After MLB’s field of 16 playoff teams was quickly narrowed to eight in the new wild-card series, the postseason is back to normal — sort of.
The Division Series begins Monday, with the AL playing at neutral sites in Southern California. The NL will play at neutral sites in Texas starting Tuesday. Every series, oddly enough, features actual divisional matchups, so these teams are familiar with each other — even after a shortened, travel-limited 2020 season.
For the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays and No. 5-seeded New York Yankees, maybe too familiar. The teams are entering the ALDS with a rivalry ratcheting up. Which AL East power will continue its march toward the World Series?
Game 1: Monday, Oct. 5, (8:07 p.m. ET) (TBS)
Game 2: Tuesday, Oct. 6, (8:10 p.m. ET) (TBS)
Game 3: Wednesday, Oct. 7, (7:10 p.m. ET) (TBS)
Game 4*: Thursday, Oct. 8, (7:10 p.m. ET) (TBS)
Game 5*: Friday, Oct. 9, (7:10 p.m. ET) (TBS)
The entire series will be played at Petco Park in San Diego. Tampa Bay will be the “home team” and bat last in Games 1, 2 and 5.
The Rays dominated the season series, winning eight of 10 games against New York. That included a mid-August sweep in New York that started the Yankees on a seven-game losing streak. Tampa Bay's pitching did an exceptional job containing the Yankees explosive offense. The Yankees averaged 3.6 runs against the Rays. Against everyone else, they averaged 6.3 runs.
This will be the first postseason meeting between the Yankees and Rays.
Why the Yankees will win
Getting healthy: Like every team still playing, the Yankees have their share of injuries. The outlook is much better now, though, with Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres and Gio Urshela all seemingly back to full strength. All four were contributors in New York’s wild-card series sweep of Cleveland and will add a dimension that the Rays didn’t always see during the regular season.
Petco Park: The neutral site could be an actual advantage for the Bronx Bombers. Once a strict pitcher’s park, Petco Park yielded the third-most home runs in 2020 behind only Yankee Stadium and Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. That’s music to the ears of a Yankees lineup that’s hit a league-best 400 home runs since opening day 2019.
Why the Rays will win
Success against Gerrit Cole: The Yankees’ $324 million ace was good more often than not in 2020. However, he ran into some trouble against the Rays, going 0-1 with a 4.96 ERA in three starts. Cole did strike out 27 batters in 16 innings against the Rays, but Tampa hit at least one home run in each start and five overall. If that continues, the Rays have an edge.
Deep pitching staff: If the Rays get good outings from Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton, this could be a quick series. Even if the Yankees survive that scenario, a rested bullpen would allow manager Kevin Cash to mix and match for the remainder of the series. The lack of off days doesn’t really help anyone. But it would hurt Tampa Bay the least if those three starters come through.
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