The problem wasn’t how Aaron Boone — or the Yankees research department — lined up the pitching for Division Series Game 2. It was the pitching. Or the lack of it.
This is a problem that cannot be camouflaged by modern strategy. It is a problem that even this Yankees offense might not be able to overcome. A problem magnified in a postseason that will be particularly merciless in schedule to teams without enough depth in arms.
The Yankees finally landed the ace they so craved for this time of year when they made Gerrit Cole the richest pitcher ever. And in the two playoff games Cole has started the Indians and the Rays scored three runs in each and the Yankees won by a combined 21-6.
But the Yankees have now surrendered 16 runs in the two non-Cole starts. Their offense did enough to win a wild-card round Game 2, 10-9, to eliminate Cleveland. But even with Giancarlo Stanton doing his greatest flex with the Yankees, they could not outscore the mistakes of Deivi Garcia, J.A. Happ, Adam Ottavino and Jonathan Loaisiga in Tuesday night’s ALDS Game 2.
Tampa Bay’s 7-5 triumph did more than tie this best-of-five series at one game apiece. It reasserted how many more dependable arms Rays manager Kevin Cash has at his disposal than Boone.
The Yankees have Cole in the rotation and perhaps if they could have stayed healthy James Paxton and Luis Severino would have gone next. Tommy Kahnle, if he had not needed Tommy John surgery, could have given Boone a fourth dependable reliever to team with Zack Britton, Aroldis Chapman and Chad Green. But there are no excuses here. The Rays had far more pitching injuries this season and still ended up with far more good pitchers — despite a shoestring budget — especially compared to the Yankees.
So what can the Yankees do? The persistent beautiful weather of San Diego is going to prevent a plan of Gerrit Cole and pray for rain. Tanaka had his worst postseason start in nine as a Yankee vs. the Indians. Maybe that was due to two rain delays. The Yanks need the October stalwart Tanaka on Wednesday. Because by using both Garcia and Happ in Game 2, Boone revealed (without saying it) that Jordan Montgomery will be making his postseason debut in Game 4 (even if an opener goes in front of him) and that Cole will come back on short rest if there is a Game 5.
Looming over all teams this year is a playoff structure that will expose a lack of pitching depth — five games in five days for the Division Series if it goes the distance followed by seven games in seven days if the LCS goes in full. The lack of off-days necessitates deploying at least four starters and more than just three reliable relievers.
Boone and the Yankees tried to get crafty or cute or desperate — take your pick — by starting Garcia in Game 2 with the idea of getting Tampa Bay to put its lefty hitters in the lineup and then flip to the southpaw Happ relatively quickly. Who knows if this all would have worked out better if the decision had been just to use Garcia as a traditional starter or Happ or not back up Tanaka to Game 3.
But this way failed. The Yankees could not finish off hitters or innings. Garcia gave up a homer with two strikes to Randy Arozarena in the first, and Happ gave up two-run homers with two strikes to No. 9 hitter Mike Zunino in the second and Manuel Margot in the third. The Yanks did not produce a 1-2-3 inning until the seventh. By then, Ottavino and Loaisiga had also done damage.
Boone has pretty much lost faith in Ottavino, but will have to find places to use him, which is trickier because the Rays have so many lefty hitters. One of them, Joey Wendle, walked to lead off the fifth. For the aggressive Rays that is like a double against the easy to steal on Ottavino and Wendle stole second. Loaisiga has stuff that looks great. But he has trouble putting up shutout innings. And he allowed an RBI single to Kevn Keirmaier to plate Wendle and then a sixth-inning homer to Austin Meadows.
Against these Yankee pitchers, it was the Rays who looked like they had the long, relentless lineup, swatting four homers. That more than negated two by Stanton.
It also reasserted the Yankees’ greatest worry — especially with how this postseason is scheduled — they just might not have enough quality pitching.Yan
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