The optimal bullpen usage for yet another winner-take-all

(Al Bello/Getty Images)
(Al Bello/Getty Images)

The Yankees will play on Wednesday just their sixth game of the postseason, yet it will be their second winner-take-all. Unlike the first one, this game will likely ride more on the starting pitchers with the performances of CC Sabathia and Corey Kluber looming large.

However, with the way Joe Girardi has managed his bullpen over the last eight days, we have seen a variety of different game options after the starter. In their last two wins, it’s been ‘Rely on the starter and then go to the big guns.’ The win over the Twins was the routine ‘Get 26 outs of top four relievers’ game. You know, basic stuff we see all the time.

And we’ve also gotten a taste of every reliever in this series outside of Jordan Montgomery, who will likely be the long man in late extra innings on Wednesday.

So with that in mind, here’s my take on the optimal use of the pen.

1. Make the same decision with CC as in Game 2: Girardi caught flak for many things after Game 2. Rightfully so. But pulling Sabathia early wasn’t as big a mistake. You only have to go back to the last Monday of the regular season for a game where Sabathia was left in a little too long and let the opposing team back in the game.

And this time, the Yankees have a more rested bullpen to get the final few innings, especially if Sabathia can get two times through the order. Once you’re into the fifth or the sixth, CC should probably be batter-to-batter except in the extremely unlikely case of a 6+ run lead.

2. If Chad Green warms up early, he needs to come in early: This one is simple and worked to a tee in the Wild Card Game. Girardi got Green hot in the first and then went to him and rode him into the third. With four days off, Green should be able to do something similar if the situation calls for it.

But if Green gets hot in those first few innings, he better come in or he likely goes to waste. Green warmed up in the second and third innings in Game 2 but didn’t come in until the sixth. That’s a good 80-plus minutes or so after sitting down. It’s no wonder he seemed off.

We saw the same thing with Alan Busenitz in the Wild Card Game. I know, I know, not nearly as reliable a reliever. But the Twins got him warm in both the first and second inning and he didn’t come in until there were bases loaded and two outs in the seventh. That’s a lot of downtime and it thus makes sense that he threw four straight balls to walk in a run.

So hopefully Girardi doesn’t repeat this mistake. It’s better off skipping Green if he warms while CC gets out of early trouble than having Green warm, throw a ton of warmup pitches over the course of a few innings and then sit, just to come in off of his game.

3. Ride Robertson, Kahnle and Chapman (duh): At this point, I have no idea what the Yankees can get out of these three, but they need to seize every last drop in Game 5. A Houston series or beyond is irrelevant right now.

Here are their lines through five games:

  • Robertson: 3 G, 5.1 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8 K, 87 pitches
  • Kahnle: 3 G, 5 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 6 K, 59 pitches
  • Chapman: 3 G, 4.2 IP, 5 H, 1 BB, 9 K, 81 pitches

Kahnle’s thrown fewer pitches (and those numbers!) but also pitched most recently. Are two days off enough for full throttle Robertson and Chapman? You have to figure Chapman can get you at least three outs. Robertson, too. Between the three, they should be able to get the last four innings. Maybe five.

How do you tell who’s up for what? That’s gotta be a gut feel for Girardi, who needs to be willing to pull them too early rather than too late. You’ve still got Adam Warren, Masahiro Tanaka and Sonny Gray after them if needed. But we should see at least Chapman at some point and probably all three of these big guns.

(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
(Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

4. Avoid Betances: Dellin Betances can’t come into this game. He just can’t. It’s tough to see Betances struggling like this. His command just isn’t there and he needs to be at the very back of the bullpen. Probably behind Montgomery and Jaime Garcia. Would you feel comfortable with him in extras? Not ahead of Warren or one of the starters.

The Baseball America podcast brought up the question of whether he should even be on a possible ALCS roster and it’s unfortunate that it’s a valid question to raise. But until the ALCS roster is something worth discussing, Betances shouldn’t be pitching, even in a blowout.

