The most fun part about baseball is this: Everyone can be a manager.
It’s been that way forever. Sandlot kids in Parkchester and Highbridge probably debated whether Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig should hit 3-4 or the other way around. Neighborhood wiseguys in Bushwick and Brownsville surely argued if Gil Hodges should be dropped lower in the batting order — or dropped altogether — when he went 0-for-21 in the 1952 World Series.
And starting in 1963, when Strat-O-Matic started assigning one card for every player in MLB … well, we weren’t just playing the part of manager, we WERE the manager. Generations of increasingly sophisticated video games have only enhanced the experience.
(I like to think I was ahead of the seamhead curve because I always liked to bat Dave Kingman leadoff when I was a kid. Give him more chances to swing for the fences!)
So of course we all have our opinions on what Aaron Boone should so with his batting order starting Thursday, when the clouds are expected to clear and we’re going to get Game 4 of the ALCS in, Masahiro Tanaka versus Zack Greinke, the Yankees desperate to get back in the series and the Astros looking for a hammerlock.
So let us slip into Boone’s head and his No. 17 jersey …
1. Aaron Hicks, CF
2. Aaron Judge, RF
3. DJ LeMahieu, 1B
Yes, LeMahieu has been a terrific leadoff anchor, but he profiles just as well as a No. 3 man, and he did lead the team in batting this year (and is hitting .385 in this series). And Judge … well, you leave him exactly where he is.
But if Hicks is truly back — and he has looked good since making a late-inning cameo in Game 2 — then two things really should happen. First, he needs to be in the lineup, since as a switch hitter his lefty bat is essential against the Astros’ parade of righties. Whether that means he stays in as a fill-in for Giancarlo Stanton or as a switch-up for Brett Gardner depends on Stanton’s health. Either way, he has to be in.
Second, because he owns the most discriminating eye in the order, he needs to lead off. The key word for the Yankees from here on in is “traffic” — put as much pressure as possible on the Astros’ pitchers, amp up the number of high-stress innings and high-leverage pitches they need to throw. Hicks drew two walks off Gerrit Cole in Game 2. It’s what he does.
4. Gleyber Torres, 2B
5. Edwin Encarnacion, DH
6. Gio Urshela, 3B
In truth, you could easily flip-flop Torres for LeMahieu. In any order, that puts your three best hitters in the 2-3-4 slots, a gauntlet for even the most hard-nosed pitcher. It’s pretty clear Boone erred in hitting Torres fifth in Game 3 — getting him to the plate as often as possible is far more useful than breaking up the righties in the lineup.
The gamble here is Urshela, whose offense has reverted to what we thought he profiled as before this revelation of a season, with a .217/.250/.391 slash line through six postseason games so far. Still, unless you believe the entirety of his .314/.355/,534 regular season was a mirage — and that would be quite a fluke across 132 games — he does offer a more robust bat than the bottom third of the order.
7. Brett Gardner/Giancarlo Stanton, LF
8. Gary Sanchez, C
9. Didi Gregorius, SS
Look, whether you like it or not, Sanchez is going to play.
“Let’s start with the other side of the ball, which completely gets lost in this,” Boone said, at the start of an elaborate defense of his scuffling catcher. “He’s been excellent behind the plate from a game-calling standpoint, from a game-plan, target, receiving. … The bottom line is his body of work in this postseason, and frankly down the stretch in the second half of the season defensively, has been excellent. So that part has me feeling really good about him.
“And just knowing how talented of an offensive player he is, I always feel like he’s a pitch away or an at-bat away from really getting locked in and changing the course of a game. So clearly he hasn’t been at his best offensively but with a guy as talented as he is, I think that’s right around the corner always.”
So he stays. But from here on he’ll have to hit his way out of the 8 hole. If it really is Gardner and not Stanton playing left Thursday, perhaps you switch him and Gregorius in order to give the “secondary leadoff” phenomenon a crack at the 9 spot. But if Stanton is good to go, then Gardner, ever the loyal soldier, has to be the lineup’s odd man out.
Now hand me the dice …