Can the Yankees learn from recent playoff mistakes? This is an important question while constructing the 2022 ALDS roster.
The mistake I am referencing is inserting players returning from injury into the starting lineup during the postseason.
The Yankees have two hitters returning from injury, potentially available for the ALDS, Matt Carpenter and Andrew Benintendi. Both of these guys are good left handed bats that should contribute to scoring runs and winning games. But is it a good idea to throw them directly into the starting lineup?
The most recent and best example of why not to start Carpenter and Benintendi would be Edwin Encarnacion. Edwin Encarnacion played 44 games for the Yankees in 2019. He contributed with his bat, hitting 11 doubles and 13 home runs.The parrot was providing some pop….until he went down with injury. Encarnacion missed the last 2 ½ weeks of the season, returning for the ALDS. His postseason was disastrous, in 8 games he hit .161 with no home runs. He was a nonfactor in the ALCS against Houston.
The other option, Luke Voit, was breaking out of a slump heading into the ALDS. I was at one of final games of the 2019 season, one of the last games at the Ballpark in Arlington. Every ball Luke Voit hit was a rocket, just hit directly at a fielder. He looked ready to break out. Would the playoffs have gone differently had the Yankees played Luke Voit who was beginning to barrel up pitches heading into the ALDS?
This is all relevant because the Carpenter/Benintendi conundrum also includes Oswaldo Cabrera, a player who has earned a right to start in the ALDS.
The big question is who starts? Do the Yankees go with Oswaldo Cabrera who has been hitting fairly well or Andrew Benintendi, who we have to assume, will be ice cold?
The Yankees have to roll with the hot hand in Oswaldo Cabrera.
Starting Oswaldo Cabrera does not mean that there will not be room on this roster for either Carpenter or Benintendi. There is a way to involve both of these hitters off the bench.
Matt Carpenter’s role will be pretty simple, pinch hitter. Carpenter is coming off a broken foot, he won’t be playing the field. Starting at DH is also out of the question as Giancarlo Stanton will have that role locked down. Therefore Carpenter will be used as a pinch hitter.
Pinch hitting is difficult, I can’t remember a player ever being considered a “good pinch hitter”. It’s likely he’ll be pinch hitting for someone at the bottom of the lineup in a tight game with runners on. Carpenter will have to approach his at bats looking for his pitch. He cannot expand his strike zone, he has to look for his pitch to either pull or drive the other way. Don’t try to do too much. If he isn’t seeing the pitch he wants, lay off, don’t swing, draw a walk. Carpenter is a veteran hitter, hopefully he can get the job done.
I can also envision a situation where Stanton gets on base in a close game and is lifted for a pinch runner like Tim Locastro. If that happens, I would think when Locastro’s next at bat came around, Carpenter would take over as DH.
The Andrew Benintendi situation is much trickier than Matt Carpenter. Andrew Benintendi is coming off a wrist injury and likely has not taken much batting practice. However he was one of the Yankees big trade deadline as well as a playoff veteran, do the Yankees choose to roll with more of a “known” in Andrew Benintendi than the “unknown” in Oswaldo Cabrera?
There is an argument to start Benintendi over Cabrera but I really think the right move is starting Oswaldo Cabrera over Benintendi. Cabrera has excelled at everything the Yankees have asked. He deserves to be the starting left fielder. It’s his job to lose.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to work Benintendi into the game. If the Yankees are up big (or down big) then Boone can put Benintendi into the game hopefully getting him an at bat or two. Benintendi can still be a contributor, he can even take the left field job back from Cabrera, but before that can happen, he’ll need some at bats. Low pressure situations where the game is all but decided, that is his chance to see some live pitching. If he looks comfortable at the plate, then you consider expanding his role.
DJ LeMahieu just returned from injury. DJ, the epitome of a professional hitter, insisted that he needed some at bats before the ALDS.
“I needed to give it a go,’’ LeMahieu said. “I couldn’t shut it down and be ready to play playoff baseball. It was nice to get a couple games and just have some at-bats.”
To me, that tells me everything I need to know about what the roles of Andrew Benintendi and Matt Carpenter should be. I like both of these guys but this season is defined by whether or not the Yankees win the World Series, if DJ LeMahieu couldn’t be ready for the playoffs without a few at bats, there is no way either of these guys are ready.