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Will Aaron Boone change lineup again?

Following two straight wins with the same starting lineup to the ALCS, a new opponent brought a different strategy for Aaron Boone and the Yankees.

And along with it, different results.

1. After benching struggling shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa for the decisive Game 4 and 5 victories over the Guardians in the Division Series, with Boone admitting Kiner-Falefa was “pressing,” the manager reversed course and started him in the team’s 4-2 Game 1 loss Wednesday night. At the same time, Boone benched rookie Oswaldo Cabrera for the first time this postseason.

Boone reasoned prior to the game that he wanted to get Kiner-Falefa, a righty, in the lineup over Cabrera, a lefty, against Astros ace Justin Verlander. The numbers support that: Verlander actually was tougher this season on lefties (.164 batting average against) than on righties (.208).

Isiah Kiner-Falefa #12 of the New York Yankees fields the ball and avoids a broken bat in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Houston Astros.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa returned to the Yankees lineup at shortstop in Game 1, pushing Oswaldo Cabrera to the bench.
Getty Images

Kiner-Falefa went 1-for-4 at the plate with two strikeouts.

2. Needing a new starting left fielder after Aaron Hicks’ injury in Game 5 against the Guardians, Boone bypassed Cabrera and turned to regular DH Giancarlo Stanton, who made his first start in the field since July 21. Boone decided to play Matt Carpenter at DH, his first start of the postseason after battling a foot injury.

Stanton held his own in left: He had little chance on Jeremy Peña’s rocket first-inning double and then flashed a web gem in the fourth, making a running catch that put a dent in the outfield wall.

New York Yankees left fielder Giancarlo Stanton #27 runs down a fly ball hit by Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel in Game 1 of the ALCS.
Giancarlo Stanton showed he could handle some left field with a nice running catch.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

But Carpenter went 0-for-4 at the plate with four strikeouts, the final time as the potential go-ahead run in the eighth inning against Astros closer Ryan Pressly. Carpenter now has struck out in all six playoff at bats (he pinch-hit twice against the Guardians), and appears compromised by the foot injury, casting doubt on whether he merits at-bats going forward.

3. After a shoulder injury kept him out for the end of the regular season and ALDS, Frankie Montas was added to the ALCS roster and immediately was thrust into relief duty. With the Yankees trailing 3-1 in the seventh inning, Boone opted for Montas over the high-leverage relievers who helped secure the final two wins against the Guardians — Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loaisiga and Wandy Peralta — or simply sticking with Lou Trivino, who got the final two outs of the sixth inning on seven pitches.

New York Yankees relief pitcher Frankie Montas reacts as Jeremy Pena #3 of the Houston Astros rounds the bases on his solo homer during the 7th inning
The latest strike against the trade deadline acquisition of Frankie Montas? A back-breaking home run allowed in relief in Game 1.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Montas gave up a towering home run to Peña, the first batter he faced, extending the Astros’ lead to 4-1.

In Game 2 on Thursday (7:37 p.m., TBS), Luis Severino and the Yankees are set to face Astros left-hander Framber Valdez, who held lefties to a .192 average and .505 OPS this season, giving Boone a similar set of platoon (dis)advantages to consider.

Does he roll with Kiner-Falefa again? Or does he revert back to Cabrera, who went just 2-for-19 in the ALDS after his breakthrough finish to the regular season?

Framber Valdez #59 of the Houston Astros delivers a pitch against the Seattle Mariners during the sixth inning in game two of the American League Division Series.
Aaron Boone now is tasked with putting together a lineup to face Astros left-hander Framber Valdez in Game 2.
Getty Images

Much of that decision will likely hinge on Carpenter’s status and ability to provide non-wasted at-bats. If he moves away from Carpenter, Boone likely would move Stanton back to DH and start Cabrera at left field with Kiner-Falefa at shortstop, though Oswald Peraza — who was added to the ALCS roster — looms as a potential surprise.

After not pitching Wednesday night, Holmes, Loaisiga and Peralta are available Thursday night, and Domingo German remains as a middle-inning option for Boone after using Montas and Clarke Schmidt backfired in Game 1.

Today’s back page

The back cover of the New York Post on October 20, 2022.
New York Post

What we saw on opening night 🏀

The Knicks and Nets both fell in their season openers Wednesday night — but in drastically different fashions.

After trailing the Grizzlies by 15 points at halftime, the Knicks came roaring back in the third quarter before forcing overtime on Cam Reddish’s late 3-pointer. Evan Fournier could not match the same at the end of overtime, and the Knicks fell 115-112 after his 3-pointer at the buzzer rimmed out.

Here are a few of the most revealing takeaways from a promising opening night for the Knicks:

• RJ Barrett struggled mightily in what was his first meaningful action since signing a lucrative extension this offseason. He uncharacteristically seemed to let his offensive struggles affect him on the defensive end, getting taken out on a number of screens and struggling to contain Ja Morant in pick-and-rolls. His 11 points came on a paltry 3-of-18 shooting, including 0-of-6 from behind the arc. He forced a few shots down the stretch, including an ill-advised pull-up 3-pointer with 32 seconds left and the Knicks trailing by four.

