The New York Yankees swept the Cleveland Indians in thrilling fashion last week, but while this is cause for celebration, the path to the World Series will not be easy, as they have to play the Tampa Bay Rays in order to advance, who beat them eight times in their ten matchups during the course of the regular season.
The Yankees displayed their incredible power driving in 22 runs in two games against the Indians, along with Gerrit Cole dominating his game one start. However, the second game highlighted their most fatal flaw: a lack of depth in starting pitching and some struggles from a usually good bullpen.
The Rays have produced their success from growing a crop of talented pitchers over the years through their farm system, which they are finally reaping the rewards from. With that being said this is a powerhouse matchup between dominant pitching and dominant hitting, but what will it take for the Yankees to pull the upset?
J.A. Happ needs to pitch a good game.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that if the Wild Card series went to game three, he would rely on J.A. Happ to pitch the do-or-die game. The 13-year veteran pitcher has been known for his inconsistencies in a Yankee uniform. Flashes of dominant pitching are often followed up with poor performances from Happ.
Since being acquired in a trade from the Blue Jays in 2018, Happ impressed Yankees fans by going 7-0 that year with a 2.69 ERA. He followed up in 2019 with a 12-8 record and a 4.91 ERA, a dramatic decline from the previous year where he boasted All Star caliber numbers.
This year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it’s hard to tell if Happ is back to his usual ways or if his best days are behind him. One thing that’s certain is Yankee manager Aaron Boone believes he’s back and has put his trust in him.
Will the Yankees bats show up in full force, or will they be in hibernation?
The Yankees ranked fourth in MLB with 5.25 runs per game. That same offense was MIA against the Rays this season, which is usually the case when a team loses eight of ten games in one season to a division rival. The Yankees offense against the Rays this season only managed to put up 3.4 runs per game.
It should be noted that this Yankees offense appears to be learning from its mistakes of the past. In past years, the Yankees lived and died by the long ball. The Yankees won game two against the Indians by making contact, chipping away with base hits and drawing walks to get runners on base. They still have the power to slap in a couple of home runs each game as well which they also showcased in their series with the Indians.
If the Yankees have any chase against the Rays, it’ll be done by driving up the pitch count on their talented pitchers, getting on base and chipping away. Relying on the long ball is not a favorable strategy against the Rays' dominant pitching rotation.
It is no secret that these two teams absolutely despise each other, and it seems the Rays vs. Yankees is the replacement for the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.
The last time these teams faced each other, Yankees closer threw over the head of Rays’ Mike Brosseau, resulting in the benches clearing including multiple suspensions. Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier put it best: “They don’t like us, we don’t like them, and it’s going to continue to stay that way.”
It’s natural for tension and emotions to run high between two teams in the postseason that have no rivalry history. When it’s two teams that already hate each other? It should make for one hell of a series, which will probably go the distance in a best of five series. If the Yankees want to get some sweet revenge on the Rays, J.A. Happ and the bullpen will need to come up huge, and the bats better show up.