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MLB playoffs: For the Yankees, the Astros and Rays playing an ALDS Game 5 is the best case scenario – CBS Sports

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Monday night, the New York Yankees clinched a spot in the ALCS with a Game 3 win over the Twins (NYY 5, MIN 1). They swept the best-of-five series and await the winner of the Astros vs. Rays ALDS. The ALCS begins Saturday (full schedule here).

The Yankees still do not know their ALCS opponent because Tampa Bay has battled back from down 0-2 to even the ALCS up at 2-2. The Astros won the first two games at home. The Rays then won the next two games at home. The winner-take-all Game 5 will be played Thursday night at Minute Maid Park.

“You know what, we’ll enjoy watching the series unfold, and we’ll get ready for whoever it is,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said when asked whether he’d prefer to play the Astros or Rays following his team’s ALDS clinching win.

Hoping for a specific opponent in a postseason series is a fool’s errand. Every team in the postseason is very good, and any team can beat any other team on any given night in this game. Weird things happen in short series. Hoping for a specific opponent is pointless. For the Yankees though, an ALDS Game 5 is the best case scenario.

It all comes down to pitching. Had the Astros completed the sweep in Game 3, it would’ve lined up Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole on extra rest for Games 1 and 2 of the ALCS. Instead, Houston started Verlander on short rest in Game 4 (it was a disaster), and Cole will now start Game 5 on normal rest Thursday.

Consider the Astros possible ALCS rotations based on various ALDS clinching scenarios (there are off-days between ALDS Game 5 and ALCS Game 1, ALCS Games 2-3, and ALCS Games 5-6):

Astros win Game 3 Astros win Game 4 Astros win Game 5

ALDS Game 4

Verlander (short rest)

Verlander (short rest)

ALDS Game 5

Cole (normal rest)

ALCS Game 1

Verlander (extra rest)

Cole (extra rest)

Greinke (normal rest)

ALCS Game 2

Cole (extra rest)

Verlander (normal rest)

Verlander (normal rest)

ALCS Game 3

Zack Greinke (extra rest)

Greinke (extra rest)

Cole (normal rest)

ALCS Game 4

Jose Urquidy** (extra rest)

Urquidy (extra rest)

Urquidy (extra rest)

ALCS Game 5*

Verlander (normal rest)

Cole (normal rest)

Greinke (normal rest)

ALCS Game 6*

Cole (extra rest)

Verlander (extra rest)

Verlander (extra rest)

ALCS Game 7*

Greinke (normal rest)

Greinke (normal rest)

Cole (normal rest)

* if necessary
** the alternative to Urquidy would be Wade Miley, who was terrible down the stretch and lost his rotation spot

An ALDS sweep would’ve allowed the Astros to not only line up their rotation nicely for the ALCS, but it would have allowed them to start everyone with extra rest, at least in Games 1-4. Had the Astros won Game 4, they still could have thrown Verlander and Cole in Games 1-2, but in the opposite order, and with Verlander not getting extra rest.

ALDS Game 5 means no extra rest going into the ALCS, and it means Cole can not start again until Game 3. That takes his start out of Minute Maid Park and puts it in Yankee Stadium — I’m sure the Yankee Stadium crowd will be on him after he declined to sign with the team as their 2008 first-round pick — and means his second ALCS start wouldn’t come until Game 7.

Simply put, ALDS Game 5 means the Astros have to work their top starting pitchers that much harder, and also push them back in the ALCS. It’s possible the Yankees could win the ALCS in five games while only seeing Verlander and Cole once each. That’s the dream scenario for New York. The less rest Verlander and Cole get, and the less you see them, the better.

For the Rays, there was no scenario in which they could win the ALDS in anything other than five games once they lost Games 1 and 2. They were going to have to use up their arms just to get to the ALCS. Tyler Glasnow will start Game 5 and it is entirely possible we’ll see Blake Snell and/or Charlie Morton in relief. This is Tampa’s likely ALCS rotation should they advance:

Game 1: Morton (normal rest, assuming no relief appearance in ALDS Game 5)
Game 2: Snell (short rest after ALDS Game 4 relief appearance)
Game 3: Glasnow (normal rest)
Game 4: Bullpen game
Game 5*: Morton (normal rest)
Game 6*: Snell (extra rest)
Game 7*: Glasnow (normal rest)

Should Morton pitch in relief in ALDS Game 5, it likely means Snell starts ALCS Game 1 on even shorter rest following Tuesday night’s admittedly brief relief appearance (eight pitches). In that case, the Game 2 options are a bullpen game or Morton on short rest. These are headaches the Rays will happily deal with should they advance, of course, but they are headaches.

Keep in mind it’s not just the starting pitchers who are being pushed in the ALDS. The relievers are as well. Rays setup man Nick Anderson threw 2 1/3 innings in Game 4 and will probably pitch in Game 5 as well. Colin Poche has pitched in all four ALDS games and I’d bet on him pitching in Game 5 too. The Astros figure to deploy Will Harris and Roberto Osuna in Game 5.

The Yankees, meanwhile, are absolutely loving this. They were rooting for the Rays in Game 4 because they wanted the Astros to burn Cole in Game 5. They’re rooting for 20 innings in Game 5 with relief appearances from Snell, Morton, Greinke, Verlander, whoever. The more the Astros and Rays have to work their players, the better it is for New York.

Of course, the Astros and Rays playing a Game 5 doesn’t guarantee the Yankees will win anything. Greinke on normal rest will still be a handful in ALCS Game 1, then Verlander and Cole loom in Games 2-3. Morton on normal rest in ALCS Game 1 would be no fun. The Astros and Rays are still very good, even if their pitchers are tired and not lined up as they’d prefer.

That said, anything that compromises the Astros and Rays going into the ALCS is a plus for the Yankees. If their tired pitchers lose effectiveness after 80 pitches rather than 100 pitches, great. If they can avoid facing Cole or Glasnow a second time because he starts Thursday, that’s great too. The Yankees will take any advantage they can get. ALDS Game 5 is their best case scenario.

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