The Tampa Bay Rays versus the New York Yankees is a matchup in the American League Division Series is one that looked likely before the season began. Before playoffs expanded this is what was expecting. In a year of uncertainty this has felt like an inevitability.
The only thing that wasn’t expected was the Rays would be the number one seed with the best record in the American League. They finished seven games ahead of the Yankees in the American League East. The primary difference was a 8-2 head to head record.
The Yankees will tell you that the 8-2 record is irrelevant because of injuries. Mostly this is true, but not because of injuries. It’s very difficult to win 8 of 10 games against a good team and you need some good fortune to have that outcome. Yes the Yankees have suffered injuries, but so have the Rays. This is likely the healthiest that either team has been this year.
The last time we saw these two teams face off saying things got heated would be an understatement. The Rays felt they were thrown at multiple times in retaliation for throwing inside to their hitters. A 101 mph fastball out of Aroldis Chapman’s hand sent behind the ear of Mike Brosseau saw things reach a boiling point with Kevin Cash making the infamous threat towards the Yankees letting them know about the Rays stable that throws 98.
The Rays put things behind them and took revenge by winning the next game and solidifying their regular season dominance against the Yankees.
Monday 8:07 PM: Gerrit Cole vs Blake Snell
Tuesday 8:10 PM: TBA vs Tyler Glasnow
Wednesday 7:10 PM: Charlie Morton vs TBA
Thursday 7:10 PM: TBA vs TBA
Friday 7:10 PM: TBA vs TBA
The big difference in the Division Series this year and year’s past is the lack of off days. Last year Gerrit Cole was able to start game two and game five on full rest. This year there will be difficult decisions as the game one starter would need to start on short rest to start game five. I do think both teams would role out Gerrit Cole and Blake Snell if a game five is necessary.
Cole vs Snell is a marquee matchup. Snell is the 2018 American Leauge Cy Young Award winner and one of the best pitchers in baseball. Cole signed the largest contract ever for a pitcher for a reason. He’s an incredible pitcher that is one of the best in the majors. I broke down how Cole has approached the Rays and how the Rays hitters have approached him this year. Both pitchers will look to get their teams out to the quick 1-0 lead.
The Rays have announced their starting pitchers for the first three games while the Yankees have not. The reality is every game is TBA in the playoffs. Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth. It’s hard to see how the Rays don’t start Tyler Glasnow in game two and Charlie Morton in game three, but it could happen.
The Yankees are likely to start Masahiro Tanaka in game two. Tanaka has had one good start and one bad start against the Rays this year. In his first outing the Rays put up six runs in 4.0 innings powered by two homers. However he got his revenge in his second start by allowing two runs in 6.0 innings. Tanaka has been a tough matchup for Rays bats ever since the Yankees signed him.
The Yankees have lefties JA Happ and Mike Montgomery as options either as starters, bulk guys, or relievers. They also could use top prospect Deivi Garcia.
The Yankee bullpen has a well earned reputation as a top bullpen with top end arms like Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Britton has been great with a 1.89 ERA/2.61 FIP/3.42 xFIP while Chapman has been good but not up to his usual standards with a 3.09 ERA/2.93 FIP/2.36 xFIP. Both have dealt with injuries, so are working with very small samples.
Overall the bullpen has been mediocre with a 4.51 ERA/4.69 FIP/4.52 xFIP all ranking in the middle of the pack. Disappointing seasons by Adam Ottavino and Chad Green have led to lackluster results from the second tier relievers.
The Rays have a significant advantage in number of pitchers they are comfortable using in middle or higher leverage situations.
They maybe the Bronx Bombers, but will they show up in San Diego?
The Yankees were one of the most productive lineups this year hitting .247/.342/.442 and putting up a 116 wRC+. They are very patient (11.4% walk rate) and hit for a lot of power (.200 ISO). If that sounds a lot like the Rays offense it’s because it is.
While at home the Yankees were the best offense in the game by a good margin hitting .273/.365/.542 and putting up a 146 wRC+. However we aren’t in the Bronx anymore. The Yankees posted a bottom ten batting line away from Yankee Stadium hitting .220/.317/.350 and putting up a 86 wRC+. Everything is down. They get fewer base hits and thus base runners while simultaneously hitting for the power of a light hitting middle infielder.
This doesn’t mean the Yankees offense isn’t dangerous as they showed against the Cleveland Indians in the first round of the playoffs.
DJ LeMahieu leads the way with a .364/.421/.590 line and 177 wRC+. Voit has been their healthy power threat leading the league with 22 homers. Aaron Judge (140 wRC+) and Giancarlo Stanton (143 wRC+) have been limited by injuries, but when available have hit the ball as well as ever.
This offense can off against the best of them, so Rays pitchers need to be careful. However they also need to limit walks as that’s where things can really get off the rails and allow the Yankees to put crooked numbers up on the board.
The No. 1 seed Rays are the favorites.
This is expected to be a close series, but this is unfamiliar territory for Rays fans. This is the first meeting in the playoffs against their American League East rival. The Rays are used to being the underdog, but they have shown they are as good as any team in the league besides the Los Angeles Dodgers this year.
ZiPS has the Rays as 57.7% favorites to win the series according to Dan Szymborski’s projection system that can be found at FanGraphs. This isn’t a huge edge as it shows the Rays generally are 52.1-56.5% favorites in each individual game assuming starters for this series.
This is a matchup of two of the best teams in baseball. The Rays could lose this series, but the hope is this becomes their 2008 American League Championship Series moment they had against the other American League East rival Boston Red Sox.