Most of the focus for Aaron Boone and the Yankees’ braintrust going into the ALDS against Tampa Bay will be on setting up their roster and pitching rotation for the five-game series that will be played without off days at Petco Park in San Diego.
Boone really has only one decision left to announce for Monday’s series opener: Will he go with Brett Gardner or Clint Frazier in leftfield against probable Rays starter Blake Snell?
Gardner started both games in the wild-card series in Cleveland and went 3-for-8 with a double, a home run, two walks and three RBIs.
Frazier had one at-bat in the series. He struck out on three pitches as a pinch hitter in Game 2.
Snell is a lefthander. Gardner bats lefty, Frazier righty.
So it’s Frazier, right?
Except Frazier is 1-for-10 lifetime against Snell and is not as good as Gardner defensively, which could be key in Petco’s spacious outfield. Gardner has six games of experience at Petco; Frazier has never played there.
Frazier had a good season, but he didn’t hammer lefthanded pitching. He had a .912 OPS vs. righthanders and .820 vs. lefties.
Gardner had only 21 at-bats vs. lefthanders in the regular season and hit .211 with a .496 OPS. He is 6-for-21 (.286) against Snell.
So the numbers don’t paint a clear picture on which way Boone should, or will, go.
The best news for the Yankees is that there’s a good chance the series won’t hinge on this decision. After another injury-filled season, the Yankees are at full strength in their lineup, so Boone might just end up flipping a coin in his mind on whether Gardner or Frazier gets the nod in the opener.
Said Gardner, "I’m excited that, for the most part, we had some injuries to our lineup over the course of the season, but we’ve got everybody back now, full speed, one hundred percent, and our lineup looked pretty good against Cleveland. So hopefully we can continue to build on that and keep that momentum."