Yankees were given pieces of Astros-destroying blueprint

New York Post Sports 5 days ago

HOUSTON — A wistful Rays official, fresh off the scare his team put into the mighty Astros before falling short, found a silver lining in the final outcome.

“We gave the Yankees a blueprint for how to pitch them,” the official said.

Whether the Yankees get their hands on that blueprint might just determine who represents the American League in the 2019 World Series.

The Astros, who led the major leagues with an .848 OPS during the regular season, put together a .700 OPS, which would have ranked 28th, in the American League Division Series. The Rays recorded a 3.43 ERA.

We of course must stipulate the small-sampled nature of this study, and don’t overlook that the Astros tallied a .638 OPS in their season-opening four games at Tropicana Field and performed even worse there in ALDS Games 3 and 4, putting up a .560 OPS. They did not experience any such malaise at hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, where they OPSd .927 in four games (thanks, Baseball-Reference.com).

So what was the secret to the Rays’ success? The most obvious and perhaps easiest-to-emulate answer: Variety.

“The Rays did a good job of utilizing all of their good pitching in random order and different ways and matchups,” Houston manager A.J. Hinch said Saturday, hours before the ALCS launched at Minute Maid Park. “With the exception of Charlie’s game, Charlie Morton’s game, it was all hands on deck for them for the four other games.

“Give a lot of credit to them. And it wasn’t just about the number of pitchers they were bringing in; it was the elite stuff that they were throwing up there.”

To keep the Astros relatively grounded, the Rays utilized 11 pitchers, four of them left-handed. The founders of the “opener” strategy, they used only one starting pitcher long enough to qualify for a win — ace Morton, as Hinch mentioned, who threw five innings in Game 3 to indeed pick up the victory — and deployed one actual opener, Diego Castillo, who picked up the first five outs of Game 4 without giving up a run as Tampa Bay grabbed an early lead against the short-rested Justin Verlander.

As for that elite stuff? Castillo relies heavily on a strong slider. Nick Anderson throws a nasty curveball, and Colin Poche throws heat. And so on.

The Yankees’ respect for the Astros’ dangerous and deep lineup showed with their decision to carry 13 pitchers this round, removing position players Luke Voit and Tyler Wade from the last round as they added veteran lefty CC Sabathia as well as Aaron Hicks, whose primary attribute at this juncture might be his outfield defense against an offense that puts the ball in play as much as Houston does.

“I see the Yankees carry 13 pitchers, that will tell you right there that they’re willing to mix and match and use their pitching creatively, at least have the resources there to do a lot,” Hinch said. “Managing against Kevin Cash and the Rays last series, we knew that was going to be the case. So there’s great acceptance to do it nowadays and there’s been some effectiveness. We saw firsthand in ’17, Boston did a great job last season and they won the World Series. When they do that and teams have success, it becomes very accepted.

“The challenge is once you start that you kind of can’t stop. You can’t just go to the bullpen. You run out of pitching eventually. You have to have the right matchup and you have to have a lot of guys that have good days in order to do that.”

The Rays came close in pulling off the magic trick, yet couldn’t finish the job. It’s on the Yankees to refine that blueprint and make it one for the books.

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