RJ Barrett #9 of the New York Knicks shoots against Jake LaRavia #3 of the Memphis Grizzlies during an NBA game on October 19, 2022.
RJ Barrett noticeably struggled in Game 1 of the Knicks’ 2022-23 season.
Getty Images

• Prior to the game, head coach Tom Thibodeau said Cam Reddish would get a shot in the rotation with Quentin Grimes sidelined due to foot soreness. And the former first-round pick, who played just 14 minutes per game last year after arriving in a midseason trade, delivered on the opportunity. Reddish scored 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting, none more dramatic than his 3-pointer to force overtime, and added five rebounds. He stated his case for a recurring role in the rotation, even when Grimes returns.

• Signed in the offseason to be a serviceable backup to Mitchell Robinson, Isaiah Hartenstein showed he might be capable of more. Prompted by Robinson’s foul trouble, Hartenstein played a whopping 40 minutes — a career high — and filled up the stat sheet, recording 16 points (including some nifty floaters in the lane), eight rebounds, four assists and a block. With Robinson long struggling with playing extended minutes, a quality second option in Hartenstein is vital.

New York Knicks center Isaiah Hartenstein (55) reacts after a basket during the second half against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Isaiah Hartenstein was pressed into extended duty in his Knicks debut due to Mitchell Robinson’s foul trouble.

• Jalen Brunson demonstrated why the Knicks made such an emphasis on signing him this offseason. He scored 15 points, and more impressively racked up nine assists with no turnovers, providing the type of security and direction the Knicks envisioned him adding to the offense. He delivered the assist to Reddish for the game-tying bucket in regulation and then drew a charge on Morant to force overtime.

The Nets were routed in what was the first meaningful action for their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons, losing a laugher to the Pelicans, 130-108.

Here are a few of the most revealing takeaways from a concerning opening night for the Nets:

• All eyes were on Ben Simmons as he took the court for his first real game action in more than a year. Those eyes soon turned to watching him on the bench. Simmons fouled out in just 23 minutes after recording four points, five rebounds and five assists. The Nets were minus-26 in his minutes, second-worst on the team to Royce O’Neal.

Brooklyn Nets guard Ben Simmons (10) controls the ball against New Orleans Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. (22).
Ben Simmons had a forgettable Nets debut, scoring four points and fouling out in 23 minutes.

• Nic Claxton notched a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. The big man returned this offseason on a two-year deal, and stepped into the starting lineup. But the Nets offense looked awkward at times when Claxton shared the court with Simmons as neither is a shooting threat.

• The Nets seemed to lack a physical edge, which Irving noted to reporters after the game: “I don’t want to sit here after every game saying we should’ve done this [or] that. This is a grown man’s league and the most physical team wins.”

When Quinnen cashes in

Quinnen Williams’ emergence brings with it the inevitable questions: How much will the Jets have to pay him, and when?

In his fourth NFL season, the defensive lineman has broken out as the best player on the upstart Jets. During the team’s three-game winning streak, and most notably in Sunday’s statement win over the Packers, Williams has been the best player on the field.

Williams now is eligible for a long-term contract extension. In the offseason, general manager Joe Douglas picked up Williams’ fifth-year option, which would pay him a guaranteed $9.594 million next season. Currently, that number would represent the 15th-highest salary among defensive tackles.

New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (95) reacts after making a defensive stop against the Miami Dolphins in an NFL game on October 9, 2022.
Quinnen Williams has played like one of the NFL’s elite defenders during the Jets’ surprise 4-2 start.

But with the way he’s playing, he’s in line to far exceed that number on a megabucks long-term pact. Finding the right number for both Williams and the Jets, however, could be tricky.

Lining up as a traditional defensive tackle in the Jets’ 4-3 defense, Williams’ pass-rushing acumen and athleticism separate him from his peers at the position. His five sacks this season are 11th-most in the NFL and the most by a defensive tackle. Likewise, his 11 quarterback hits are sixth-most in the NFL and most among defensive tackles. Williams’ four tackles-for-loss rank ninth at the position.

So, how will the Jets approach negotiations with Williams? Will Williams command a contract more in line with the game’s premier pass rushers, who earn some of the most lucrative salaries in the sport? Will Williams be held back by the lower salaries defensive tackles typically bring in? Will he draw something in between, reflecting the unique skill set he provides? And at just 24 years old, how high is his ceiling?

Let’s take a look at Williams’ closest comparables, what their contracts suggest about Williams’ looming negotiations and how those deals worked out for those teams.

DeForest Buckner, Colts
Four years, $84 million ($21 million AAV), $44 million guaranteed

Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle DeForest Buckner (99) celebrates recovering a fumble during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 11, 2022.

