My very favorite part of the playoffs is the strategy. Teams put endless time into preparing for each and every matchup and situation. Underdog teams come out on top in playoff series because they execute on their gameplan better than their opponent. In a small series, you can expose hitters and/or pitchers before they adjust.
Heading into Game 2 against the Guardians, Nestor Cortes will look to expose each and every hitter’s hole. He and his battery mate, Jose Trevino, are both high IQ players with a knack for combining their prepared info with in-game swing reading. Let’s go down batter by batter to see how the Yankees battery might attack the Guardians offense using their lineup against Shane McClanahan as a basis.
Kwan becomes a much more pedestrian hitter with a left-handed pitcher on the mound. His 85 wRC+ is well below league average, and it comes against a pitcher with a three pitch combination very well suited to getting lefties out. If I’m Nestor, I stick to my own strengths in this match up. There might come a time in the playoffs where you need to stray away from your strengths, but this is not one of those times.
This is the one crucial matchup for Nestor as he moves through the Guardians lineup. Rosario has proven he can hit lefties, and this lineup is highly dependent on him creating some movement on the basepaths against a pitcher like Nestor. If you look into his performance by pitch basis, you’d see that he crushed cutters this year for a .620 wOBA. It’s not that I would avoid that pitch if I was Nestor, but there is reason to believe the four-seam-slider combo should be enough. His .278 wOBA against left-handed four-seamers is not good. Nestor’s incredible four-seam ride plus great command of the pitch tells me he should fill up the upper part of the zone with the pitch against Rosario and force the Guardians shortstop to catch up to the heater.
J-Ram is of course the most dangerous hitter in this lineup. His power from the right side of the plate is decent, but not great. His SLG% was .414 on the year against lefties. Yes, he did take McClanahan yard in the Wild Card series, but it came on a hanging changeup. His .256 wOBA against left-handed four-seamers in 2022 is also not good! It seems that Nestor’s key to success against the top third of this lineup will be commanding his fastball. Lucky for him, that plays perfectly into his strengths.
This matchup is the one that isn’t presently clear to me. Gonzalez is an uber-aggressive hitter in general, but it seems to come out even more against lefties. He has a first percentile chase rate, meaning he literally chases more than anybody in baseball. That tidbit absolutely plays to Cortes’ strengths, but it also makes me think he might try to jump on a fastball. I think this will be a great opportunity for the Yanks’ lefty to pound that cutter inside while Gonzalez is trying to jump on a four-seamer.
Giménez hits lefties. In fact, he may have been the single best left-on-left hitter this season. In a way, he reminds me of how Didi Gregorius was able to keep his front from committing too early against lefties back in his peak hitting years with the Yankees. The thing is, Giménez does it with an incredible hit tool and more power than Gregorius. On the other hand, Giménez’s expected stats left-handed sliders are quite confusing. His real wOBA of .373 is far different from his xwOBA of .289. So really, he’s not hitting them all that hard, but his outcomes were still well above average. Okay, but what does this mean for Cortes? If the Guardians’ second baseman didn’t hit sliders all that well, does that mean he should use them? I’d say yes, he should. It seems like the right move should be a dose of cutters and sliders with fastballs out of the zone.
In reality, Naylor is a full-time platoon bat. However, the Guardians don’t really have anybody to platoon him with! Because of that, he will probably play and bat in the middle of the lineup against Cortes despite his problem against lefties. This is another one of those cases where Nestor should stick to his cutter/slider combo and beat Naylor with pitches he hasn’t hit all season.
Owen Miller, Austin Hedges, and Myles Straw
If you haven’t already realized, the Guardians are not an ideal roster to face left-handed pitchers. Two of their biggest power threats in Naylor and Ramírez lose that power against lefties. The thing is, those players will still hit higher in the order than Miller, Hedges and Straw because these players are not threats on offense against a lefty or righty. With all due respect, if Cortes is himself and doesn’t serve up cookies to the bottom third, I imagine he will be okay. I know that sometimes in the postseason the guys that you least expect to come through, but I was a betting man, my money is on Cortes handling the bottom third.
Perhaps I’m not being entirely fair because of the confidence I have in Nestor tonight, but I truly don’t think this lineup is one capable of making a deep playoff run, especially against a team like the Yankees with such talented pitching. The theme here is as long as Nestor executes like he has all year, the Guardians offense should remain quiet.