Coming off an exhilarating finish to the inaugural Wild Card Series against the Indians in Cleveland, the New York Yankees are settling into San Diego where they face the bane of their 2020 season in the ALDS, the American East-winning Tampa Bay Rays.
It re-sparks a rivalry that has no love lost between the two clubs, and it has shown over the course of the 60-game 2020 season. Nevertheless, there is a best-of-five series to be played in the midst of fresh mayhem that’s boiled over in Tampa owning the Yankees with an 8-2 record in 2020.
Naturally, there’s going to be some gameplan modifications for a heated series that will be played over five consecutive nights at a neutral site. Here’s what to look for come Monday night:
Adjusting to Petco Park in San Diego
The home of the National League’s San Diego Padres will certainly prove to be a different experience than Yankee Stadium and the domed Tropicana Field for this round of the postseason — and that’s something Yankees manager Aaron Boone and his squad is adjusting to ahead of play.
“One of the things we go through too is the ballpark we’re playing in and the kind of different nooks and crannies and how balls bounce and stuff like that,” he said, specifically noting different bounce angles likely to come off outfield walls, the back stop, and Petco Park’s “really nice but really quick infield.”
Yankees outfielder and designated hitter Giancarlo Stanton, who played plenty at the park during his time with the Miami Marlins of the NL, said there are “interesting dimensions” that benefit right-handed hitters.
Those dimensions of interest Stanton spoke of: 322 feet in right field, 391 in right-center, 396 in center field, 390 in left-center, and 336 in left field.
That’s opposed to Yankee Stadium’s 314-foot short porch in right, 385-foot right-center power alley, 408 feet to straightaway center, 399 in left-center, and 318 to left.
Tropicana’s right field is also 322 feet, though its right center is 370, with dead-center at 404, left-center the shallowest of the three at 370, and left field similar to Yankee Stadium at 315.
Taking the high road, not getting “caught up” in the recent feud
Adding insult to injury, the Yankees and Rays are also sharing a hotel during their time in Southern California.
Downplaying what he called a less-than-ideal situation, Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner said that circumstances remain “business as usual” for the ALDS.
“Our focus is on trying to beat these guys,” Gardner said.
That ‘take it out on the field’ mentality is something Boone also reiterated saying “none of that really matters.”
“Our focus here these next two days and on through the week is going to be on us playing our best baseball and trying not to get caught up in that which I understand is going to be a storyline,” he said.
“We understand we’re up against a really good opponent and we’ve got to play well.”
The Yankees starting rotation and intense bullpen usage
Besides Gerrit Cole being confirmed as the Yankees Game 1 starter, Boone has yet to decide where Masahiro Tanaka, Deivi Garcia, JA Happ, and Jordan Montgomery are as of early Sunday afternoon.
Also, since the series will be played over five-straight nights, Boone has “evaluations” to make on efficiently using the Yankees bullpen, he said.
“Sometimes you might have to make a tough decision where you normally go with a guy, maybe, but if he pitches two or three days in a row and thrown a number of pitches then maybe he’s not going to be as effective,” he said.
In the case of righty Zack Britton, the pitcher said he would be able to go four or even five games in a row if needed.
“If it’s a winner take all game you’re gonna do it,” Britton said, adding that he prefers facing a familiar lineup such as Tampa Bay. “The more that I’ve seen guys, the more comfortable I get.”
When asked if Britton would go four or five days in a row this series, Boone said “we’ll see” and it would be a circumstantial decision.
Boone also said that the depth of the Yankees’ roster, particularly its bullpen, will be a huge factor against the Rays — adding that there will be a “big role” for reliever Adam Ottavino.
Giancarlo Stanton continuing clutch postseason play
“If I’m in the lineup, I’ve got to contribute,” is what Giancarlo Stanton said after what was arguably his best playoff performance in Game 2 of the Wild Card round Wednesday night.
As the superstar seeks to “not show it on paper but be out there and do it” again against Tampa Bay, Stanton says that he’ll be looking to slow the game down, get good pitches and not go out of the zone.
Stanton also addressed the challenges faced from injury and other circumstances during his Yankee tenure, saying “it’s been very tough, but at the same time that’s behind me.”
Now he and the entire Yankees organization zero in on what looks to be an intense series against the rivalrous Rays as the next step in the ultimate goal of winning it all.
“We know what they’ve got, we know it’s going to be a fight and we’ve got our best,” Stanton said.
Calling the on and off-field back-and-forths between the two teams “entertainment business,” he said, “it’s series’ that make a statement, not anything else.”
“It’s gonna be fun.”