Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Battle of Petco Park...


New York and Tampa Bay take the war to San Diego…

Yankees-Rays. I suppose this was inevitable when the Rays used their season series against the Yankees to provide the necessary separation to win the AL East. By taking 8 of 10 games, the Rays cruised to the division title by seven games over the Yankees. What does it mean? Absolutely nothing. Let the Rays celebrate the end of the Yankees’ one-year run as division champions following Boston’s reign of superiority. In the end, I’d rather have a team that is ready and prepared to play post-season baseball. I am not saying the Rays are not prepared, but I feel team-to-team, the Yankees are better. Wins against the Rays may have been difficult in the regular season but this no longer the regular season. Win or lose, I will take the Yankees over the Rays anytime, anywhere.

Speaking of anywhere, it will be weird to watch the ALDS played at Petco Park in San Diego, CA. A beautiful park, without question. I’ve been there a few times and have always enjoyed the look and ambiance of the park. A nice cool ocean breeze makes for a nice setting to play baseball. It’s not quite San Francisco, for me anyway, but an awesome stadium in its own right. Day and night in comparison to Tropicana Field in St Petersburg, FL, the warehouse the Rays call home. I like the idea of the Yankees and Rays playing their series on neutral ground. Sure, I’d love to see playoff baseball in Yankee Stadium but it’s not going to happen this year so it will be fun to watch the games next week in sunny Southern CA. At the end of the day, I’d much rather win the AL Division Series than the AL East title, even if the games had to be played in Tokyo, Japan. 

Photo Credit: Bryan Hoch,

Giancarlo Stanton said it best, “They won the division, so they’ve got that. The full bragging rights chance is here. Shirts and hats, that doesn’t mean anything”.

In winning the AL Wild Card series with the Cleveland Indians, the Yankees impressed me with their ‘never-say-die’ attitude. I wish the team’s pitching had not put the Yankees in the position of requiring a rally to advance, but they did, and the hitters delivered. I had felt more confident and comfortable with Aaron Boone as Yankees manager in his second year than the first but, in my opinion, he regressed in this third season. When Zack Britton walked two in the crucial Game 2 of the Indian series, I didn’t like the decision to pull Britton in favor of Jonathan Loaisiga. I know, it’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback but I didn’t like the move while it was happening. Britton, who had arguably one of the greatest relief seasons ever in 2016 with the Baltimore Orioles, remains a very trusted veteran. Despite the walks, Britton has proven time and again that he is a ‘bend but not break’ type of pitcher. For as talented as Loaisiga is or could be, he is not better than Britton in that spot. Loaisiga promptly gave up two runs which allowed the Indians to tie the score. Maybe Britton would have given up the same runs (or more), maybe not. I just know that Britton would have been my choice to finish the inning. Loaisiga’s appearance did prove one thing, there is zero confidence in Adam Ottavino right now. Bummer, I had really hoped Otto would get his act together before the playoffs to be the dominant reliever we know he can be. I want to see his wicked stuff tantalizing hitters rather than a reliever with control problems.

I am not sure the first year of pitching coach Matt Blake has been much of an improvement over the long tenure of Larry Rothschild. Rothschild was the coach the fans loved to hate, but he is the pitching coach for a team that blanked the St Louis Cardinals last night to push the San Diego Padres into a NLDS battle against their NL West rival Los Angeles Dodgers. Rothschild’s team is dangerous, loaded with good, young pitching, and ultra-talented players to back the pitching which starts with the incredible Fernando Tatis, Jr (sorry Manny).  I am sure Larry is not crying about his ejection from the Yankees at this point. The question is whether or not Blake has been better. At the moment, I’d have to say “inconclusive; results pending”. Gerrit Cole was going to be good regardless of the coach. It’s how the other pitchers perform and if there is a weakness for the Yanks heading into the ALDS, it is the starting pitching behind Cole.  If the Indians had managed to win AL Wild Card series Game 2 to push the series to a third and final game, the starting pitcher would have been J.A. Happ or Jordan Montgomery. I love Gumby but I am sorry, he doesn’t inspire great confidence and regardless of the few good games Happ has had lately, he is still, in my mind, a mediocre starting pitcher at best. I so wish the Yankees had either James Paxton or Luis Severino for the Rays series. But it is not to be, so hopefully Blake can earn his stripes by coaxing superior performances out of everybody not named Gerrit Cole.  We already know Cole will deliver. 

