Yankees must shut down these two hitters to flip script vs Rays
By Adam Weinrib
If the Yankees are going to beat the Rays, they must do a better job handling Ji-Man Choi and Willy Adames.
We can’t beat around the bush entering the ALDS: The Yankees’ best hope against the Rays is that things go entirely differently than they did during the regular season.
What we saw in the 60-game slate wasn’t just a beating; it was a punking. The Yanks failed to muster a counterpunch, watching their highly-paid and vaunted performers get consistently outworked by the lesser-known Rays lineup, and they found themselves unable to hit with runners in scoring position (or, really, ever) against the members of the Stable.
The one time Aroldis Chapman fought back? Tampa Bay got his team back harshly the following day, with 98 MPH fastball target Michael Brosseau delivering a pair of blows.
The Rays lineup is particularly annoying — their best players, like Brandon Lowe, aren’t hulking mashers or intimidating cleanup men. They’re just…guys who hit really well, and will not go away.
But if the Yankees are going to flip this series on its head, they need to do a far better job of treating TB’s more ancillary players like they’re outs instead of cornerstones.
For example, Willy Adames simply cannot punish the Yankees the way he did during the regular season if they want to have a shot at victory.
12 hits, five extra-base hits, and 73 points above an average performer in wRC+. Overall on the year, Adames hit just .259 with a .332 OBP. Solid player, no doubt. But he out-Lindor’d Lindor against the Yanks in 2020.
As for the other “big” name who can’t be so big this time around if the Yankees are going to sneak by? Why, it’s their former property: Ji-Man Choi.
Choi feasted on all Yankees pitching in 2020, though of course the story was headlined by his battles with Gerrit Cole.
No matter the opponent, Choi hit .346 with a .433 OBP and two bombs (both off Cole) in 30 plate appearances against the Yankees this year. Overall? Choi was just a .230 hitter with a trio of home runs in the entire 60-game campaign. Brutal.
Somehow, his Cole numbers are superior even to that; 8-for-12 with 3 homers and 8 RBI. Patently ridiculous. And it wasn’t “a very long time ago” — he waited for a Cole breaking pitch this season in a casually excellent at-bat, and deposited it into the short porch, which luckily will not exist this time around.
Choi’s the type of beloved player who can spark a locker room, and who can always be counted on to deliver a patient at-bat, but the fact remains that he is not Joey Votto. He’s a good baseball player who treated the Yankees like a whipping post in 2020, and that has to reverse itself if New York is going to take control of the situation in San Diego.
Adames and Choi are solid ballplayers. They aren’t Gleyber Torres and Luke Voit. And if the Yankees want to persevere this week, they have to game plan better for this unlikely duo.