In all likelihood, the New York Yankees will play against the Oakland Athletics in the American League Wild Card Game on Wednesday, October 3. The final week of the season is important for the Yankees because they desperately want to hold off the A’s and win the first Wild Card spot. If they finish with a better record than the A’s, then the Wild Card Game will be played at Yankee Stadium. However, the A’s host the Wild Card Game if they finish with a better record than the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers have the tiebreaker and currently hold a 1 1/2-game lead over the Athletics.
Yankees manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman have a big decision to make with regard to the Wild Card Game. They must decide whether to start Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, or J.A. Happ in the game. Here is a breakdown of the Yankees situation, along with my take on who should start on Wild Card Wednesday:
Earlier in the season, there would have been no need to even discuss who should start a do-or-die game for the Yankees. In 20 starts prior to the All-Star Break, Severino went 14-2 and had a sparkling 2.31 ERA. However, since the All-Star Break, the Yankees ace is 4-6 with a 5.74 ERA in 11 starts. At the All-Star Break, he was considered to be a strong candidate in the American League Cy Young Award race. Now, he may not even be the pitcher who the Yankees choose to start in the Wild Card Game.
Severino has struggled since the All-Star Break, but he pitched well in his last start. In that start, he tossed seven innings of one-run ball in a win over the Boston Red Sox. Before that, he had a few good starts in which he pitched better than the box score indicated. It appears that Severino is rounding into form, which obviously boosts his chances of being selected to start on Wild Card Wednesday.
On the other hand, Severino did not perform well in last year’s Wild Card Game. He started the game and gave up three runs while only recording one out. The damage would have been worse if Chad Green had not struck out the first two batters he faced.
Severino went on to pitch well for the remainder of the postseason, which shows that the moment is not too big for him. Severino is certainly in consideration for being chosen to start the Wild Card Game.
Tanaka has emerged as the front-runner to start against the Athletics in a few weeks. He has pitched extremely well since coming off of the disabled list in July. He is 5-3 with a 2.84 ERA in 13 starts since coming off of the DL. Tanaka has had great command of his splitter, which is his put-away pitch. He has also done a good job of not giving up home runs, as only allowed opposing batters to hit two longballs against him in his last seven starts.
Unfortunately, Tanaka did not pitch well against the Red Sox earlier this week. Every performance from now until the end of the season will be heavily scrutinized by the Yankees’ decision-makers. His poor performance against Boston at Yankee Stadium, where the Wild Card Game may be held, does not help his cause.
Conversely, Tanaka’s superb performances in last year’s postseason are fresh in the minds of the Yankees’ decision-makers. They know what Tanaka is capable of. Tanaka is known as a big-game pitcher who has lived up to the big-money contract. The Yankees know that Tanaka will give them a good chance of winning a do-or-die game. If he is at his best, Tanaka can be the reason why they win the game.
Happ has been extremely sharp since the Yankees acquired him in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in late July. He has 16 wins on the season, and he is 6-0 with a 2.39 ERA in nine starts with the Yankees. Happ has been the Yankees best pitcher over the past two months, and he has entered the conversation for being chosen as the starter in the Wild Card Game.
Happ will certainly start one of the first two games of the ALDS at Fenway Park if the Severino or Tanaka wins the Wild Card Game. In two of his three starts against the Red Sox this year, Happ has pitched at least six innings and has given up no more than one run. He has had a lot of success pitching against the Red Sox in recent seasons. One potential negative is that the Red Sox batters have faced Happ a lot, so they will know what to expect when facing him.
One reason not to start Happ in the Wild Card Game is that he has never started in a winner-take-all game in the MLB playoffs. He is in his twelfth year in the majors, but he only has three career playoff starts under his belt. Another reason not to start Happ is that he has the least threatening “stuff” of the three pitchers. Severino and Tanaka have both been top-of-the-rotation starters for almost their entire careers, while Happ has been a middle-of-the-rotation starter for most of his career.
This is a tough decision for the organization to make. All three pitchers have made a strong case for why they should start in the do-or-die Wild Card Game. However, only one of them will get the start.
If I were making the decision, I would make Tanaka the starter in the Wild Card Game. Tanaka has the best combination of “stuff,” postseason success, and success against the Athletics in his career. Tanaka is 3-2 with a 2.53 ERA in his career against Oakland. I would not choose Happ because he isn’t as talented as Tanaka or Severino. I would not choose Severino because he has been less reliable in big games than Tanaka and because he struggled in a start against the A’s earlier this month.
My guess is that the Yankees will go with Tanaka. They know that Tanaka shows up and pitches well in big games, and they know that they are going to have to play one of their best games of the season in order to defeat the surging Athletics.
It will be interesting to see what the Yankees do with the rotation in the final week of the regular season. The rotation schedule may give everyone a clue of who will be starting on Wild Card Wednesday.
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