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.

Building the 2017 Wild Card Game roster

Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)
Think he makes the roster? (Adam Hunger/Getty)

Although the Yankees are still mathematically alive in the AL East race, odds are they will go to the postseason as a wildcard team, and odds are they will host the Twins at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees have already punched their postseason ticket. Once the Red Sox clinch the AL East and the Twins clinch the second wildcard spot, everything will be set.

The Wild Card Game is, technically, its own postseason round. Teams set their 25-man Wild Card Game roster, then can make adjustments prior to the LDS. That leads to some unique roster construction. Why carry four or five starting pitchers for one game, for example? I’m a bit surprised MLB didn’t try eliminate that Wild Card Game roster rule. Or maybe they did try and were unsuccessful. Whatever.

Anyway, the Yankees carried 16 position players and nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. For real. Like I said, there are better ways to use those last few roster spots than carrying extra starting pitchers. The Yankees are not guaranteed to follow the 16 position players and nine pitchers blueprint again, but it does give us an idea what to expect in advance of the Wild Card Game next Tuesday.

So, with that Wild Card Game now six days away, I figured this would be a good time to try to piece together the 25-man roster the Yankees could use for that winner-take-all affair. Really stinks the Yankees are going to win 90-ish games then have to play in that Wild Card Game, huh? Oh well. Can’t do anything about it. Let’s take a look at the potential Wild Card Game roster.

The Locks

This is the easiest group, so we might as well start here. These are the 18 players we all know will be on the Wild Card Game roster as long as they’re healthy.

Pretty straightforward, right? Right. I’m as annoyed by Dellin’s walks as much as anyone, but they’re not leaving him off the Wild Card Game roster in favor of … Chasen Shreve? Jonathan Holder? Ben Heller? Gio Gallegos? Another starter? Yeah, no. These 18 dudes will be on the Wild Card Game roster.

Locks, If Healthy

Aaron Hicks (oblique) returned last night and Adam Warren (back) is expected back soon. At one point earlier this season it seemed Hicks would start the Wild Card Game, maybe even hit first or second, but not anymore. The injury and Jacoby Ellsbury’s late season resurgence put an end to that. He’ll be on the Wild Card Game roster as the fourth outfielder though, as long as he’s healthy. Warren will of course be on the roster as well. Again, as long as he’s healthy. Health is the only reason these two wouldn’t be on the Wild Card Game roster. They’re on, so add them to the locks and that’s already 20 players.

The Extra Starters

Like I said, the Yankees carried only nine pitchers on the 2015 Wild Card Game roster. That’s typical. It’s one game, not a series, so there’s no need to carry all five starters. The Yankees figure to carry the scheduled starter (duh), a backup starter in case the scheduled starter is unable to go for whatever reason (hurt during warmups, sick before the game, etc.), and an extra starter should things go crazy in extra innings. Three starters seems like the right amount to me.

Severino is on track to start the Wild Card Game with one extra day of rest. That’s the easy part. Who backs him up? That will depend as much on the pitching schedule as anything. Whoever starts the final regular season game Sunday won’t be on the Wild Card Game roster Tuesday, for example. Right now, Sonny Gray lines up to pitch the day of the Wild Card Game on normal rest and Jordan Montgomery is on track to pitch that day with two extra days of rest. Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, meanwhile, would be on short rest that day.

Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Sonny. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

Because of the schedule, Gray and Montgomery seem like the obvious candidates to be the backup starters behind Severino. I suppose Jaime Garcia could be in the mix given how he dominated the Twins last week, though I think that’s unlikely. The Yankees could always call an audible and change the rotation this week, but that would surprise me. They’ll have their best ready to go in Severino. Assuming Warren is healthy, Severino plus Gray and Montgomery gets the Yankees to nine pitchers and 22 players on the roster overall.

The Final Bench Spots

The 12 locks plus a hopefully healthy Hicks gets the Yankees to 13 position players, leaving three open spots should the Yankees again go the 16 position players plus nine pitchers route. Realistically, there are five candidates for those three roster spots: Miguel Andujar, Tyler Austin, Clint Frazier, Erik Kratz, and Tyler Wade. Garrett Cooper didn’t even get a September call-up, so I he’s not a postseason roster candidate. Ditto Kyle Higashioka.

I think Austin is on the postseason roster for sure. He’d give Joe Girardi a right-handed power bat on bench and, just as importantly, a backup first baseman should Bird (or Headley) get lifted for a pinch-runner. You don’t want to give up the DH or have to play Holliday at first base in the Wild Card Game. Austin’s righty power and ability to play first base (and right field in a pinch) seems pretty clearly worth a Wild Card Game roster spot in my opinion. Easy call.

Wade, even though he basically never plays, strikes me as someone who has a leg up on a Wild Card Game roster spot as well. He’d give the Yankees coverage all around the infield and can play left field in a pinch as well. Also, he can run. Crazy fast. Maybe the Yankees don’t consider him a designated pinch-runner option — they didn’t acquire that player this September — but still, the situation could present itself, and Wade is the closest thing the Yankees have to a true burner available. I think he’s on the roster as the 24th or 25th player.

