The Yankees have a stacked lineup ready to take on the Rays Monday night.
This one’s all about setting the tone. It’s a five-game series that will be played through Friday if need be, and snagging the opener with your best pitcher on the mound is almost imperative. So is crafting the perfect lineup, which manager Aaron Boone may have done.
He put the same card out there he did for Game 1 of the AL Wild Card Series against the Cleveland Indians, but made one change. Clint Frazier is in for Brett Gardner.
With lefty Blake Snell toeing the rubber for Tampa, we can’t say we didn’t see this coming, but we certainly needed to physically see it to believe it, especially since Gardy is hitting .286 in 21 at-bats vs the left-hander. But guess what? Shane Bieber had better splits against lefties than righties and Boone still went with Gardy.
This will be Frazier’s first career playoff start and it’ll be a big one. He’ll have to be producing in some capacity early on at the plate to avoid being taken out of the game in the later innings. Additionally, his defense will have to remain reliable because the Yankees cannot afford any gaffes against a tight Rays team that beat them eight out of 10 tries this year.
But why else is this surprising? Boone is sticking with what’s working and leaving Stanton in the five-hole and Gleyber in the seven-hole. We saw the results those decisions yielded against superior pitching vs the Indians, but what we’ll have to watch for is how these guys perform against the Rays’ tough-as-nails bullpen.
Some thought that Boone would get super creative here to try and get Gary Sanchez in the lineup given his career numbers against Snell (.300 average, 1.581 OPS, five homers, eight RBI, seven walks in 20 at-bats). That is not the case, as Kyle Higashioka will remain Gerrit Cole’s catcher, which is likely more valuable at this point than having another potent bat in the lineup given the right-hander’s success with Higgy behind the plate.
Surprisingly a lot to unpack here, but it seems Boone has once again pressed all the right buttons. We’ll find out for sure in a couple hours.