In every analysis we make of the Yankees-Rays ALDS, we can’t ignore the fact that Tampa had New York’s number all season, and that they won eight out of ten regular season games between the two teams. They also took the American League East division by seven (!) games, a huge margin in season that only staged 60 contests.
But despite all that, the Yankees’ offense looks locked, loaded and ready to do some damage this time around. As much as Tampa enjoyed success against the Yankees earlier in the year, they would do well to recognize that this is not the same unit that scored just ten runs in the last three games between the two clubs back in early September.
Those Yankees didn’t have Giancarlo Stanton, who was dealing with a hamstring strain. They also didn’t have Aaron Judge, nursing a troublesome calf strain. And, if that weren’t enough, they were also without shortstop Gleyber Torres, who was recovering from quad and hamstring strains. Those are three of the best hitters on the Bombers’ roster.
Thankfully, those three sluggers are now back in the lineup and enjoying a nice little groove at the plate, especially Stanton and Torres. Judge went 0-for-4 in Game 2 against Cleveland, but he was the one who got the party started in Game 1 with a crucial two-run shot against none other than Cy Young favorite Shane Bieber in the first inning.
A truly stacked lineup
These Yankees pose a huge threat to the AL East champs. They have the three mentioned sluggers that recently became healthy, two MVP candidates in Luke Voit and DJ LeMahieu, an OBP machine with power in Aaron Hicks, and a hungry All-Star catcher looking for redemption in Gary Sanchez.
The Kraken, of course, hit a home run and tied the game in the ninth inning with a sac fly in the epic 10-9 victory against the Indians in Game 2. Despite an awful .147/.253/.365 line in the regular season, the backstop is hitting the ball with authority and may be coming around at the right time.
Not enough? Well, enter Gio Urshela. Add him to the group of feared batters, in the all-around stars category. His go-ahead grand slam in the fourth inning of the second game at Progressive Field this week showed the world what he’s capable of. Of course, Yankees’ fans have been witnessing his vast offensive improvements since last season.
Cleveland sent Cy Young lock Shane Bieber and the formidable Carlos Carrasco to the mound in the two games against the Yankees, and the Bombers were able to solve them both. The tribe also has a strong bullpen, led by James Karinchak and Brad Hand, yet New York did knocked them around, too. In the two games, the Yankees averaged eleven runs and were able to hit seven round-trippers and work 15 walks. They faced challenging pitchers and put together great at-bats, making those opposing hurlers work and ultimately hitting them around the yard.
Make no mistake: the Rays will be an even tougher test. They have excellent stalwarts in the rotation, starting with lefty Blake Snell and righties Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton. They are a creative team that thrives on developing and nurturing effective starters and relievers. And, they want to defeat the Yankees. Badly.
But this time, with no intention of being cocky or overly confident, I firmly believe the Yankees are in an excellent position to produce. They are not the same team that dropped a few series versus Tampa in the regular season. They are certainly not seven games worse, and they will almost surely give the Rays everything they can handle.