Aaron Boone's Bewildering Overmanagement Puts Yankees on the Brink vs. Rays

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistOctober 8, 2020

FILE - In this Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020, file photo, New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone watches from the dugout in the sixth inning of Game 1 of an American League wild-card baseball series against the Cleveland Indians in Cleveland. (AP Photo/David Dermer, File)
David Dermer/Associated Press

The New York Yankees' bats have consistently connected in the 2020 postseason. But the Yanks are on the verge of elimination because their decision-makers whiffed. 

New York scored 22 runs on 23 hits with seven home runs in its Wild Card Round sweep of Cleveland, and plated 14 runs with six homers in the first two games against the Tampa Bay Rays in the division series. Giancarlo Stanton, an injury-plagued enigma for much of 2020, has led the charge with six long balls.

Yet the Yankees entered Game 3 of their ALDS showdown versus Tampa Bay on Wednesday with the series knotted at 1-1. The Yanks then lost 8-4.

Their season is now on the brink, in large part because of skipper Aaron Boone's head-scratching overmanagement. 

Boone rode ace Gerrit Cole to wins against Cleveland and Tampa Bay. The star right-hander has tossed a combined 13 innings with 21 strikeouts and five runs allowed.

In other words, New York's $324 million man has earned his paycheck.

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After that, Boone faced tough choices in the starting corps. Masahiro Tanaka posted a 3.56 ERA in 48 frames this year. He wobbled in a rain-interrupted Game 2 start against Cleveland, surrendering six runs in four innings, but he seemed like the best choice to go Tuesday on what would have been five days' rest.

Instead, Boone turned to 21-year-old rookie right-hander Deivi Garcia, who carried a grand total of 34.1 big league innings into his Game 2 start.

Garcia coughed up a solo home run to red-hot postseason legend-in-the-making Randy Arozarena in one inning of work before ceding the mound to J.A. Happ. The veteran southpaw promptly surrendered four runs on five hits and three walks in 2.2 innings.

Gregory Bull/Associated Press

Just like that, Boone had burned through a pair of starters with precious little to show for it.

It was apparently a bait-and-switch attempt to catch the Rays off-guard. Asked what he thought about the strategy after the fact, Happ repeatedly declined to comment, telling reporters, "I'll let Aaron speak to that."

Happ added that he "didn't get into a groove" after being called upon in Game 2.

Boone later told reporters he got Happ "on board with exactly the plan, because it was outside his normal routine. That's something with a player, we want to have them involved with and in the loop."

If that sounds like the Yankees skipper covering his tracks, well, maybe it's because he was.

There was ostensibly a method to the madness. Happ came in to face the Rays' lefty-heavy lineup. However, he allowed five of the eight left-handed hitters he faced to reach base.

It was a shaky gambit from the start. Up 1-0 in the series with their offense rolling, the Yankees essentially opted for a bullpen game in a series that features no off days.

Starting Tanaka in Game 2 would have made more sense. Starting Happ and letting him take the hill with a normal routine would have made more sense. Giving the youthful Garcia more rope would have made more sense.

Instead, Booneand general manager Brian Cashman—outsmarted themselves, as Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post noted.

"If a 1-0 lead in a best-of-five without home field isn't exactly playing with the house's money, it's still the best place to be after one game on neutral grounds. No need to start overthinking stuff. No need to make a simple game harder than it has to be. No need to be too clever by half. But the Yankees couldn't help themselves."

Tanaka could have eased the pain by pitching the Yankees to a win in Game 3. He didn't, allowing five runs in four innings, and now it comes down to Thursday.

Jordan Montgomery, who posted a 5.11 ERA in 44 regular-season innings and hasn't pitched since Sept. 24, will get the ball in Game 4 for New York. The Rays could end things before Cole gets another turn.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

In the end, this might simply be an issue of the Yankees not having enough starting pitching. Cole can't shoulder the load by himself, even with a cadre of sluggers and a playoff-tested bullpen behind him.

But Boone and Co. took a weakness and amplified it.

The bats may save them. And if they can eke out a win in Game 4, Cole will again be available to take the ball in the winner-take-all Game 5.

Win or lose, they'll surely spend the offseason shopping for arms, especially with Tanaka set to hit free agency. 

And if they fall short of title No. 28, they'll be left wondering if they got too clever by half.


All statistics current as of Wednesday and courtesy of Baseball Reference.