Yankees shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa (12) reacts after getting the pop...

Yankees shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa (12) reacts after getting the pop up to end the 1st inning in Game 4 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx on Oct 23, 2022. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

When there was absolutely no more margin for error, Aaron Boone’s lineup roulette landed on a familiar face at shortstop.

Though he hadn’t started in four of the last five games, the Yankees’ desperation – and their need for a reliable contact-heavy approach – meant that Isiah Kiner-Falefa got the nod before Game 4 of the ALCS Sunday, with Oswaldo Cabrera starting in left and Oswald Peraza on the bench.

“I feel like IKF has had good at-bats in this postseason and, yeah, he's a guy that all year has had that ability to get a hit,” said Boone, who’s struggled to squeeze some offense out of a lineup gone completely dormant over these first three games. “He's hit well with runners in scoring position. So, sure that factors in.”

Kiner-Falefa, despite the defensive yips in the ALDS, came into the day hitting .267 this postseason, second only to Harrison Bader. He also led the Yankees in batted balls this year, though his barrel rate and hard-hit percentage are among the worst in the league – meaning a .297 weighted on-base average on contact, which is in the lowest 7% in baseball.

After the first three games of the ALCS in which the Yankees struck out 41 times, and managed just four runs, Boone was willing to take those odds. Their 33.6% strikeout rate over the first two series is the worst in playoff history.

But the decision to start Kiner-Falefa could easily foreshadow what’s coming next for a position that presents no shortage of options. Kiner-Falefa is signed through 2023, and Sunday helped make it clear that the Yankees see value in having a veteran safety net as Peraza continues to mature. Anthony Volpe is another highly-touted prospect at the position, though the organization sees him as a good fit at second base. Kiner-Falefa could also move to third, currently occupied by Josh Donaldson; it's the position that earned him a gold glove.

That, though, leaves a little bit of a clog, in addition to a potentially weak-hitting infield. The Yankees have Gleyber Torres under team control for another two years. The decision to trade for Donaldson, meanwhile, isn’t playing too well: Donaldson is having the worst season of his career, and moving him will be a logistical nightmare. He’s not only owed $21 million in base salary next year, but he’s a lightning rod for controversy. 

Either way, this offseason is going to be a time of reckoning. The first three games of the ALCS have aptly illustrated the offensive holes in a feast-or-famine lineup that lives and dies with an Aaron Judge that isn’t locked up for 2023. They have the second-oldest lineup in baseball, and Anthony Rizzo, another of their big bats, could opt out of his contract – certainly a possibility, especially if Judge decides to leave New York. 

Then there’s what they end up doing with Donaldson, who’s taken the brunt of fans’ frustrations these playoffs. He hit .222 this season, and .200 in the postseason going into Sunday; he is getting on base at a .375 clip, though, leading to Boone batting him sixth as the Yankees attempted to avoid the sweep.

“We’ve struggled as a group,” Boone said. “We've all struggled. J.D.'s been getting on base. He's kind of borne the brunt of this for some reason. But we got to get it going as a group.”

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