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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: October 29, 2020 12:25 am PDT
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Nerds never learn.

There is so much to get to with the Yankees this postseason, who fell to the Rays 8-4 Wednesday night in Game 3 of the ALDS at Petco Park and trail in the best-of-five series, 2-1. They must win two straight to avoid elimination.

At the start of this strangest of seasons I wrote how managers need to rise above and not continue to be Nerd Puppets. Think for yourself. Stand strong, work with the analytics but do not be held captive by the analytics.

Boone did not do that in the way he managed in the 7-5 loss to the Rays Tuesday night at Petco. The Yankees won Game 1 but lost all momentum in the first inning of Game 2 when the Yankees played their little head games, switching righty to lefty as a way to prove they are smarter than the Rays.

They tried to play the Rays’ game. And failed.

The Yankees simply don’t have the same kind of bullpen as the Rays to make up such a plan, much less execute it. All the Yankees decision makers – including GM Brian Cashman – signed off on the plan and Boone was the puppet in the dugout that went along with it instead of standing up and saying, “Hey wait a minute. Let’s not get too cute here.’’

You can be sure the Yankee players had to be questioning the wisdom of such a plan, especially after the Game 3 loss that put the Yankees one defeat away from a long winter.

It’s not about gamesmanship. It’s about coming out and winning the game, doing baseball things better than the other team. It’s about throwing pitches with conviction, not questions in a situation where players are not familiar with their role; Yankees management and Cashman tried to pull a fast one and it blew up in their faces.

Boone and the Yankees Nerds have put the Yankees in this hole and it started with their terrible decision to try to fool the Rays, who just happened to invent the Opener. The Yankees started young Deivi Garcia and then switched over to veteran J.A. Happ, going from righty to lefty. This may work at Ivy League schools, but it didn’t work here. The Rays were not fooled and did not change out their lineup as Happ came on in relief in the second inning and soon served up two, two-run home runs to right-handed hitters who were in the starting lineup, No. 9 hitter Mike Zunino and Manuel Margot.

Players love routine, especially so in a season where there is little routine, and whatever remnants of routine there were disappeared down the toilet with the Yankees analytics team that Boone fully endorsed and led to the Game 2 loss. The Yankees followed that up with the 8-4 clunker Wednesday night and now can’t afford another slip-up to the Rays who beat the Yankees eight out of 10 during the regular season.

“Players are not robots. This game has a beating heart, especially in October”

 

Randy Arozorena

Tampa's Randy Arozarena has been unstoppable in this ALDS, hitting .667 and 3 home runs in the first 3 games. Photo: Denver Post

Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena is crushing it this postseason, hitting .667 and blasting three home runs in the ALDS, so the Rays are getting the kind of power the Yankees usually get. The Rays have a way of turning the tables on the Yankees. Maybe that is frustrating them as an organization and is probably the reason the Yankees drew up such a desperate pitching plan.

“Oh yeah, we’ll show you how smart we are, wait until you see our switcheroo pitching plan for Game 2.’’

As a result of that failed plan the Yankees will have to rely on struggling lefty Jordan Montgomery to help get them to a Game 5. He will start Game 4 Thursday. If the Yankees survive and make it to the fifth game they will have Gerrit Cole on short rest and his $324 million arm in the winner-moves-on game.

Meanwhile, in the most fascinating tweet of the night free agent pitcher Trevor Bauer wrote: “Kinda looks like the @yankees could use some more starting pitching. Interesting.’’

Amazingly, the Yankees have gotten five straight games with home runs from Giancarlo Stanton yet find themselves in the 2-1 hole because of their poor starting pitching and their decision to try to outsmart the Rays.

As Rays centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said before the series, these two teams do not like one another. Kiermaier blasted a three-run home run against Masahiro Tanaka in the 8-4 win Wednesday night. He is the longest tenured Ray. If the Rays knock out the Yankees look for Kiermaier to let loose.

All of baseball let loose on the Yankees’ plan and as one talent evaluator told BallNine, “I think the analytics outsmarted themselves.’’

You could make the argument that the MLB analytic empire understands numbers and algorithms but, and here’s the rub, they don’t understand baseball and what makes a player tick.

The move clearly upset Happ and the youngster Garcia came out of the gate unfocused, had no fastball command, and let up a home run in the first inning to Arozarena. The Rays have been hammering home runs against the Yankees, stealing a page of thunder from the Yankees.

Kevin Cash continues to outsmart and out-manage Boone along the way and both Boone and Cashman will have to answer some difficult questions if the Yankees don’t make it past the Rays, who won the AL East. The Rays think they are the better and deeper team and they have shown it so far and they have shown to be the better organization as well.

Cash noted of the Yankees bait and switch, “Garcia threw 100 pitches (in his last regular season start) and Happ has been a starter his entire career.’’

In other words, why would you go to such a plan and throw your pitchers out of rhythm?

J.A. Happ

OCTOBER 6, 2020: The Yankees' J.A. Happ is taken out of ALDS game two after coming into the game in the second inning, and not getting it done. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Analytics don’t look inside the head and heart of a player and basically all players are treated as robots. Players are not robots. This game has a beating heart, especially in October and Yankee fans were furious with the move, pulling out the torches and pitchforks on Twitter.

The Rays don’t have near the money the Yankees have, making this much more difficult for Yankee fans to swallow. The Yankees have to hope their money pitcher Cole gets the chance to save the team.

In the eighth inning of Wednesday’s loss to the Rays, it is interesting to note that Cole had a long conversation with Stanton in the Yankees dugout after Stanton’s home run. Perhaps he was telling the red-hot slugger, “Get us to Friday and I will take care of the rest.’’