5. Get by without the starters until extras: It’s really tempting to go with Tanaka after how he looked on Sunday. However, you never know how someone who hasn’t relieved will react to that situation. With the depth of this bullpen, the Yankees can survive without finding out what they can get from Tanaka or Gray (or Severino) until extra innings. If Sabathia struggles, Green and Warren are fine long men to get you to the fourth/fifth. Once you’re in extras, it’s all hands on deck in a pure scramble.

Matt Holliday doesn’t have a clear role in the ALDS

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

All but five players on the Yankees’ 25-man ALDS roster have played in this series.

Two of the five are the Game 3 and 4 starters, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino, who will each pitch if the series gets to Monday. One is Jordan Montgomery, the break in case of emergency reliever or blowout mop-up man. Another is Austin Romine, the backup catcher.

And then there’s Matt Holliday. What’s his role again? That’s a good question.

Holliday is no longer the designated hitter. That much is clear. The Yankees have flipped between Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley at DH for the last week except during last Sunday’s meaningless game vs. the Jays. While starting Ellsbury at DH means no true backup outfielder, Joe Girardi has gone with him anyway.

Now 37-years-old, Holliday hasn’t played the outfield all year and there’s obviously no way he’s starting ahead of Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks or Aaron Judge. It’s highly doubtful the team feels comfortable with him playing the field, even at first base, which he played a few times early in the year. Greg Bird is the man at first, with Headley and Todd Frazier likely ahead of Holliday in the pecking order.

So where does Holliday fit in? In theory, he makes most sense pinch hitting (or starting) against left-handed pitching. He has normal splits, batting .220/.301/.418 (89 wRC+) vs. RHP and .267/.366/.477 (125 wRC+) vs. LHP.

The Indians have a rotation with 4-6 righties and no lefties. That means no starts.

So that leaves him as logically only worth pinch hitting against the two lefties on the Indians’ roster: former Yankees Andrew Miller and Tyler Olson. Olson pitched to only Ellsbury, Frazier and Gardner in the third/fourth inning on Friday, too early to go to a pinch hitter for Ellsbury.

Miller has pitched against the DH twice in this series. In the eighth inning on Thursday, Girardi kept Headley up there with none on and one out (he drew a walk). With Ellsbury coming up and none on, two outs in the eighth on Friday, Girardi pinch hit … Headley, not Holliday.

So in the most logical spot to use Holliday, Girardi chose Headley instead. It’s hard to quibble with the decision, too. Headley had walked vs. Miller the day before and was 5 for 7 with that walk against Miller in his career going into Friday night. Those numbers are hard to argue with.

That’s before you mention that Holliday is 0-for-4 vs. Miller and 0-for-1 vs. Olson in his career. He’s just 1-for-7 as a pinch hitter this year, 9-for-43 in his career. He doesn’t seem well-suited for the job he ostensibly fills.

So I repeat: What is his role on this roster? The Yankees could have used another pinch runner or an extra outfielder, which Tyler Wade or Clint Frazier could provide. They have DH covered. They aren’t facing many LHPs and Miller pitches well against both lefties and righties.

After being unable to play in National League parks early in the year, Holliday ironically makes the most sense in a series against an NL squad where pinch-hitting opportunities abound and all four playoff squads feature left-handed starters.

When asked on Saturday whether Holliday would play on Sunday, Girardi said, “We will continue to look at things and we’ll see.” He’s 1-for-4 with a single against Carlos Carrasco in his career, which is better than Headley’s numbers against the Indians’ starter. However, Ellsbury hits him well (8-for-21 with a triple, home run and two walks), so he makes the most sense to start.

And that likely leaves Holliday waiting on the bench once again, the 25th man on the 25-man roster. Maybe he finds his way into this series, facing Olson at an opportune time or being used to deke Terry Francona away from even going to the lefty. However, it seems like the Yankees could have put the spot to better use than a RHB without a clear position or role.

Chase Headley should be the Yankees’ ALDS DH

(David Maxwell/Getty Images)
(David Maxwell/Getty Images)

After scoring eight runs in the Wild Card Game, the Yankees may not be inclined to switch up their lineup. Yet one small change could be their most prudent move.

