Miscellaneous Thoughts and Predictions Prior to the Wild Card Game
The day has finally arrived – the Yanks are set to take on the Athletics at Yankee Stadium in a sudden death game to move on to the ALDS vs. the Red Sox. After delaying the decision for a couple of days, the Yankees announced that Luis Severino will take the hill for the Yankees as the Athletics plan to use Liam Hendriks as their “opener” as they plan to throw the proverbial pitcher’s kitchen sink at the Yankees. My thoughts, in no particular order, are below:
I am torn regarding Boone’s decision to start Severino. Prior to the announcement of Boone’s decision, the analytical half of my brain leaned towards starting Happ tonight. He’s been the Yankees’ best starting pitcher since his arrival via mid-season trade, and even when he doesn’t have his best stuff, he manages to contain the damage and give the Yankee offense chances to come back. Severino has struggled in the 2nd half, as has been discussed ad nauseam, but he certainly looked more like himself in his final start of the year. All of that being said, the part of me that has sat in dugouts for a number of winner-take-all games feels that no one other than Severino could possibly start this game, as he is the “ace” of the staff, he’s got the best pure stuff of any starter on the roster, and he’s perceived in the clubhouse as “the guy.” It’s a moot point now that the decision has been made, but I think Severino is the right choice and my initial inclination was wrong. Severino limits fly balls (key in Yankee Stadium), has overpowering stuff when he’s right, and I don’t think anyone wants to second-guess not starting Severino in a one-game playoff.
As great as Severino can be, I don’t think Severino tosses more than 5 innings tonight due to the strength of the Yankee bullpen. More to the point, I think that Chad Green could end up being the MVP of tonight’s game, and Boone would be remiss to put Green in the game for less than 2 innings tonight. I quickly compiled Green’s statistics when pitching multiple innings this year. Check out Green’s stats below – he is among the most dominant bullpen arms in baseball when throwing multiple innings. Boone needs to unleash a weapon like Green early and without hesitation. Personally, I hope Green comes in fresh to start an inning – let Robertson (a.k.a Houdini) play the fireman in the middle of an inning early before giving way to Green to start the following inning.
Chad Green’s stats when pitching multiple innings pulled from game logs at baseball-reference.com
The Yankees need to jump on Hendriks early, and I think that it will be crucial to show some patience. I hope to see McCutchen, Judge, and Hicks at the top of the order. All three guys work at-bats, get on base, and can punish mistakes. The Athletics’ game plan on the mound falls apart if Hendriks falters to start the game, as he is not built to last more than one inning.
Gary Sanchez has had the most disappointing season of any Yankee. He also struggles with passed balls. I do not deny either point (although I would argue that the Yanks have a pitching staff that is very difficult to catch…but that’s a discussion for another time). Despite those irrefutable facts, there is no way that anyone other than Sanchez should be behind the plate tonight for every inning that is played. Despite his struggles this year, Sanchez still displays patience and serious power at the plate and is a significant upgrade over Austin Romine behind the plate, even in his diminished form. Overall, the Yankee pitching staff also tends to pitch better by most metrics when throwing to Sanchez than when they throw to Romine or Higashioka. Outside of the passed balls, Sanchez is better defensively than Romine in every other defensive facet of the game: he’s a better pitch framer, and his arm strength is a significant deterrent for would-be base-stealers. I have nothing to base this next opinion on other than his obvious talent, but here it goes: I think Sanchez is going to put together a strong October and be an offensive force both tonight and moving forward. Success for Sanchez is one of the keys to wins for the Yankees this October.
There has been a lot of discussion regarding who will be the Yankees’ designated closer for the Wild Card Game. Most have opined that Boone has narrowed the choice to Zach Britton and Aroldis Chapman. Britton has been rounding into form recently, while Chapman is still working his way back from a DL stint for a knee issue. As great as Britton has been, Chapman has been lights-out recently, and I think he’s earned the closer’s job back. The caveat to that is that, according to Pitch f/x (courtesy of brooks-baseball.net), Chapman has experienced diminished velocity upon his return in September. Despite that fact, I am not concerned – his velocity has trended up over each of his previous 3 outings (going from 96.27 MPH to 98.01 MPH on average with his fastball), and with his adrenaline working overtime, I would not be surprised to see 100+ MPH out of Chapman in a game like tonight. Out of Chapman, Betances, Britton, and Robertson, I’d be fine with any of them closing, but I think in a game this important, allow Chapman to move back to a role with which he’s familiar.
In a perfect world, here’s how the pitching should unfold for the Yankees tonight: Severino for 3 innings, Green for 2 innings, then Robertson, Betances, Britton, and Chapman each for an inning. As I stated earlier, should the real world decide to ruin this idea, use Robertson as the fireman early prior to running Green out there to toss 2-3 innings. After that, the Yankees should just play the match-up game.
My ideal batting order for tonight: McCutchen, Judge, Hicks, Stanton, Gregorius, Andujar, Sanchez, Torres, Voit. I realize that this is somewhat unconventional compared to other lineups, particularly given the fact that by batting Torres 8th, I’ve eliminated the double-lead-off idea. Personally, I don’t think the double lead-off really matters more than once per game, and Voit is the most susceptible to bullpen match-up games (outside of Didi, but he’s too important to move down in the order). Given that fact, I’d rather get Torres the possibility of getting an extra at-bat than Voit. Now that I’ve said that, I hope Voit hits multiple home runs and becomes a Yankee playoff cult hero.
I hate the idea of a one-game Wild Card round. It is the antithesis of everything baseball is about as far as I’m concerned – baseball is a game of failure, but the game is supposed to give you multiple chances to succeed or fail. Success and failure is established based on trends, and the regular season and every other playoff round is built on the idea of a series of games against your opponent. One game playoffs are a game of chance to some extent, and I wish the league could find a way to make this a 3 game series. That said, I do see the appeal for the excitement factor. As for me? I’m going to need to take some antacids before, during, and after tonight’s game. Despite the effect on my insides, I am looking forward to tonight’s game – there’s nothing like October baseball, and I think these teams are very evenly matched.
My final prediction: Yankees 6, Athletics 2. Severino hangs a slider to Khris Davis with a runner on in the 1st to give the Athletics a quick 2-0 lead. The Yanks jump back against Hendriks in the bottom half to tie it up. Sevy settles down to dominate for 2.1 more innings. Robertson cleans up in the 4th inning, while the Yankee offense has a big inning or two in the middle innings. Andujar and Sanchez star on offense, Green strikes out 5 in 2 innings pitched, and the Yankees move on to the ALDS. Aaron Boone manages a solid game now that AJ Cole isn’t on the roster to confuse him.