It would only be natural for the Tampa Bay Rays to go up against an inter-division rival in the Divisional Series Round. It would only be entertaining if their opponent was not only a divisional rival, but one of the premier (if not the premier) franchises in all of sports in the New York Yankees.
No matter the rooting interest, MLB fans are in for a treat, as the Rays and Yankees will square off in a best-of-five divisional round beginning on Oct. 5.
The injury bug, which plagued New York in 2019, came back to rear its ugly head once more in 2020, as injuries to several of their top players in Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, among others, missed time. After the injury spell dipped the team to .500 on Sept. 8 (21-21), the team turned it up a notch and went 12-6 the rest of the way. In the ensuing wild card matchup against the Cleveland Indians, a much healthier offense scored a combined 22 runs against a blue-chip Cleveland pitching staff.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, took care of business against the budding Toronto Blue Jays, as the Rays’ explosive young arms in Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow combined to pitch 11.2 innings, allowed two runs and struck out 15 batters. Additionally, the bullpen, who pitched the remaining 6.1 innings, allowed only one run.
Two significant strengths come together to face off for divisional dominance, as New York’s lethal top-to-bottom offense will go against the technical yet flexible pitching staff of Tampa Bay. During the regular season, the latter took victory, as Tampa Bay was able to muster together a sparkling 8-2 record against the Yankees during the regular season.
The regular season, however, showed a Yankees squad that, at times, looked like a shell of its former self due to the injuries the roster was forced to do damage control on. The postseason, as the wild card round against the Indians confirmed, is a new animal, and a new animal has certainly enveloped the Yankees. The offense, with a now-healthy Judge and Stanton, will now be more formidable in power to all areas of the field. Additional names in the form of Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu, Gio Urshela and Gleyber Torres will further reinforce an explosive lineup.
Should Tampa Bay’s pitching falter, they will need to rely on the likes of Manuel Margot and Brandon Lowe to drive in runs in any potential shootout. The addition of Austin Meadows (oblique) to the active roster will also provide a potentially necessary boost.
Tampa Bay brings the craftiness, and almost no one does matchups better than Rays’ manager Kevin Cash. The New York team they faced during the regular season, however, is not the same New York team they are facing now. While Tampa Bay will make the series go longer than anticipated, New York’s offense is starting to fire on all cylinders. Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, they will catch it at the wrong time.
Prediction: New York in 5