Therefore, I’d advocate for Joe Girardi to move Chase Headley back to designated hitter and have Jacoby Ellsbury come off the bench.

Ellsbury provided a lot to the Yankees’ late-season surge. From Aug. 26 to Sept. 20, he went 29-for-73 with nine doubles, two triples and a homer, sporting a .397/.494/.616 (194 wRC+) line. That doesn’t include record-setting catcher’s interference(!). Filling in after Aaron Hicks‘ injury, he became a reliable presence and looked like the player the team thought it was getting when he signed in the 2013-14 offseason.

But he’s gone cold. In his last eight games of the regular season, he went just 5-for-30 with a double and a walk, striking out six times. He followed that up with an 0-for-4 performance on Tuesday. Just like the 73 AB sample above, there isn’t a whole lot to go off, but he hasn’t been quite as useful.

Meanwhile, Headley has been similarly cold, which likely led to his benching in the first place. In his last 40 PA, he batted 6-for-36 with three walks and a HBP, no extra-base hits. After three homers in his first five games of the September, his power went back to previous levels. Again, small sample size.

So this move is less about trends and more about what it opens up on the roster. As I detailed last month, Ellsbury is an ideal pinch runner if he’s not starting. He was 22-for-25 stealing bases and has an 82.9 percent success rate on steals in his career. He’s the Yankees’ best option to wreak havoc on the bases now that Tyler Wade was taken off the roster.

With Ellsbury on the bench (and Aaron Hicks still in centerfield), the only is that if he solely pinch runs for anyone, the Yankees won’t have a backup outfielder remaining on the bench. They’d have Headley and Todd Frazier for first base. Ronald Torreyes for the middle infield and third. Then no one left for the outfield. Sometimes that’s a risk you take though.

The team removed both C. Frazier and Wade from the roster to make room for Jaime Garcia and Jordan Montgomery. Now that they’ve decided they need 12 pitchers, which may be a mistake, they can simply use Ellsbury as a fourth outfielder and have Torreyes as the emergency man on the corners. Not ideal, but serviceable with Frazier or Wade able to be called up in case of injury.

That option is a no-go if Ellsbury is at DH unless the team is willing to insert the pitcher into the lineup. That is because the Yankees weren’t willing to remove Matt Holliday from the roster even though he only serves as a pinch hitter and doesn’t serve much, if any, defensive role on the roster. However, Holliday is still a solid option against the Indians’ left-handed relievers and should be their best offensive option off the bench.

There were many permutations for the Yankees’ ALDS roster. It could have involved 11 pitchers or 12. Two outfielders on the bench or one. The Yankees opted for 12 pitches which leaves them one fewer outfielder on the bench. But, either way, having Headley as the designated hitter would be the prudent move for the ALDS.

Putting the wild in Wild Card: Granite’s miscue aids Yankees

(MLB.com Screenshot)
(MLB.com Screenshot)

There are plenty of memorable plays from Tuesday night, but a play from the 1-2-3 top of the eighth sticks with me more than it should.

The Yankees had the game under control. Tommy Kahnle had already gotten five outs, escaped from the worst jam he would face when Joe Mauer flew out in the sixth, and Joe Girardi had Aroldis Chapman warming up in case a new jam arose.

And better yet, the soft underbelly of the Twins’ lineup was up. After Max Kepler popped out, it was Zack Granite’s turn at the dish. Granite had taken over for Byron Buxton, who injured himself making another of his signature catches that physics tells us should be impossible. Too bad to see a great competitor exit early, but it was to the Yankees’ gain.

Yet Granite proved pesky. The Staten Island native who tore up the ball at Seton Hall singled off David Robertson in the sixth — creating the aforementioned jam — and was able to utilize his speed. Perhaps most players who entered in the middle of a do-or-die game less than three months after their major league debut would be shaking in their boots. But not Granite.

Already 1-for-1, Granite made his best effort to remain unblemished at the plate. The 25-year-old outfielder fought off a 98-mph fastball on a 1-2 pitch and chopped it to the right of Greg Bird. With Bird fielding the ball, Kahnle would have to cover and Granite was motoring to first, utilizing his best tool, his speed.

