The Tampa Bay Rays, who last won the American League East in 2010, beat the New York Yankees in eight of 10 games during the regular season. Can they do it again and get a chance to win their first AL pennant since losing to the Phillies in the 2008 World Series?
The best-of-five Yankees-Rays AL Division Series will be played with no days off starting today in San Diego’s Petco Park, one of the bubbles established by Major League Baseball for the postseason.
The Rays and Yankees have tension, and it would be unusual for regular season frustration to boil over into the postseason, but you never know. There could be drama in the postseason, although there’s a lot at stake in trying to win the series.
The teams don’t like each other. The feud started after the Yankees’ Aroldis Chapman hit the Rays’ Mike Brousseau with a pitch during the regular season. Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash answered by saying that he had a “stable” of pitchers that throw 98 mph in his bullpen.
The Rays bullpen is a force. Pitching injuries have hit the Rays hard during the regular season, but Cash has worked his magic and had 12 different pitchers pick up saves.
Nick Anderson is the best reliever in the Rays ‘pen after posting a 0.55 ERA in 19 games during the regular season. He also pitched in each of the two wins against Toronto in the wild card round. The Yankees will see a lot of high-octane fastballs from Peter Fairbanks, Diego Castillo and Chaz Roe. Those aren’t big-time names, but they get plenty of strikeouts.
The Rays are accustomed to using five relievers in a game - they did it in almost half of their 60-game schedule. The deep bullpen will give the Rays an advantage in a best-of-five series played with no days off.
The series will go Monday through Friday with no off-days, so how do managers handle the rotations. Managers will have to think about a five-man rotation or pitching Monday’s starter on short rest.
The Yankees bullpen isn’t as dominant as in past seasons. Chapman’s fastball has lost a few ticks and he pitched two innings when the Yankees wrapped up a 10-9 win against Cleveland in the first round. Zack Britton is battling a hamstring injury. Adam Ottovino has struggled. Tommy Kahnle is off the roster because of injury. Chad Green is a mainstay.
The Yankees will have Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and rookie Deivi Cruz in the first four slots of the rotation. Cole has a proven postseason record. Tanaka struggled against Cleveland, and Happ and Cruz are questions, one because of age (Happ) and the other because of youth (Cruz). Chances are Cole will be pitching on three days of rest if the series stretches that far.
Tampa Bay’s Tyler Glasnow and lefty Blake Snell combined for 17 strikeouts in two starts against Toronto in the wild card round. The Rays have the experience of Charlie Morton in Game 3 with Ryan Yarbrough and Josh Fleming in the back two slots of the rotation.
The Yankees lineup is more powerful than the Rays. Their 94 home runs were second in the AL while the Rays ranked seventh with 80. The Yankees scored 22 runs against Cleveland in two wild card games.
Luke Voit hit 22 home runs to lead the Yankees during the season. Aaron Judge, after a slow September, hit a home run against Cleveland’s Shane Bieber, a favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award. Giancarlo Stanton hit home runs in each of New York’s two wild card wins and Gio Urshela hit a grand slam.
Brandon Lowe hit 14 home runs during the season to lead the Rays. Willy Adames, Hunter Renfroe and Yoshi Tsutsugo each hit eight for Tampa Bay.
The series comes down to this: Can the Rays’ pitching stop the Yankees’ run production? The answer is yes.
Prediction: The Rays are on a roll. They’ll win in five games.