If the Yankees don’t win the next two games it will go down as one of the Yankees biggest postseason failures of all time, a postseason failure written by the nerds with that Game 2 decision.

“You have to react to the game, react to the moment, not to the script that is written before the game,’’ the evaluator told me.

The game is not about outsmarting the opposing team, it is about out-playing the opposing team. This ruination of baseball just continues to snowball.

Ironically, the Rays, who created the Opener, got two strong performances from their starters in Games 2 and 3, Tyler Glasnow and Charlie Morton.

And like Cash said after the Yankees and Rays got into it in September when Aroldis Chapman threw 101 at Mike Brosseau’s head, “Somebody’s got to be accountable. And the last thing I’ll say on this is I got a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98. Period.’’

That stable has two games to win the race. One more win for the Rays and that Yankees pitching decision mistake becomes the biggest of exclamation points.

Period.

MONEYBAWL:  Michael Lewis’ interesting book Moneyball came out in 2003 and we were supposed to see a march to playoff success by the A’s. It turns out the A’s are the most overhyped sports team in history and now they have to win three straight to avoid being ousted by the Cheatin’ Astros in the ALDS.

I like Billy Beane and would love to see him have postseason victories but his teams stink in October and it’s time to stop anointing him the King of Advanced Baseball Knowledge. Since 2000 the A’s have been to the postseason 11 times. They have never won an ALCS game, only getting to the ALCS in 2006 and losing four straight to the Tigers, being out-scored 22-9 in the process.

During that time they won one wild card confrontation and that was this season against the White Sox. They lost three wild card battles, and seven ALDS matchups. And now they are on the verge of losing again. Already 18 home runs have been hit in the first three games of the series that is being played in Home Run Heaven Dodger Stadium with Chad Pinder saving the A’s on Wednesday in their 9-7 comeback win over the Astros with a three-run blast.

If the Astros win one of the next two games the A’s, kings of Moneyball, will be losers once again in October. Ironically, closer Liam Hendricks went old school, pitching three innings of scoreless relief to get the win on Wednesday. A’s manager Bob Melvin said this on the momentum change of Pinder’s tying three-run homer in the seventh: “That was more like an earthquake than a shift.”

Moneyball craps out when it’s Money Time. Will it be the same story again this year?

CATCHING HELL: The catcher the Mets could not wait to get rid of in May of 2019, Travis d’Arnaud, even though he was coming back from Tommy John surgery, continues to have amazing success, homering in the Braves’ first two wins over the Marlins and giving the Braves a 2-0 lead in the NLDS.

I was there for an early morning “B’’ game in West Palm Beach in the spring of that 2019 season and it was really weird because the Mets braintrust at the time was also there, at an away “B’’ game, including Jeff and Fred Wilpon, which I found really strange. It was that morning, barely into the beginning of d’Arnaud’s comeback that Brodie Van Wagenen and all his lieutenants gathered to watch d’Arnaud play. Normally, you would not think twice about such a game and d’Arnaud would have just been congratulated for getting back behind the plate in a comeback that was going to take some time to get right.

But as it turned out, 10 games into the regular season with d’Arnaud hitting .087, d’Arnaud was released by the Mets.

But the Mets ain’t normal. We all know that. And even when Moneybags Cohen takes over ownership that is no guarantee of success and  I am going to withhold judgment until I see what kind of decisions he and his crew make. Sandy Alderson is back as president and it was Alderson who engineered the d’Arnaud trade with Toronto that also brought the Mets Noah Syndergaard.

Van Wagenen had no allegiance to d’Arnaud, so the catcher was toast not too long after that “B’’ game that shouldn’t have mattered. Now the Braves are laughing all the way to the bank because they are only one win away from going to the NLCS. The Braves pitching has been magnificent as d’Arnaud has led that staff. The Braves signed d’Arnaud to a two-year deal worth $16 million. Consider the words of young right-hander Ian Anderson, who shut down the Marlins on Tuesday, winning 2-0. In 11 2-3 innings this postseason, Anderson, who is only 22, has not allowed a run while striking out 17.

Travis d'Arnaud“The first place you have to look is at the backstop out there, Travis has done an outstanding job of putting fingers down and keeping me in the right mindset and keeping me in line,’’ Anderson said. “He’s hitting some huge home runs for us as well. You can’t say enough what he has been able to do for us overall.’’

Anderson has a changeup that completely fools hitters and d’Arnaud was not afraid to call it. Unlike so many starters today, Anderson uses his 6-3 frame so well in his windup, gaining full momentum and that lessens the stress on his arm. The changeup and the fastball look the same out of his hand. “Travis knows what I like to throw and we were on the same page all day,’’ Anderson said.

So while the Mets could not even make the most watered down playoff field in baseball history, the Braves and d’Arnaud are close to moving on to the NLCS. So Mets.

D’Arnaud is on the same page with the Braves pitchers and has learned so much from hitters like Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna. The Mets could never get on the same page with d’Arnaud from the first day Van Wagenen arrived as GM. When Van Wagenen announced the move of releasing d’Arnaud he said like a man convinced he is correct, “I think at the end of the day we felt like Tomas Nido gives us the best opportunity to win. I think this team is built to win. We have every expectation to win and we expect to go forward with a new mindset that we are going to put the best team on the field … We want to give our pitchers the best chance to succeed and we felt like this was the  better opportunity to do that.’’

The Mets didn’t make the postseason in 2019 and totally collapsed this season.

Like pretty much everything during the BVW Era, it didn’t work out and now d’Arnaud, one of the nicest guys in the game, is having the last laugh. Good for him.

44+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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