If he gets on, the Yankees probably still win. Let’s say Kahnle has trouble with Ehire Adrianza. Then Girardi simply turns to Chapman who gets five outs instead of three and the Twins likely go down with a similar whimper. But who knows. There’s an alternate set of events where this could have been the start of something.

Bird fielded the ball cleanly and Kahnle covered, perhaps a bit awkwardly. Kahnle dropped Bird’s flip as Granite passed the bag and the ball trickled down the first base line. Shades of Chuck Knoblauch? Ugh. Granite appeared to 2-for-2 or perhaps 1-for-2 while reaching on an error.

But Granite didn’t touch the bag. I’ll repeat that. Granite didn’t touch the bag! First base. The goal of the batter, in case baseball is foreign to you, is to reach base safely, which entails, you know, touching the base. You can use your hand, your feet, your sternum or your head, but you have to touch the base.

“I felt his momentum was taking [Kahnle] through the bag, and I was afraid I was going to step on him. And I just missed the base,” Granite said after the game. “It was stupid. I should have stepped on him.”

And he didn’t do it! Starlin Castro, the unsung hero of the play, was backing up, saw Granite didn’t touch the base, and tagged him as he made his way back to the base. Granite realized his gaffe and tried to return to the base to no avail. He returned to the dugout, realizing no replay could save him from this out.

Greg Bird looks as confused as all of us (Screenshot)
Greg Bird looks as confused as all of us (Screenshot)

At first glance, it’s confusing as to why he was out. Did he try and round the base and was caught stretching? That seems to be what manager Paul Molitor thought happened as he went out to discuss with first-base ump Mike Winters. The discussion was over quickly. (Side note: Well done by Winters to not rule him safe. It’s a simple thing, but touching first is so basic that I feel it could be easy to miss in the moment.)

The scoring of the play was a 3-4 putout on a grounder. But that doesn’t reflect Kahnle’s role in the play and barely touches on how Granite’s actions decided its outcome after the ball hit his bat. It was a bizarre scoring decision on an even more bizarre play.

“I’ve never done anything like that in my life,” Granite said. “It was freakish.”

Freaking indeed. That play may have ultimately meant nothing. But those are the gaffes that can also decide a playoff game or series and change the fortune of a team. The Yankees were on the right end of it last night and hopefully a few more will go their way over the course of October.

9/29 to 10/1 Series Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
(Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

The Last Time They Met

It’s been just five days since the Yankees last played the Jays. On Sept. 22-24, the Jays took two of three from the Bombers, inching the Yankees closer to the Wild Card Game and further away from the division.

  • Masahiro Tanaka had a rough outing, giving up eight runs over 5.2 innings. The big blows were a trio of home runs, including a grand slam to nine-hole hitter Ryan Goins.
  • The Yankees clinched a playoff spot in the middle game, riding Sonny Gray and a three-run homer from Greg Bird.
  • Jaime Garcia met a similar fate to Tanaka as the Jays took the series finale. Teoscar Hernandez hit homers in all three games, but Aaron Judge had three of his own with two on Sunday.

Since They Last Met

  • After handing the Yankees two costly defeats, the Jays did them a favor with two wins against the Red Sox. They led early in the third game, too, but Marco Estrada came apart and the Sox won 10-7.
  • Josh Donaldson had one of his best series of the year. He went 8 for 13 with two doubles and three home runs. He has eight multi-hits this month and has brought his average from .253 to .272.
  • Hernandez had three more homers. He now has six in his last six games after just two in his first 17 with the Jays. That’s some impressive raking against playoff squads.

Their Story Right Now

The Jays have had a disappointing year that really got off the rails in April. At 75-84, they’re likely to finish in fourth or fifth place. If they had been able to play closer to .500 to start the year, they’d have been in contention for that second wild card. Donaldson’s late-season surge combined with efforts of Hernandez and others gives them hope for next year, especially if Aaron Sanchez is healthy. But with Donaldson’s free agency looming after 2018, the team is facing some tough decisions this offseason.