Frazier’s roster fate could be tied to Hicks. If Hicks re-injures the oblique or simply can’t get going these next few days, Frazier would be the obvious candidate to serve as the fourth outfielder in the Wild Card Game. I love Frazier, but I’m really hoping Hicksie is on that Wild Card Game roster. He’s such a weapon when right. The Yankees could always carry Hicks and Frazier, in which case Frazier’s role would be extra righty bat, fifth outfielder, and potential pinch-runner. Frazier is low key fast as hell. That could come in handy at some point during a close game.

The Yankees don’t trust Andujar’s defense at third base right now — they’ve made that clear given how little he’s played there so far — and he can’t play any other positions, so he doesn’t have much to offer in the Wild Card Game. He’d be an extra righty bat and emergency third baseman. That’s it. Kratz? Don’t be surprised if he’s on the roster. The Yankees carried three catchers in the 2015 Wild Card Game — Sanchez, who had two September at-bats in 2015, was on the Wild Card Game roster that year — and they could do so again, just for an emergency. You know we’re in for at least one Wild Card Game roster surprise, right? Right.

If Hicks and Warren are healthy enough to make the Wild Card Game roster, and it sure looks like that’ll be the case, I think those final three position player spots wind up going to Austin, Kratz, and Wade. Austin hits, Wade fields and can run, and Kratz is there for peace of mind. Here’s a recap of the 25-man roster we’ve talked out in this post:

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Starters Relievers
Sanchez Bird Austin Severino (SP) Betances
Romine Castro Ellsbury Gray Chapman
Kratz Frazier Gardner Montgomery Green
Gregorius Hicks Kahnle
DH Headley Judge Robertson
Holliday Torreyes  Wade Warren

Austin and Wade are more utility players than true outfielders, but I stuck them in the outfield section for easy table building purposes. The Twins are going to start a right-hander no matter what in the Wild Card Game — the only lefty in their rotation is up-and-down depth guy Adalberto Mejia, and he sure as heck isn’t starting that game — so I imagine Bird will be in the starting lineup and Holliday will not. Holliday has been pretty terrible against righties lately.

The Yankees, of course, don’t want to use their 25-man roster in the Wild Card Game. They’d like to stick with their nine starting position players and three, maybe four pitchers, tops. That would be the ideal Wild Card Game scenario. The rules say you have to carry a 25-man roster though, and you knows, maybe those 23rd and 24th and 25th players on the roster end up being a factor. No one plans for it to happen that way, but baseball can be weird sometimes.

Poll: The Wild Card Game pitching plan

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

In all likelihood the Yankees will host the Twins in the 2017 AL Wild Card Game next Tuesday. The Yankees are still alive in the AL East and the Angels are still alive in the wildcard race, sure, but everything is pointing toward Yankees vs. Twins at Yankee Stadium next week. It would be an upset if the Wild Card Game featured a different matchup.

Tonight Luis Severino will make his final regular season start in preparation for that Wild Card Game. The Yankees haven’t officially announced him as the starter yet — he could start a potential Game 163 should the Yankees and Red Sox tie for the division title — but again, everything points in that direction. Severino will start the Wild Card Game with Sonny Gray, tomorrow’s starter, the backup plan.

Severino has of course been brilliant this season, throwing 187.1 innings with a 3.03 ERA (3.08 FIP). His 29.0% strikeout rate and 4.42 K/BB ratio are both eighth best among the 57 pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Severino is going to finish in the top five of the AL Cy Young voting. He might even finish third behind Corey Kluber and Chris Sale (in whatever order). He’s been outstanding all year.

In the winner-take-all Wild Card Game, of course you want your best starter on the mound, and when you have someone as good as Severino, it’s an easy call. With all due to respect to Gray and Masahiro Tanaka, the Yankees are absolutely right to give the ball to Severino next Tuesday. There is, however, another line of thinking in the Wild Card Game. Instead of using a starter, just use relievers. Make it a bullpen game.

Dave Cameron first championed the idea back in 2012, when the Wild Card Game first became a thing, and since then more and more folks have mentioned it as a viable Wild Card Game plan. A few days ago Brian Kenny did a whole MLB Network segment on the Yankees going with a bullpen game in the Wild Card Game next week.

The idea, if you didn’t watch the video, is that relievers in short bursts are generally more effective than starters going through the lineup multiple times. The Yankees are loaded with power bullpen arms. Tommy Kahnle has been outrageously good all season and especially the last few weeks. He’s finally settled into a nice groove in pinstripes and is what, the fourth best reliever in the bullpen? Maybe the fifth best?

