The ALDS is not the final destination that the New York Yankees want to reach in 2020. However, facing the Tampa Bay Rays a possible five times in five days proves to be their toughest challenge as they navigate through the AL.
Ahead of the Wild Card Series, Gerrit Cole told the media that he likes the stakes when taking the ball in the postseason. Considering that the Rays finished as the AL’s number-one seed, defeated the Yankees head-to-head eight out of ten times, and the tension that has developed between both sides, the stakes are certainly high ahead of Monday’s Game One.
Cole knows they are playing a really good baseball team, and he admits the emotional component between both sides heightens the stakes even more than they normally would be in the postseason.
“There’s already a baseline of tension there as we approach any game at this time of year,” Cole said. “I think certainly with the history…there will be some people playing on edge.”
The animosity between both sides has continued to grow in the past few seasons. The culmination came with a benches-clearing incident on September 1st. Kevin Kiermaier feels neither side likes each other, a sentiment which Brett Gardner said is probably mutual. Gardner knows the team is professional enough for it to not be a problem, even with both teams staying in the same hotel.
In spite of the stakes and emotions, the Yankees have faith in their abilities with a full, healthy roster.
“We’re a confident team…,” Aaron Judge said. “When we’ve got a full lineup, everyone’s healthy, and they’re in there, we’ve got something special here in New York, and that’s why we’re excited going into this postseason having everyone healthy.”
The majority of the ten games that these two teams played in the regular season were done with a combination of Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and DJ LeMahieu sidelined with injuries. The presence of these three players can change the complexion of the Yankees’ offense, and that was evident as they lacked consistency with them absent.
With the lineup healthy, they feel they are a different team. They demonstrated that in the Wild Card series, scoring 22 runs in two games against an exceptional Cleveland Indians pitching staff. In those two games, the Yankees showed the mix of dominance and resiliency that they are capable of when at full health.
Manager Aaron Boone shares in his team’s confidence, but he knows how difficult their opponent is to face.
“I think we’re a pretty good team, and there’s no doubt that the Rays are a really good team and have been now for a few years and seem to be improving year by year,” Boone said. “We really respect the challenge of them, we look forward to the challenge of it.”
Without off days, this Division Series format is a test of which team has the most complete roster.
It was neither a fluke nor by luck that the Rays won the AL East. The Yankees managed to outscore the Rays, 5.25 runs per game to 4.82, but their competitive advantages end there.
The Rays have the edge in pitching and on defense. Their 3.56 ERA was third-best in MLB while the Yankees 4.35 ERA had them at 14th-best. The Rays were tied for the 17th-most errors in MLB while Yankees committed the most.
Judge understands it will be tough to face the Rays pitching staff that can throw hard and command breaking pitches.
“It keeps you honest on both sides. You can’t really sell out to the fastball or sell out on a breaking ball,” Judge said. “They can throw either pitch in the zone at any time so that makes it tough at times.”
The Yankees are eyeing a World Series championship. Although the ALDS is a step towards that championship, this series is a tough obstacle for the Yankees. With their lineup healthy, they feel ready to face the team that has tamed them all season long.
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