have not won a series or a Wild Card game since 2006 when they beat Minnesota in the ALDS. Chicago has a great young team and may not be ready for the post season spotlight. Then again, the ChiSox come in as a very loose bunch. If they can nab the first game, it could be curtains for the A’s once again.
The Pick: White Sox in 3
This is a ridiculous match up for a number of reasons. The most obvious are the team’s respective records. The Dodgers set the pace this season with a 43-17 record while Milwaukee is an under .500 team at 29-31. I know anything can happen in baseball, but I’d be surprised if this series even goes three games.
The Pick: Dodgers in 2
The Cardinals overcame a lot to even get to this point. Dealing with that adversity should serve them well in the post season. I look at San Diego as the National League’s version of the White Sox, but two key injuries late in the season could derail their chance. If San Diego doesn’t have Mike Clevinger and Dinelson Lamet available, they’ll be relying on Chris Paddack and Zach Davies to handle the load. St. Louis has ridden their pitching staff to get to this point and will have Kwang Hyun Kim and Adam Wainwright lined up for games 1 and 2. Cards’ bullpen is versatile with Giovanny Gallegos from the right side and Andrew Miller from the left. Gallegos has been on the 10-day IL with a groin injury but could be activated for this series. Miller will likely handle the closer role.
The Pick: Cardinals in 3
The Marlins have not been to the playoffs since 2003 when they beat the Yankees in the World Series. Ironically, the Marlins (they were the Florida Marlins back then) beat the Cubs in the 2003 NLCS that was known for the “Steve Bartman” incident in game 6. The Cubs’ fan hindered Moises Alou’s attempt to catch a foul ball near the stands, and many felt that was the turning point of the series. The Marlins took advantage of the break and went on to win the series. If anyone comes into this post season with nothing to lose, it’s the Marlins, who overcame adversity as St. Louis did. Miami has some good young arms (losing Jose Urena will hurt) and they have some bats that could be dangerous like third-baseman Brian Anderson. The Cubs were struggling offensively until this past weekend when they slammed the cross town rival White Sox. I’m not sold on Yu Darvish in the post season and I’m looking for an upset here. The Cubs are certainly the more talented team but I’m picking an upset.
The Pick: Marlins in 3
Atlanta’s weakness has been their starting pitching, but their bullpen has been solid and they have one of the deepest lineups in the sport. The Reds have the pitching that could slow down this Braves’ offense. Cincinnati’s lineup is top heavy but it only takes a timely hit or two to win if the pitching does their part. If this was a best-of-five or a best-of-seven, the Reds’ chances would be lessened. The two out of three format works well for Cincinnati, even though the games are in Atlanta.
The Pick: Reds in 3