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SSTN Weekly Mailbag: Wild Card Catcher, Sevy and Kluber, and Playoff Odds!

By Andy Singer



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After a long season full of roller coaster up and downs, the stretch run is finally here. As inconsistent and maddening as the 2021 Yankees have been, they’ve managed to be just good enough to control their own destiny here in the final 9 games. Even without the team’s struggles this season, most people had these 9 games circled when the Yankees’ schedule was released. Somewhere, MLB’s schedule setters are grinning wide, because the AL East is every bit as chaotic as I’m sure MLB hoped it would be right now. As frustrated as I’ve been watching this year’s team, all you can ask for is to control your own destiny at the end of the season. Either way, it’ll be exciting. The Yankees are close to the healthiest they’ve been all season, and certain members of the team are finally starting to hit. One key example: I’ve fielded multiple questions and comments in the SSTN Mailbag about Joey Gallo. I preached patience, despite the horrific start to his time in pinstripes. Patience is paying off. Over the last two weeks, Gallo has hit .313/.378/.1000 with 7 HR, and he’s up to a 110 OPS+ overall as a Yankee. Let’s hope he can stay hot.

As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week’s SSTN Mailbag, we’ll debate who should catch a potential Wild Card game, look at the early returns on Luis Severino and Corey Kluber, and nail down the Yankees’ playoff odds! Let’s get at it:

Michael S. asks: In the upcoming “one and done” wild card game, Cole is the obvious choice to start. Do the Yankees go for offense with Sanchez or defense with Higashioka? Cole had a good run with Sanchez while Higgy was out, and Higashioka has some pop in his bat, but each leans stronger offense vs defense respectively.

Of course, the Yanks need to make the Wild Card Game first, but I digress. Assuming the Yankees go on a run over the next 9 games and find themselves in the playoffs, slotting in a catcher will be one of the most difficult decisions the Yankees face. There is one assumption that needs to be challenged, however.

I’m not sure that we can assume that Gerrit Cole will start the Wild Card game if the Yankees make it. Hear me out. Let’s say that the season comes down to the last day of the season. Cole is currently slated to start tonight and next Wednesday. If the Yankees have a win-or-go-home game in the last game of the season against the Rays, I have a hard time believing that they won’t start Cole. That would leave one of Monty or Kluber to start the Wild Card game. I’d assume that the Yankees would chuck Monty in that scenario. In that case, Sanchez would almost certainly get the nod at catcher since he’s caught Monty almost exclusively this season, and it would render this discussion moot. I think this chain of events is a real possibility.

However, if the Yankees slide into the playoffs without needing to burn Cole on the last day of the regular season, Michael’s question is perfectly valid. Higgy’s overall defense is significantly better than Sanchez’s, but Gary’s arm is a clear difference maker, whereas Higgy’s arm is a liability. I’m going to assume that the Yankees’ opponent would be one of either the Jays or the Red Sox. If it’s the Sox, there really isn’t anyone on that roster that puts pressure on the defense on the basepaths, so Higgy has the advantage defensively if the Yanks face the Red Sox. If the Yankees face the Jays, there are a few guys who can run and take advantage of Higgy’s poor arm. If we assume that Sanchez has the advantage over Higgy offensively, I’d lean towards Gary if the opponent is in fact the Jays.

But then we get into the personal catcher situation. Whatever the numbers show, it’s clear that Cole is more comfortable with Higgy. Pitching wins championships, and I want my ace in the best shape possible, so I keep HIggy in the game as long as Cole is on the mound. The second Cole leaves though, I get Sanchez in the game to get his bat one or two opportunities. That’s how I play it.

Brad asks: Kluber has pitched a few times and Severino has pitched once since coming back from the Injured List – how do you think they’ve looked and do you think they’ll be able to help in the playoffs?

First and foremost, it’s good to see both guys healthy enough to pitch at the Major League level. I have a hunch that if this were July, both guys would still be rehabbing in the minors, but they’re both doing their best to help the team. Frankly, I love it.

Despite the good feelings, it’s pretty clear that there’s some rust for both guys. Looking at the pitch maps from their last outings, command is definitely still an issue for both guys. Kluber left a ton of breaking balls over the heart of the plate in his last outing, and completely missed the edges on others. Meanwhile, his cutter/sinker combination struggled to find edges of the strike zone. Severino probably should be graded on a curve given the rain and mud on the mound in his first appearance, but his fastball sat in the heart of the plate with great frequency instead of finding the top of the zone, and he appeared to just barely miss with his change-up and slider on a few occasions.

Otherwise though, I have very real hope for their ability to perform in the playoffs should the Yankees get there. Kluber’s velocity and spin rates are right in line with his string of successful outings back in May, so I expect the command to come with more game action. Frankly, of the two, I think Kluber is really close to clicking.

Severino’s velocity is down a touch, but still more than adequate with spin rates that match his best seasons across the board. Sevy’s stuff is so good that even with some minimal improvement to his command, he will be a weapon for 2-4 innings for the Yankees.

In short, I think both guys can help remake the Yankee pitching staff on the fly and pay real dividends both at the end of the regular season and in the playoffs.

Mike asks: What odds to you give the Yankees to make the playoffs in the last 10 games of the season?

I think the Yankees need to win 2 out of 3 against both the Red Sox and the Jays and at least 1 against the Rays to get the job done. 5 out of 9 shouldn’t be a tall order, but the Yanks have struggled mightily within the division this year. Honestly, I think it’s a 50/50 toss-up. I won’t be surprised by the result of the season either way.

As disappointing as the Yankees have been though, I think they’d be a team that scares teams in the playoffs. We’ve seen what this team is capable of in small sample sizes, and the Yanks are healthier than they’ve been all season. I’ll need some ibuprofen and an antacid, but it’s going to be exciting either way.

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