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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Yankees hope ALCS goes according to script

Manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman

Manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman of the Yankees speak during a team workout on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, at Yankee Stadium. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

The American League Championship Series doesn’t start until 8:08 p.m. Saturday, but the Yankees think they already know what will happen.

Or at least what they intend to have happen. And they felt that way even before they discovered whom their opponent would be.

In 2019, the most successful front offices use every last gigabyte of information to remove the guesswork, the hunches and the gut instincts. The goal is to draw up a blueprint as airtight as technologically possible, complemented by more traditional scouting methods.

“We try to pre-script as much as we possibly can,” Brian Cashman said after Thursday’s workout in the Bronx. “ So we go through every scenario — what are the runways based on that lineup, who best fits, who’s available — and it’s choreographed.”

“We try to plan for everything even though it’s pretty impossible to do so. Things don’t go as planned, so in some scenarios you’re going to be forced to do certain things and rely on guys in important spots that you typically wouldn’t, and they’ll either step up and get it done or they won’t.”

So as the Yankees’ players had an opportunity to recharge with a more relaxed, game-free schedule at the Stadium on Thursday, Cashman & Co. reconvened practically around the clock, with on-site meetings and traveling evaluators checking in remotely.

Given the Yankees’ vast array of resources and their exhaustive preparation, I asked Cashman just how much these games can be scripted in advance.

“A lot,” he replied.

And can you really plan for every imagined scenario?

“We try to,” he said. “I think, to be honest, it’s not just the New York Yankees. I think that’s how all these teams are operating and trying to operate, and then you live with the results.”

Providing the field staff with this detailed “choreography” is meant to avoid catastrophes like the one that unfolded late Wednesday night at Chavez Ravine, where Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went too far with Clayton Kershaw and Joe Kelly, pushing them unwisely into treacherous territory and ultimately leaving the pair overexposed.

Kershaw, used in a relief role, surrendered home runs to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto on consecutive pitches in the eighth inning, tying the score. Roberts trusted Kelly for a second inning and was rewarded with a grand slam by Howie Kendrick in the 10th that ended the Dodgers’ playoff run after a 106-win regular season.

Was that the Dodgers’ script? Or did Roberts choose to stay with Kershaw based on his faith in the future Hall of Famer rather going with a better relief option in Kenta Maeda, who struck out the side immediately after Kershaw’s implosion?

“He’s probably the best pitcher of our generation,” Roberts said. “There’s always going to be second-guessing when things don’t work out, but I’ll take my chances any day on Clayton.”

As for Kelly, was the pregame plan to have Roberts push his luck with the reliever for the 10th inning — after a clean ninth — rather than go to Kenley Jansen, who never left the bullpen with the season on the line?

“The velocity, the command, the curveball — so to go out there and send him out there again, I felt really good about it,” Roberts said of Kelly.

The Yankees don’t come off as big believers in subjective terms like feelings and faith. They need eight more victories to win the World Series and the front office has drawn up countless road maps to that destination, with Aaron Boone driving the pinstriped bus.

As Cashman said, there are prescribed runways to follow, and everyone has to accept their role in the process. Boone’s mission is to execute the plan and make sure the clubhouse always knows what’s coming. Sometimes that involves threading the needle between trust and the data-driven strategy.

“That’s a big part of the job,” Boone said. “You love your players, and you’re in it with them, and I think I’m as loyal as it comes. But I think when you communicate and have a relationship with people, it makes difficult decisions — I don’t know about easier, but I think maybe everyone understands it and at least respects it.”

Cashman credited Boone for his skill at keeping everyone on the same page, especially during the playoffs, when the pressure reaches its highest levels of the season. And the game plan, or script, can be inflexible at times.

“The key is having players that are receptive and adaptive, because in October, it’s a completely different ballgame,” Cashman said. “If you have a large collection of people like that that are open-minded and willing, then you have a better chance.”

Come Saturday night’s Game 1, the Yankees already will have constructed what they see as the surest path to the World Series. Now it’s just a matter of them getting there.


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