Can New York Yankees overcome loss of key men for Tampa Bay Rays showdown?
The baseball post-season is in full swing and spread over the next seven days we have the Divisional round, with the winners progressing to the conference finals. In a rare feat, each of the teams to reach this stage will play division rivals.
In the National League, the LA Dodgers continue their march towards the World Series, with the pundits’ favourites taking on California rivals San Diego Padres. In the other NL series the Atlanta Braves face off against the Miami Marlins, who are in the second round of the play-offs just a year after posting the worst record in baseball.
In the American League, the Houston Astros take on Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics who won seven of the ten regular-season games. The final leg of this round has the New York Yankees facing off against the Tampa Bay Rays in what has developed into being one of the season’s fiercest rivalries.
The Rays have been a thorn in the side of the Yankees all season and when the Bronx Bombers got off to a flying start, everyone, including myself, expected it to be a canter towards the play-offs for the Yanks.
When these two teams met in August, the Yankees were sitting with nine wins and three losses before they lost three of the four games to the Rays. Then ten days later the Rays did it again, sweeping the Yanks in three games.
By the end of the season, the Tampa Bay outfit had beaten the Yankees eight times, losing twice and outscored them 47-36 on the season.
So how can the Yankees enter this series with any hope?
The answer is two-fold. The Yankees faced the Tampa Bay Rays, who posted the second-best runs against total in the American League, without two of their biggest bats during the season.
Of course, they still have to perform against this magnificent Rays pitching staff, a department where Tampa defiantly have the upper hand. As I pointed to earlier the Rays had the second-best runs against in the American League and have a starting rotation that overpowers the Yankees.
The Yankees have Gerrit Cole who posted seven wins from his 12 starts and finished the regular season with a 2.84 earned run average. But after that, the rest of the team doesn't have the depth the Rays do.
Over the regular season, the Rays posted a team earned run average (ERA) of 3.56 compared with the Yankees’ 4.35, but that doesn't paint the whole picture. The Rays starters aren't their only strength. The relievers have posted some of the best numbers in baseball this year too.
In the bullpen, Tampa Bay have Ryan Thompson with an ERA of 4.44 from his 25 appearances. It’s the worst record of their five regular relievers. The other relievers post average between 2.7 and 1.66 runs per nine innings.
In comparison, the Yankee bullpen varies between 3.51 and 5.89 across their regularly used relievers.
So understandably there’s a lot of reason why the pundits now favour the Rays over the five-game series.
But, the Yankees are healthy now.
Aaron Judge was on pace for an MVP season hitting nine home runs in 18 games and posting a batting average of .292 when he was placed on the Injured Reserved list in after the first series against the Rays.
Also missing seven of the ten games was Giancarlo Stanton, another of the big bats in the Yankees line up. Stanton was present for the first three games against the Rays before going on the injured reserve list.
And this is, of course, a Yankees team that is fresh off beating the Cleveland, the best defensive team in the American League.
Not only did they beat Cleveland, but they also did it in the most Yankee way ever, by living up to their moniker the Bronx Bombers.
In the two-game sweep of Cleveland, the Yankees hit seven home runs and scored 22 runs in an offensive outburst, that was supported timely hitting and patience, waiting for the right pitches. If the Yankees can repeat these skills them maybe, just maybe, they can start thinking about World Series number 28.
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