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Who is to blame for the Yankees’ ALDS defeat?

New York Yankee fans have a right to be angry; their current 11-year drought between World Series appearances is their longest skid since 1981-1996. Yankee fans have high expectations of their team and rightly so. The Yankees are notoriously known for being the most successful franchise in Major League Baseball history and having one of the highest payrolls. For the second straight year, the Yankees gave up a go-ahead home run that eliminated them from playoff contention. It’s heartbreaking and fans are blaming one man for the postseason failures: Aroldis Chapman.

At first glance, Yankee fans have a right to blame Aroldis Chapman for missing out on the World Series. Chapman is nicknamed “The Cuban Missile” for a reason. His high octane fastball once registered the fastest pitch in MLB history at 105.1 MPH. He also led the Chicago Cubs to a 2016 World Series title. Additionally, when the Yankees brought him back in 2017, they signed him to the largest contract ever given to a reliever (five years, $86 million). More importantly, Chapman is now the first pitcher in MLB history to lose an elimination game in consecutive seasons. As a result, Yankees fans have every right to be infuriated with their closer.

To make matters worse, the Yankees’ elimination this year feels worse than last season. In 2019, Jose Altuve, two years removed from his 2017 MVP season and the benefactor of a Houston Astros team that infamously stole signs during the playoffs, hit a walk-off homer to advance the Astros to the World Series. In 2020, Mike Brosseau, a second-year utility player sent the Yankees home with his dinger. Brosseau famously played a role in the benches-clearing altercation after Aroldis Chapman buzzed a 101 MPH fastball by his head. The following day he had a multi-homer game against the Yankees. Surprisingly, Brosseau was an undrafted 2016 free agent that signed with the Rays for $1000 and is a productive player at the highest level. Because the Yankees were eliminated again on a go-ahead homer and Brosseau received his well-deserved revenge at Chapman, this year’s defeat hurts even more.

Moreover, 2020 has been difficult and strange for everyone. Yankee fans and any MLB fan would feel a little better if their team could win the World Series in this crazy year. Unfortunately, the Yankees could not live up to their projections this season. The Yankees barely held onto the AL’s number five seed for the playoffs, and could not win the division — a huge slap in the face when considering the talent and money spent on the 2020 New York Yankees.

Therefore, Yankee fans can be infuriated with Chapman, but should not blame him as the sole reason the team failed to make the World Series again. The Yankees were in an incredibly difficult position against the Rays heading into the ALDS. First of all, Tampa Bay had a lethal bullpen and an incredible rotation. Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and Charlie Morton are backed by a bullpen that never lost a game this season when leading after the 6th inning. 

Still, a lot of credit should be given to the Yankees for going to Game 5, and hitting Snell and Glasnow hard. As a result, the Rays were forced to turn to their bullpen frequently. Unlike the Yankees, the Rays bullpen has no set role or routine. Nick Anderson, Diego Castillo, and Pete Fairbanks, the top three relievers on the Rays, combined for a 1.42 ERA in 12.1 IP. Additionally, in a tight Game 2, Game 3, and Game 5, at least one of these relievers were utilized and kept the Rays ahead.

As for the Yankees, their pitching went about as expected. Cole had a quality start in Game 1 and was phenomenal on three days rest in Game 5. Deivi García opened Game 2, only to be relieved by J.A. Happ who got hammered by the Rays. After burning two starters in Game 2, Tanaka only lasted four innings in Game 3, which might be his last start for the Yankees.

Then in Game 4, Montgomery kept the Yankees ahead, but could only muster four innings, causing Boone to rely heavily on Green, Britton, and Chapman. The trio combined for a 2.53 ERA in 10.2 IP. While Britton and Green were unfazed when throwing 1.0+ innings on back-to-back days, Chapman faltered. Indeed, Chapman can be blamed (partly) for losing Game 5, but his history of throwing 1.0+ IP on consecutive days should have raised some red flags.

Chapman is no stranger to throwing more than 1.0 innings pitched. Throughout Chapman’s 11-year career he has thrown more than an inning 49 times, including 12 times during the postseason. Still, Chapman last threw more than an inning back on Oct. 7, which coincidentally was the first time he did that since exactly a year before. Since the Yankees are one of baseball’s wealthiest organizations, they have some of the best resources and information available. At the very least, Yankees Manager Aaron Boone knew that Chapman had not been used in longer outings for two straight games in quite some time. Therefore, Boone must also share the blame for the Yankees Game 5 loss.

Boone had some questionable managerial decisions throughout the ALDS. In Game 2, Boone made the controversial decision to start Deivi García over Masahiro Tanaka. Before two poor starts in 2020, Tanaka was arguably one of the greatest pitchers in postseason history. García, on the other hand, was making his first postseason start.

As previously mentioned, García was just an opener in Game 2. In other words, he started the game, but Boone would take him out early. Incidentally, Boone left García in for just one inning. He wanted the Rays to fill their left-handed hitters, only to bring in the lefty J.A. Happ in long relief. Boone’s plan failed miserably as J.A. Happ was shelled for four earned runs in 2.2 IP, and the Rays left-handed hitters hit him well. In a best-of-five series, every game counts. Boone could have asked García or Happ to go the distance or ask Tanaka to pitch on normal rest, but instead, Boone took a risk and it cost him. 

Additionally, Boone made the crucial decision to have Chad Green pitch in Game 3. After Tanaka tossed four innings, the Yankees were down 4-1. Boone brought Green into the game because the Yankees team scored 36 runs during the previous four games. Boone hoped that if Green pitched well, he could give the Yankees a chance to come back and win. 

Unfortunately, Green gave up an earned run in one inning of work, and the Yankees lost Game 3 by a score of 7-5. By burning Chad Green in Game 3, and having him pitch in a must-win Game 4, Green was unlikely to pitch in Game 5. Boone has thrown Green out on the rubber for three straight days before, but Boone has rarely asked any of the Yankee relievers to pitch that frequently. That being said, Boone was forced to have Britton and Chapman combine for 3.2 IP of scoreless baseball in Game 5; a tall order for these two pitchers who did not throw more than one inning in back-to-back games all year along.

Because of Boone’s risky decisions, he deserves to be held accountable for the Yankees ALDS loss more than Aroldis Chapman. Boone’s risky decisions in Game 2 and Game 3 directly affected the Yankees’ chances of winning the series. Yet similar to Chapman, Boone is not entirely to blame. 

Besides playing below expectations during the regular season, there are so many reasons why the Yankees lost to the Rays. For starters, they were bested by the Rays pitching, who all year long have been among the league’s best in stranding runners on base. Rather than advancing the runners over or playing some small ball against a pitching-dominant Rays team, 71% of the Yankees’ runs were scored via the home run. Moreover, without Tommy Kahnle, and not being able to rely on Adam Ottavino or Jonathan Holder in close games, Boone was forced to bite off more than he can chew with Green, Britton, and Chapman. Above all, the main reason why the Yankees lost the ALDS was that the Rays outplayed them and were simply the better team.


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