Well, the 2020 MLB Playoffs are upon us. As baseball finally moves into its Bubble phase, 16 teams are squaring off to determine this year’s World Series champion. While it’s hard to think that there won’t be an asterisk next to the 2020 title, a champion will be crowned.
The MLB is a fickle beast. Star-driven and tank-friendly, teams in the dumpster one year can be the king of the mountain the next. With that, stakes are high for almost every team as they make their playoff run, with sought-after stars often heading for greener pastures if they feel their squad can’t get over the hump.
We’re looking at each MLB playoff series and diving into what’s at stake for each team, how they stack up, and the keys to victory for each squad.
So, let’s check-in ahead of the Wild Card series between the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees.
The Tampa Bay Rays have been the best team in the American League, and more specifically, the best team in the AL East, the division they share with the New York Yankees. Over the course of the shortened 60 game season, the Rays beat the Yankees 8 times in their 10 meetings, outscoring New York 47-34.
The Rays are looking to keep that same success going in the ALDS as they look to reach their first ALCS since they went to the World Series in 2008.
The Yankees, on the other hand, have vastly underperformed in 2020, finishing the season 6 games above .500. But that’s not to say there weren’t bright spots this season. D.J. LeMahieu won his second AL batting title, and Gio Urshela proved his 2019 season wasn’t a fluke.
On top of all of that, the Yankees bats sprang to life in the Wild Card round, making the best pitching staff in the Majors look like a Little League team. The Yankees put up 22 runs in their two games against Cleveland, and they’ll look to keep that power humming as they look to reach their first ALCS since 2017.
Also in their 2020 season series? FIREWORKS.
Tampa Bay’s Keys to Victory: Replicate Regular Season Success
The Rays easily motored passed the Blue Jays in the Wild Card round, but it wasn’t completely thanks to their regular season stars. Both Hunter Renfroe and Mike Zunino spent the majority of the season hitting below the Mendoza Line. Six of Tampa’s eleven runs in the Wild Card came off their bats. That’s a good sign if they can stay hot.
For everyone else, it’s a wake up call.
The Rays need their regular season studs to shake off a rough series and get back on the horse. Without the sturdy pillars of their offense like Brandon Lowe, Joey Wendle, Yandy Diaz, and Willy Adames, the Rays might not have what it takes to beat Gerrit Cole twice. That’s a fact, considering how well they hit him in the regular season.
Let’s do some simple math. In a five-game series, you have three games to have won the majority of the series. If Gerrit Cole pitches Game 1, he’ll more than likely pitch another. The same goes for Masahiro Tanaka, if he gets the ball in Game 2. More than likely you’ll see them in two games each.
That’s bad news for any other team that’s not the Tampa Bay Rays, because the Rays have hit both Cole and Tanaka very well in 2020.
In their 10 matchups this season, either Cole or Tanaka pitched in 6 of those games, posting a 1-2 record in those starts. In a combined 31.1 innings against Tampa Bay, the Yankees #1 and #2 gave up 16 earned runs, which equates to a 4.60 ERA. That’s not good. That does not spark joy.
If the Rays can get their regular season bats to wake up and get to the Yankees starters early and often, they can control their own destiny and push on through to the ALCS. They took 8 of 10 games against New York over the last two months, they can certainly take 3 of 5.
New York’s Keys to Victory: Maintain Wild Card Momentum
The Yankees that showed up to their Wild Card bout with Cleveland was the team we all thought we’d see throughout the season. The 2020 Bronx Bombers are a team that hits with power that also has a pitching staff that can be shaky at times.
In their last two games, being the two they played in Cleveland to get to this ALDS, the Yankees smacked 7 home runs, three of them coming off the bats of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. That’s seven longballs off the best pitching staff in the Majors. That’s astounding, but it’s not surprising, considering the Yankees were second in the AL for home runs. Against the Rays in 2020, they also were all about the round-trippers. In their season series with Tampa, the Yankees parked 13 homers in 10 games.
If the Yankees bats can stay hot, they can get ahead in this series and not look back. However, if they fall back into their .500 ways, they’ll be heading home sooner rather than later.
Final Call: Tampa Bay in 5 Games
This is tough. This series really comes down to which team shows up, and not which team is better on paper. On paper, it’s the Rays. However, should the Yankees show up like they did in the Wild Card, things could get interesting.
However, with their tough records against Tampa, and the fact that they’ll need three wins to advance, picking against Cole and Tanaka is just too enticing. The Yankees would have to win two of their four starts, and even those odds are a tough uphill climb.
Regardless, with the recent history between these two teams, this is easily a series to keep your eye on. A benches clearing brawl is not out of the question.
- / 10 months ago
To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram.