The New York Yankees swept the Cleveland Indians 2-0 in the best-of-three Wild Card series that the two teams played at Progressive Field on Tuesday and Wednesday. The first contest was almost like a first-round knockout, but the second one was a toe-to-toe battle that featured several lead changes, star relievers allowing crucial hits and intense emotions. In the end, the Bombers came out on top 10-9 to clinch a spot in the Division Series.
Starting Monday, the Yankees will face the Tampa Bay Rays in a best-of-five series that will help us determine, once and for all, who has the best team in the American League East. Yes, Tampa took eight out of ten games in the regular season, but postseason baseball is different. And the Yankees are now healthier, too.
During the two games in Cleveland, the Yankees didn’t use right-handed reliever Adam Ottavino, even though he could have helped the team, especially in Wednesday’s contest. In a hotly contested affair, when the Yankees were up 8-6 in the seventh frame with two outs and two runners on base, manager Aaron Boone pulled Zack Britton from the game and chose to bring Jonathan Loáisiga before considering Ottavino.
Loáisiga gave up a deep, hard-hit double to Jordan Luplow that tied the game at eight runs apiece. The presence of Lasagna in that spot was puzzling, to say the least, as he hasn’t seen too many high leverage situations this season.
Additionally, Boone elected to give Aroldis Chapman two innings, which is more than his usual workload, before bringing Ottavino for the eighth frame. Yes, the fact that a Yankees win would guarantee a break until Monday probably factored into the decision, but the lack of confidence in Ottavino is notable.
Looking under the hood
Of course, it is somewhat understandable that Ottavino is looked at a little differently than he was last year. After all, Ottavino, who signed a three-year deal for a total of $27 million before the 2019 season, finished the 2020 season with a bloated 5.89 ERA in 18.1 innings. But what’s under the surface?
If we judge him by FIP, Ottavino pitched at about the same level of performance than last year, when he had a 1.90 ERA. His FIP in 2019 was 3.44, and in 2020 it barely increased to 3.52. He wasn’t as bad as it appears. And, additionally, he kept striking people out (12.27 K/9) and had a 1.59 ERA and a minuscule 0.19 FIP in his last 5.2 innings (seven games), with only one walk and ten punchouts.
Boone is, evidently a manager that favors recent performance over track record. Whether that is the right strategy remains up for debate, but in this specific case, he needs Ottavino to cover some innings from this point forward.
Longer series are in the horizon, and Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green and Zack Britton can’t carry the whole bullpen burden by themselves. If the Yankees are paying Ottavino like a high-leverage setup man, then use him like one. He may have a few control lapses, but has the stuff to get out of jams.