Lineup We Might See

With a ton of RHHs, this team doesn’t change its lineup up too often. Richard Urena could enter for Goins vs. lefties, plus this being the last series of the year could mean a lot of call-ups getting time.

1. Teoscar Hernandez, LF – (.282/.313/.667)
2. Josh Donaldson, 3B – (.272/.389/564)
3. Justin Smoak, 1B – (.272/.358/.534)
4. Jose Bautista, RF – (.204/.311/.370)
5. Kendrys Morales, DH – (.251/.309/.448)
6. Kevin Pillar, CF – (.256/.300/.404)
7. Russell Martin, C – (.221/.344/.389)
8. Ryan Goins, SS – (.237/.288/.357)
9. Darwin Barney, 2B – (.233/.276/.330)

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Friday (1:05 PM EST): RHP Masahiro Tanaka vs. RHP Joe Biagini
It’s an early start for Yom Kippur and Biagini will be taking the hill for the last time this season. The Yankees got to him on Saturday with Bird dealing the decisive blow. Despite that, Biagini pitched efficiently and had a low pitch count when taken out after five. The swingman is 3-12 this year with a 5.34 ERA but he has an FIP a run lower.

Last Outing (vs. NYY on Sept. 23) – 5.0 IP, 3 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 3 K

Saturday (1:05 PM EST): LHP Jaime Garcia vs. RHP Marcus Stroman
Stroman got the better of the Yankees on Sunday, although part of that was facing Garcia. He still allowed three runs in 5.2 innings. He has a 5.49 ERA with 11 strikeouts to 10 walks over 19.2 innings vs. the Yankees over four starts this year. Overall, he’s had an impressive seaaon with a 3.06 ERA over 197 innings, outperforming his peripherals in his age-26 season.

Last Outing (vs. NYY on Sept. 24) – 5.2 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 2 K

Sunday (3:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Brett Anderson
Don’t let the new uniform fool you: This is the same Brett Anderson that lasted just two outs against the Yankees in May when he was with the Cubs. He gave up six hits over seven batters in his final start with Chicago. Since joining the Jays, he has a 6.04 ERA over six starts, but that mostly stems from an eight-run start over 1.1 innings against the Royals.

Be on the lookout for blisters: He left after just 80 pitches over five innings on Monday vs. Boston after his blister issues flared up.

Last Outing (vs. BOS on Sept. 25) – 5.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 3 K

The Bullpen

Same bullpen, different week. Domenic summed up the Jays’ group pretty well last week, so check that out.  They had a day off on Thursday, so everyone should be fresh for Friday afternoon.

Who (Or What) to Watch?

These could easily be the last three games of Bautista’s career. Turning 37 in October, he’s past his prime and is becoming a liability in the outfield. He’ll have to hope for a team to give him a shot, likely as a platoon bat or designated hitter, but it could be a second straight rough offseason for Joey Bats.

As for the returning players, Hernandez is must-watch. He was acquired from the Astros in the Francisco Liriano trade and has raked over the last week. Can he bring his hot streak through the end of the year?

Didi Gregorius embraced the air-ball revolution with great results

(Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
(Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Last season, Didi Gregorius took an important step forward in his development.

After playing as primary an all-glove, no-bat player for the start of his career, he became a 20-homer hitter, blasting our expectations for him in one fell swoop. He made clear adjustments at the plate and was batting cleanup in the Yankees’ post-trade-deadline lineup fairly often.

Furthermore, he cut down on his strikeouts and became an above-average hitter against LHPs, sporting a .324/.361/.473 (125 wRC+) against them. Even though his power wasn’t quite there against lefties, he still found a way to poke balls the other way. He batted .263 on balls hit the other way against LHPs while pulling all four of his homers vs. southpaws.

This year, his reverse platoon has cratered. He’s batting just .194 on balls the other way against lefties, perhaps just a case of a few bloops not falling in. And overall, he’s just hitting .262/.298/.355 (72 wRC+) against them with a much smaller ISO.