After parting with a first-round pick to acquire Buckner from the 49ers, the Colts made him the second-highest-paid defensive tackle in the NFL prior to the 2020 season. Similar to Williams, Buckner was entering his fifth season with the fifth-year option picked up, and the two sides found a long-term deal to prevent Buckner from eventually hitting the open market. Buckner had separated himself from others at the position with his pass-rushing ability, recording 7.5 sacks the season before he earned the large contract — fifth-most among defensive tackles in 2019.

The decision immediately paid dividends. In his first season in Indianapolis, Buckner was named a First-Team All-Pro, helping the Colts to an 11-5 record and the ninth-best defense in points allowed per game and 10th-best in yards allowed per game. Buckner’s 9.5 sacks ranked 12th in the NFL and third among defensive tackles while his 26 quarterback hits were seventh-most in the NFL and fourth-most among defensive tackles.

Although he still was named a Pro Bowler, Buckner regressed across the board as the Colts took a step back in 2021, recording seven sacks and 18 quarterback hits. He has three sacks and five quarterback hits in six games this season.

Jonathan Allen, Commanders
Four years, $72 million ($18 million AAV), $35.6 million guaranteed

Jonathan Allen #93 of the Washington Commanders celebrates after a big play during a game against the Dallas Cowboys on October 2, 2022.
Getty Images

Allen also got his big contract following his fourth season after his fifth-year option as a former first-round pick had been picked up.

The deal made Allen the fourth-highest paid defensive tackle in the NFL after the 2020 season, when he anchored a Washington defense that ranked No. 2 in yards allowed and No. 4 in points allowed. Last year, in his first season of the new contract, Allen was named a Pro Bowler while recording nine sacks, which ranked third among defensive tackles, and a whopping 30 quarterback hits, which ranked fifth in all of football and was the highest total among defensive tackles.

Allen has 3.5 sacks and six quarterback hits in six games this year. But like Buckner and the Colts, the Commanders and their defense have taken a step back.

Chris Jones, Chiefs
Four years, $80 million ($20 million AAV), $60 million guaranteed

Defensive end Chris Jones #95 of the Kansas City Chiefs reacts to the crowd during the second half against the Minnesota Vikings at Arrowhead Stadium on November 3, 2019.
Getty Images

After the Chiefs locked up quarterback Patrick Mahomes following their 2019 Super Bowl title, they decided to secure another one of the most important pieces of their core. It was following Jones’ fourth season in the league, but as a former second-round pick, he did not have a fifth-year option.

Jones was coming off Second-Team All-Pro (2018) and Pro Bowl (2019) seasons, and had cemented himself as one of the league’s elite pass rushers, regardless of where he played along the defensive line. In 2018, he recorded 15.5 sacks, third-most in the NFL, and 29 quarterback hits, fifth-most in the league. In 2019, he recorded nine sacks and 20 quarterback hits.

In the two seasons following the massive extension, Jones was named to the All-Pro Second-Team and Pro Bowl teams both times and recorded a combined 16.5 sacks. He has three sacks in six games this season.

Aaron Donald, Rams
Three years, $95 million ($31.6 million AAV), $ 95million guaranteed

Aaron Donald #99 of the Los Angeles Rams reacts after a sack during the first half against the Dallas Cowboys at SoFi Stadium on October 09, 2022.
Getty Images

The gold standard at the position, Donald has transcended traditional expectations of defensive lineman as one of the best players to ever step on a football field. After helping lead the Rams to a Super Bowl title last season and flirting with retirement, he earned a massive pay raise to return to the team.

Possessing an extremely rare combination of speed and strength for a defensive tackle, Donald is able to wreak havoc from the inside of the defensive line, elite as both a pass-rusher and a run-stuffer. That rare combination establishes his value as the NFL’s highest-paid defensive player.

Other notables

Vita Vea, Bucs, Four years, $71 million ($17.7 million AAV), $33.8 million guaranteed: Has emerged as one of the more athletic and versatile players at his position, but the 347-pounder makes his mark as a run stopper. Hence, the lower value.

Kenny Clark, Packers, Four years, $70 million ($17.5 million AAV), $34 million guaranteed: Primarily a run stopper, but signed the deal at just 24 years old, the same age Williams is now.

Leonard Williams, Giants, Three years, $63 million ($21 million AAV), $45 million guaranteed: Although now technically listed as a defensive end, he plays on the inside of the line in the Giants’ 3-4 defense and shares similar responsibilities to Williams. He significantly increased his value after emerging as a pass rusher (11.5 sacks in 2020) before hitting free agency.

Will Williams fall into Buckner-Allen-Jones territory on his next contract? Or might he climb even higher, making the case that with his dual ability to rush the passer and stop the run, he belongs closer to the transcendent Donald’s pay scale, becoming one of the league’s best-paid defensive players?

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