By Ed Botti
As the Yankees and Rays await a six day lay over to begin the ALDS, it’s easy to start to see the buildup of the rhetoric that will be flying around, while both teams sit idle.
Think Ali – Frazier!
OK. Maybe I am exaggerating. But it is building up, and the League loves it. Drama sells!
The bad blood begins to build a little more with each day, as nearly every media source in the country revisits the events of this season that lead to the September 1 bench clearing incident, and are throwing gasoline on the proverbial fire.
By doing so, the media is falling right into the Kevin Cash trap.
Tune into the MLB network, turn on WFAN or pick up a copy of the Post, its everywhere.
There is nothing that Kevin Cash and crew would like more, then to have the Yankees spend 6 days hearing about the 2-8 record, the chin music, and of course the famous line about a “stable of 98 mile per hour pitchers”.
In other words, to get into the Yankees head’s.
What that can do is distract the Yankees and get them to focus on the wrong things, just what Cash wants.
The best plan of action, is to simply block it out, stay focused, and take the same approach that they did against arguably the best pitching staff in baseball (22 runs in 18 innings) and apply it to the Rays series.
If the Rays want to pitch inside, go for it. Eventually, they will have to throw into the strike zone, and that is where the damage begins.
The Rays successfully used that scheme during the regular season, with great results. It has to end now.
The Yankee hitters started to look a little intimidated during the last series, and let it change their approach at the plate. We discussed it here at the time.
Yankee hitters need to continue their patient approach, and not let their emotions get the best of them.
Cash on the other hand, has different plans.
The Rays want to play Mind Games; the Yankees should just let it all go in one ear and out the other, as it does nothing positive at all to their mind set, focus and discipline.
Let them talk, let them brag, let them drop ridiculous quotes all they want. The fight will be on the field, not in the press.
Take the high road.
Aaron Boone recently started laying the ground work when he stated. “I don’t expect it to be a factor moving forward. Obviously, there’s been some things that have happened that certainly get played up. I watch highlight shows and people love to talk about it, and understandably.”
That is a subtle message to his team, to look forward, not back.
Maybe the Ray’s don’t want to hear it, but bear in mind, 2 of the 3 series were played with two key Yankee hitters on the injured list (Judge and Stanton).
The lineup that takes the field this Monday is essentially the lineup that was planned in the off season, not the one that got embarrassed this past month.
Aaron Judge faced the Rays just four times, while Giancarlo Stanton played in three games.
They are back now, and the lineup is finally whole.
The reality is that despite all of their injuries in 2020, the Yankees were the best offensive team in the American League. They scored the most runs, hit the most home runs, took the most walks, had the highest on-base percentage and had the best OPS.
That is what happens when you have the batting champion and the home run leader in the same lineup.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post
Of course the Rays will counter that with the fact that the Yankees averaged 3.4 runs in 10 games against them, but 5.62 per game against the rest of the league.
That’s a huge difference.
The reasons are not exactly cut and dry. Yes, the Rays have a very good pitching staff (stable!!) and of course the Yankee approach in those games was brutal.
But the absence of the Yankee middle of the order also had quite a bit to do with it as well.
They might not say it, but the Rays know it.
Also, it’s not as if none of the Yankees hit well against the Rays while they were waiting for the middle of the lineup to get healthy.
Luke Voit hit .333 with four home runs and eight RBI in nine games.
DJ LeMahieu batted .333 with two home runs and five RBI in seven games.
Gio Urshela hit .294 with two home runs and nine RBI in 10 games.
Now that they are whole and the lineup is finally circular, we are seeing an uptick in the quality of at bats by Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner.
The Rays will have Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow, quality arms, lined up to start the first two games.
The Yankees counter with Cole and Tanaka.
It looks like a Charlie Morton vs. J.A. Haap match up for game 3.
Neither side has announced plans for games 4 or 5 (in needed), although a Cole v. Snell match up in game 5 is the logical assumption.
The big hole in the lineup for the Rays will be the absence of Austin Meadows, a great young player.
When asked about the task in front of them, Boone continued to take the high road, “Those are three great pitchers, so they’re going to get you sometimes.
“We know when those guys are on the mound we’re going to be up against great pitchers, but we feel like if anyone has a chance to get to them, it’s our group.”
Hitting Coach Marcus Thames is demanding of his hitters to control their emotions while sticking with the game plan and approach.
“We won’t be dragged into it, It happened. That’s in the past for us. We’ve got to stay focused on what we need to deal with and not let all of that little stuff get to you. They’re going to do what they have to do to try to make us uncomfortable and I think we have to do the same thing to them.”
There will be plenty of narratives and subplots over the reminder of the lay over and into the series. Cash definitely has a little Bill Parcells in him and has already started playing some mind games with his team, and has them buying into the “us against the world” game.
The Rays have been quoted talking about how they don’t get enough respect nationally and how the media believes the Yankees are the better team with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton in their lineup, and that the 8-2 season record was only because the Yankees were banged up when the Rays beat them earlier.
The bottom line is the team that executes and stays focused will move on to the ALCS.
I like that the Yankees, so far, have embraced the whole “it’s in the past” approach, and are keeping their comments to themselves.
There is nothing that can be gained by spending the next few days giving the other team cork board motivations. If you don’t remember, check out what happened to David Cone in the 1988 NLCS.
Mind games have always been a motivating factor for Coaches and Managers through history. Herb Brooks mastered it in the 1980 Olympics.
Cash and Boone are playing a chess game right now, and Boone needs to let Cash and his team think that they are “one upping” the Yankees.
The Yankees need to lay low, and when the games start, beat them on the field.
They are reporting that these two teams don’t like each other very much, and that may be the case. The Yankees of the 1970’s and 1980’s had the same bitter rivals from Fenway as these Yankees do, but also found a way to find some room in their hearts to hate the Royals as well.
This generation of Yankees will have their Boston rivalry. That will never change. But maybe the Rays now have supplanted those old Royals of the George Brett days.
We’ll see. But this new rivalry isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Both teams are positioned very well for the foreseeable future. Next year it’s probably a given that the number one prospect in all of MLB will be in Tampa Bay, Wander Franco, a shortstop.
So, Ali –Frazier, not quite, at least not yet. But there definitely is no love loss.
Let them keep playing those mind games. The Yankees should let the field of play do their talking.
The funny thing is, both teams will be sharing the same hotel in San Diego.