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The Yankees lost Game Two, but the strategy wasn’t flawed

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Boone’s galaxy-brained bait-and-switch ended in a loss, but he took a risk without compromising the Yankees’ chances of winning the series.

American League Division Series Game 1: New York Yankees v. Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Last night, Deivi García made history as the youngest Yankee postseason starter in history, but was unable to capitalize on the limited opportunity given to him by manager Aaron Boone.

Struggling with his fastball command, García fell behind Randy Arozarena, and then served him a heater higher up in the zone than he intended to. Gary Sánchez set up down-and-away, but García left the fastball at the top of the zone.

García hides the ball well on his way to the plate, allowing his average velocity to play up just a tad. If the hitter doesn’t pick up the ball immediately out of hand, his 93-94 might read closer to 95-96. However, if the hitter does get a read on the ball early, García’s middling velocity, 30th percentile spin rate fastball is extremely hittable. The only way for him to have success with such an underwhelming primary pitch (he throws it 59.6% of the time) is with impeccable location and exceptional craftiness with his off-speed pitches, something we didn’t see in inning one of Game Two.

Big-league hitters take advantage of mistakes, especially when the hitter is as hot as Arozarena, and especially when the mistake is with a fastball as flat as García’s. After surrendering the homer, the 21-year-old drilled Ji-Man Choi with another mislocated fastball before inducing a groundout from Manuel Margo.

Surprisingly, Aaron Boone yanked García for J.A. Happ after just one inning in an apparent bait-and-switch. During his in-game interview, Boone admitted it was “probably” part of his pre-game plan to go to Happ early on, in order to “negate the Rays’ platoon advantage.”

It didn’t seem to matter, however, that the Rays started five lefties when Happ came in, as he gave up four runs in his first two innings of work. Right-handed hitting starters, Mike Zunino and Margot, did enough damage with their two home runs to outmaneuver Boone’s gamesmanship. In just two and two-thirds innings of work, Happ gave up four runs on the two homers, putting the Yankees in a hole out of which even a sublime Giancarlo Stanton performance couldn’t carry them.

Matched up against the Rays’ deeper starting rotation and bullpen, the Yankees need to win the games started by their two elite postseason starters, Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka, in order to give themselves a chance of winning any playoff series. So far, they have, winning Games One and Two of the Wild Card Series, and then providing plenty of run support for Cole’s ALDS Game One victory on Monday. Even after losing on Tuesday, a win in Game Three would put the Yankees in great position to advance, with two more opportunities to win one game and reach the ALCS, especially with Gerrit Cole lined up to start a potential Game Five.

With the road to a series victory dependent upon victories when Cole and Tanaka take the mound, it makes sense that Boone would try to leverage his fourth starter (García) into generating an ideal lineup for his third starter. Even though Happ imploded upon impact, García only threw 20 pitches over a single inning, few enough to keep him ready for a possible short start on short rest in Game Four. If Boone wanted to deploy this surprise opener bait-and-switch, he had to do it in Game Two in order to maintain García’s availability later in the series.

Further, Tanaka’s past playoff successes (2.70 ERA even with his monsoon-compromised start last week) compare more favorably to Charlie Morton’s 3.70 career postseason ERA than the burgeoning star that is Tyler Glasnow. If you’re going to be the underdog in at least one of the matchups against two of the Rays’ three-headed monster, you might as well optimize your chances in the other by starting Tanaka against the weaker of the Rays’ two and three starters. That’s even more true if you can bolster the overmatched starter’s chances (Happ) through the negation of the platoon advantage. Even though Boone’s bold move didn’t seem like it worked tonight, it still put the Yankees in the best possible position to win two more games and advance to the American League Championship Series.