Already, the Yankees brain trust has begun agonizing over which of their five starters will pitch the one-game winner take all Wild Card shootout. It’s a dicey choice, but one that can be avoided by taking a safe, yet novel, approach to a game that will decide the season for the Yankees…
100 regular season wins or not, if the Yankees cannot make it past the one-game Wild Card shootout against either Oakland or Seattle, the season is lost. Last year, the Yankees survived a scare when their “ace” lasted only one-third of an inning, forcing the team to come from behind to beat the upstart Twins.
If Seattle qualifies, James Paxton is their automatic choice to pitch the one-game playoff. If somehow, the A’s upset and catch the sometimes snoring Houston Astros, Justin Verlander gets the ball hands down for Houston. For the Yankees though, the choice is not that simple. Every one of their starters has a question mark attached to their recent outings and overall consistency, and it’s likely there will be more hiccups to follow as the season draws to a close.
Okay, here’s the pitch. Swing and a miss – or maybe a leadoff double and something to seriously think about?
The Yankees rotation for the shootout game is CC Sabathia opening the game for the first two innings. He’s followed by Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, each for two innings bringing the Yankees to the seventh inning for the bullpen to nail down a win. David Robertson or Chad Green (whoever is hottest at the time) take the seventh, followed by Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman, sending the Yankees to AL Division Series. If Zack Britton gets himself back on course, he could be substituted for Robertson and/or Green.
Detractors of the plan are most likely to say yeah, okay, but who’s going to open the Division Series if three starters are burned in one game? My answer points to an old axiom in baseball that says the only game that counts is the one you play today, and there is no bigger game than the one the Yankees will (hopefully) host at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, October 3rd.
J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn are both excelling in their brand new pinstripe jersey’s. Both are motivated and experienced in the playoffs, with Lynn appearing in 24 games and Happ in ten. In another scenario, if the Yankees hold a commanding lead by the fifth inning, Tanaka could be held back, making him ready to start the next series two days later.
What’s more is that the parts are interchangeable allowing for injury (Sabathia has that balky knee again and is on the 10-day DL), and backward slides (Severino continues to not impress with another shaky start against the Mets last night). In either case, Happ or Lynn remain available to pencil in if needed as a Wild Card “starter”.
Another obstacle the Yankees would need to overcome is lining up the three “starters” to pitch in the game. Again, this is nonsense, and something Larry Rothschild, the Yankees pitching coach, together with Aaron Boone can handle, provided the team is committed to the plan at least a couple of weeks before the game.
Knowing in advance what’s coming, the adjustment by Sabathia, Severino, and Tanaka will be eased, as once again all three are battle-tested in playoff baseball, and each can be counted on to mentally prepare themselves for their contribution that night.
Setting up the rotation will be eased with September call-ups of Chance Adams and if the team can finally find a spot on the 40-man roster for him, Justus Sheffield. The Yankees will want to get a good look at both of them anyway, anticipating off-season moves that may be needed to fortify their rotation for 2019.
All of this assumes, of course, the standings remain as they are today with the Yankees seeded as the number one Wild Card team. If Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, and J.D. Martinez all trip over the carpet in their hotel rooms, breaking a leg or arm, all bets are off if the Yankees creep back into the race for first place in the AL East.
Or if the Yankees trip and stumble themselves by allowing Oakland or Seattle to overcome them, once again all bets are off as the Yankees will be playing in another time zone for the shootout, away from Yankee Stadium where they are already threatening a franchise record in home wins for a season.
We’ll know more about how that plays out when the Yankees embark on a trip to the West Coast to play both the A’s and Mariners the first week of September, following the current soft spot in their schedule.
It goes without saying, I believe the Yankees should at least entertain the idea of using three starters in the shootout. Each can empty the tank knowing they are being counted on to throw 30 quality pitches, rather than 100 over six innings. Also negated is having to go through the opponent’s lineup a second or even third time.
No more agonizing over which of the starters get the call – in this way – they all do.