Photo Credit: The New York Post

The Rays feature a formidable front three with Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and Charlie Morton. As great as Gerrit Cole is or as dominant as Masahiro Tanaka has been in October (excluding the Indians series), the Rays’ rotation is better. Nonetheless, the Yankees showed putting the likely 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber on the mound meant nothing when the Yankees cruised to the ALDS Game 1 win over the Indians, scoring seven runs against the young ace. Kevin Kiermaier can talk as tough as he wants to, the Yankees’ offense is simply better. The Yankees are certainly not afraid of the Rays and I think the talent will be the great separator in this series. The Yankees have momentum, they’re hungry and they know what is at stake. ‘Never say die’ will continue to resonate with this team. 

My prediction: The Yankees in five games. 

I think my biggest disappointment in the playoffs so far is that the Minnesota Twins did not give the Houston Astros a greater challenge. The Twins proved their inability to win in October is not isolated to when they are playing the Yankees. Minnesota’s thunderous bats were a concern if they had advanced to the next round but I would have preferred to see them in the ALDS over the lying, cheating Houston Astros. I am hopeful the AL West champion Oakland A’s can send the losers home early. The ALCS is too far ahead to think about, we need to worry about the ALDS and nothing more. The sooner the Astros pull off their jerseys for the final time this season, the better, regardless of who kicks their asses out the door. 

In the NL, the biggest surprise, despite the incredible play of Tatis Jr and the Padres, is the Derek Jeter, Don Mattingly led Miami Marlins. The Marlins beat the Chicago Cubs in the NL Wild Card Series and will play the Atlanta Braves this week. I do not expect the Marlins to beat the Braves, but it is a great testament to Jeter and company that they tore the Marlins down and now have them playing competitive baseball again in just a few years. It feels like they are ahead of schedule.

I’ve always admired Don Mattingly so I am glad he is at the helm as the team’s skipper for the resurgence. He has certainly paid his dues. I am sure it was very hard for him to watch superstars like Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, and Christian Yelich depart after the Jeter-led ownership group took over but he has persevered and is now reaping the rewards of success. I enjoyed Mattingly’s time as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and was not ready to see him depart when Dodgers ownership let him go. I think Mattingly’s presence on the Dodgers solidified them as my favorite NL team and second favorite overall (I also happen to live in the LA area even if I am closer to Angels Stadium these days). I remain a Dodgers fan and think Dave Roberts has done a fine job as manager (some may disagree) but I will always wonder if Mattingly could have won a championship in LA if he had been given more time. Not that I want to see the Marlins win the World Series, but I admit I would quietly be thrilled to see Mattingly celebrating a championship. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Here are my predictions for the AL/NL division series:

Yankees over Rays in five games.

Athletics over Astros in four games.

Dodgers over Padres in five games.

Braves over Marlins in three games.

If the Rays do overcome the Yankees (sorry, it is a possibility regardless of how much we love the Bronx Bombers), I wonder if the Yankees would consider parting ways with Aaron Boone. I didn’t think it was possible before the season and while I don’t think this weird, tragic pandemic year should be held against anyone, Boone’s regressions are troubling. I am not sure who is a better choice out there. I am not advocating change. I like Boone and I’d certainly be happy to see him return for the 2021 season. I only raise it as a possibility if the team is unable to advance. 

I think Dave Roberts might be in the same boat. If the Dodgers underperform again, it’s going to look unfavorably upon their manager given the plethora of talent on his teams in recent years. The Padres are showing the end of the Dodgers’ dominance in the NL West is coming. This may be the best opportunity the Dodgers have to win a championship in the foreseeable future. 

A’s manager Bob Melvin continues to show why Brian Cashman wanted him as the team’s manager to replace Joe Girardi. The A’s weren’t cooperative and Melvin was never an option, but he is perhaps the best manager left in the playoffs. 

Hal Steinbrenner, this is your weekly plea to please re-sign DJ LeMahieu.

As always, Go Yankees!