And yet, Gregorius has taken off as a hitter, finally having the breakthrough against right-handed pitching he needed to make. Sure, baseball is in an elevated home run environment but his 25-homer season still deserves plenty of recognition, especially since he didn’t debut until April 30. Needless to say, not many people expected him to be the team’s normal cleanup hitter in a pennant race two years ago.

“I’m not so sure I envisioned him hitting fourth in a lineup,” Joe Girardi said. “Part of it is the way we’re constructed, the reason we do things. We envisioned that he was going to impact the baseball. We envisioned that he would hit some home runs. I don’t know if any of us put a number on it.

“What I’ve seen is just kinda what you see from a lot of players. They just continue to mature and get better and better, and understand who they are. Didi’s done a really good job of that. That’s why he is in the middle of the order hitting fourth.”

So how exactly has Gregorius turned himself into a 3.5+ win player with value not just from his glove but his powerful bat?

Like a lot of players, he’s embraced the air-ball revolution.

In his first two seasons with the Yankees, he had an average launch angle of 12 degrees. This season? 17.4 degrees. His fly-ball rate has increased from 34.1 percent in 2015 and 40.3 percent in 2016 to 43.9 percent in 2017, a career-high. His GB-to-FB ratio has gone from 1.31 in 2015 to 0.83 in 2017. He’s got a completely different hitting profile.

Furthermore, he’s pulling the ball more often. You’ll see in his plots below that he no longer has as many grounders to shortstop nor flyballs to left, and he has batted balls traveling further than before, primarily to the pull side.

2015-16 (Baseball Savant)
2015-16 (Baseball Savant)
2017 (Baseball Savant)
2017 (Baseball Savant)

His pull percentage had decreased in 2016 to 37.6 percent but is now up to 40.6 in 2017 and he’s going to the opposite field 7.3 percent less. He’s actually pulling the ball more than the MLB average, which may be a tailoring of his swing to Yankee Stadium.

didi-pull

He’s not hitting the ball demonstrably harder, still sporting an average exit velocity below 85 mph. However, you’ll notice that he’s hitting the ball harder on pitches inside and pitches higher in the zone.

(Baseball Savant)
2015-16 vs. 2017 (Baseball Savant)

That could help explain the significant increase in ISO for nearly the entire zone as well as the increase of balls in the air. If Didi adjusted to better hit higher and inside pitches at Yankee Stadium, it makes sense that he would thus have more flyballs and a higher power output. He’s also helped increase his balls in play by cutting his strikeout rate each year since 2014 and it’s helped with his steadily increasing ISO in New York.

2015-16 vs. 2017 (Baseball Savant)
2015-16 vs. 2017 (Baseball Savant)

Even if he hadn’t made this improvement at the plate, Gregorius likely would have been a solid Yankee for a while. His superior glove work that would be Gold Glove-worthy in the National League gets overshadowed some by Andrelton Simmons and others, but it’s still something that would have made him worth a long-term investment. Furthermore, we’ve seen more of his personality come out, endearing him to Yankees fans one tweet at a time.

Before the year, I wrote that this season was extremely important for him to at least maintain last year’s power output and overall production if he wanted to hold off Gleyber Torres and other Yankees prospects. But his production at the plate has taken the next step and that’s made Gregorius a long-term piece for the Yankees alongside Torres.

The Yankees are built to survive a Wild Card Game disaster

(Elsa/Getty Images)
(Elsa/Getty Images)

With less than seven days to go, the Yankees will almost certainly be playing in the American League Wild Card Game against the Minnesota Twins.

And things could go really wrong.

You can picture it. Luis Severino gives up a quick home run to Brian Dozier and the Twins strike early. The Yankees go down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the first and then Byron Buxton and co. draw out Severino’s pitch count while adding a few more runs.

All of a sudden, the Yankees find themselves down four or more runs just a few innings into the game and Severino is out. Your offense isn’t even on the second time through the lineup and you’re already desperate for runs. At this point, you begin thinking about the unfairness of the Wild Card Game while realizing that 2018 could be a much better team.

Most teams can’t survive this scenario. The Twins and their patchwork bullpen can’t survive this scenario. But the Yankees aren’t the Twins and they aren’t most teams. They have all the tools to win even if the first few innings go haywire on Tuesday.

There are plenty of examples as to how the Yankees still win in this case but the epitome was when they did almost this exact thing last week. Facing the Twins, Severino threw 70 taxing pitches and allowed three runs in three innings. The Yankees were left knowing they needed to make up a 3-0 deficit while getting six innings out of their bullpen.

Four batters later, it was 3-3 and the Bombers blasted Minnesota for 11 unanswered runs en route to victory.

There are two primary ways that the Yankees are perfectly tailored to win this type of ballgame. The first way? Offense. There’s tremendous power throughout the lineup. They’ll be able to trot out a lineup with six 20-home run hitters, not to mention players like Matt Holliday, Starlin Castro and Greg Bird, who’ve each shown the ability to pop balls out of Yankee Stadium. It sometimes takes only one or two long balls to get back into a game and they can do that.

(Adam Hunger/Getty)
(Adam Hunger/Getty)

But it’s more than just power. It’s how this lineup grinds starters. They take pitches, draw walks and rack up baserunners, forcing stressful pitches by the handful even when they’re not converting with runners in scoring position. Let’s note some examples of opposing starters out before the end of the fifth inning this month.

Sept. 3: Chris Sale, 109 pitches over 4.1 IP
Sept. 4: Dylan Bundy, 98 pitches over 4+ IP
Sept. 5: Jeremy Hellickson, 64 pitches over 2.1 IP
Sept. 7: Kevin Gausman, 79 pitches over 3 IP
Sept. 10: A.J. Griffin, 59 pitches over 3+ IP
Sept. 11: Jake Odorizzi, 94 pitches over 3.2 IP
Sept. 13: Chris Archer, 92 pitches over 4+ IP
Sept. 16: Hellickson, 68 pitches over 3+ IP
Sept. 19: Jose Berrios, 90 pitches over 3.1 IP
Sept. 26: Blake Snell, 49 pitches over 1+ IP

There are a lot of Orioles on that list, but also some solid pitchers, notably Chris Sale and Jose Berrios. That doesn’t even include Wade Miley’s two-out, six-run disaster from two weeks ago.

In all, only eight of the 24 starters the Yankees have faced this month have gotten outs in the sixth inning. Only three completed the sixth. That’s a lot of outs for any bullpen to get, particularly one as weak as the Twins. There aren’t any arms out there that the Yankees should fear.

While the offense can grind pitchers into oblivion, the Yankees’ stellar bullpen will go to work. If Severino doesn’t make it through five, let alone three, on Tuesday, then Chad Green is likely the first arm out of the bullpen. It’s not hard to see him throwing three near-perfect innings and keeping the Twins off the board, riding his fastball and slider to plenty of strikeouts.

After him, you can get innings out of David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman, who have each been lights out this month. That’s before you get to Tommy Kahnle, who’s also been strong this month, or Dellin Betances, who’s in the midst of a slump. Heck, you could use Sonny Gray, CC Sabathia or Masahiro Tanaka out of the pen if needed.

Most teams don’t have more than one or two weapons like that. Normal playoff teams might have three-plus. The Twins might not have any outside of whomever they start on Tuesday (Ervin Santana?). The Yankees’ crew can keep the team in the game and wait for their potent offense to strike.

And this is before you even get to the bench. While the team hasn’t had much of a bench at times this year, they do now. One of Headley, Bird, Holliday and Todd Frazier will be on the bench and two of Hicks, Ellsbury and Clint Frazier will be too. You’ll have Tyler Wade available to pinch run if they need to go that route. That’s plenty of solid OBP and pop guys to produce should Joe Girardi want to push a few buttons.

The point to all of this is simple. The Wild Card Game is a crapshoot. Even though the Yankees will go in as the superior team, things rarely shake out as planned over nine innings and Girardi may need to call a few audibles. But even if the Twins get off to a hot start, the Yankees are built to come back and make their lives hell in the process. In other words, the Yankees can easily remind Minnesota that it ain’t over ’til it’s over.