Come the Wild Card Game, Joe Girardi is going to be itching to go to the bullpen, especially if the Yankees take a lead early in the game. The Yankees are built to smother teams in the late innings with all those power relievers. So, rather than start Severino and hope he pitches well, why not just go straight to that bullpen? That’s the idea. Here’s what a bullpen game could look like for the Yankees:

  • First Inning: Chad Green
  • Second Inning: Green
  • Third Inning: Green or Dellin Betances if Green’s pitch count is elevated
  • Fourth Inning: Betances
  • Fifth Inning: Betances or Kahnle
  • Sixth Inning: Kahnle or David Robertson
  • Seventh Inning: Robertson
  • Eighth Inning: Robertson or Aroldis Chapman
  • Ninth Inning: Chapman

That would still leave a hopefully healthy Adam Warren in reserve. And, if the game goes to extra innings, the Yankees could always turn to Severino then. They’d let their top bullpen arms, all those strikeout heavy relievers, air it out for an inning or two in the must-win game. Then, if that works, Severino is available for Game One of the ALDS and he could potentially start two games that series rather than one.

It sounds like a wonderful and amazing plan that would increase New York’s chances of winning that Wild Card Game. It also sounds — to me at least — like one of those things that is great on paper but not quite as easy to put into practice. The more relievers you use, the more likely it is you run into someone who doesn’t have it working that day. And what happens when you ask two or three relievers to go two innings when they’re not used to doing it? What happens when you break their routine and ask them to warm up a few innings earlier than usual?

Severino, meanwhile, is really freaking good! It’s not like the Yankees are limping into the postseason and will have to start Jaret Wright in an elimination game. They clinched early and Severino has been one of the three best starters in the AL all season, and they were able to line him up for that game. That’s what every team wants to do going into the Wild Card Game, right? Line up your best starter and have the bullpen ready to go at the first sign of trouble. The Giants did it with Madison Bumgarner in 2014 and 2016, the Astros did it with Dallas Keuchel in 2015, and the Cubs did it with Jake Arrieta in 2015. Pretty solid plan, handing the ball to an ace.

For what it’s worth, Joe Girardi told Bryan Hoch he is not a fan of the bullpen game idea in the Wild Card Game. The Yankees are one of the most statistically inclined and forward-thinking teams in baseball. I’m certain they’ve at least entertained the idea of a bullpen game. I mean, how could you not at least kick the idea around when you have this bullpen? Like I said, Girardi is going to be itching to turn the game over to his bullpen. Green is going to be warming up at the first sign of trouble. I know it, you know it, Girardi knows it, everyone knows it.

No matter what you or I think, the Yankees are going to start Severino in the Wild Card Game, not roll with a bullpen game. I don’t think we’ll see any team go with the bullpen game idea anytime soon, to be honest. This hypothetical scenario is begging for a poll, however, so let’s get to it.

What should the Yankees do in the Wild Card Game?
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Yankees 6, Rays 1: New York clinches home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game behind Montgomery’s solid outing

With this win tonight, the Yankees have clinched home-field advantage for the AL Wild Card Game (if that becomes their destination). Also, with the Red Sox loss, the division deficit has reduced to three games. Slim hope but it’s still there. The recipe for tonight’s win was simple: Jordan Montgomery pitched well, the offense scored enough runs and the bullpen tossed three no-hit innings to make it as least stressful as possible. 88th win of the season – that’s the Yankees’ most since 2012, when they made it to the ALCS. Let’s recap this thing.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Six solid

Montgomery started the game dicey very early on. He allowed soft singles to Kevin Kiermaier and Steven Souza just past the infielders and walked Evan Longoria to immediately load the bases in the first. He got a breather by striking out Logan Morrison for the first out. However, Wilson Ramos drove a deep drive to right center that looked to be just going over the fence… until Aaron Hicks denied it. Hicks made a well-timed jump to rob Ramos of a grand slam. That would have been a devastating start for the Yankees but they held the Rays to merely a run. Huge. Not bad for a guy who just came off a DL suffering an oblique injury.

After the shaky start, Montgomery settled in and followed with five scoreless innings. In those frames, he allowed only five baserunners (one of them on a strike out wild pitch in which Adeiny Hechavarria reached first) and struck out three. He may not have the flashiest stuff, but boy he can mix up pitches. Per Brooks Baseball, Montgomery threw 34 fastballs (both two-seam and four-seamers combined), 8 changeups, 9 sliders and 29 curveballs. Of those 29, six of them generated whiffs. He’s had a nice season for a guy who’s a pitchability lefty in the AL East – 9-7, 3.96 ERA/4.11 FIP in 150 IP. Even though Montgomery’s had his ups and downs this season, if you told me he’d end up with these numbers back in March, I would have taken it ten out of ten times.

Thinking about it again… that Aaron Hicks catch was big. There’s a huge difference between getting out of the first inning with no outs, bases-loaded jam with only one run allowed and allowing a grand slam and suffering a meltdown for a start. Credit to Montgomery for bouncing back nicely for the rest of the night though.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Score four

You know how the Yankees have been making opposing starting pitchers throw tons of pitches in early parts of the game? That happened tonight as well. This time, they knocked Blake Snell out of the game with no out in the second inning.

The Yankees started the inning with a bang. Starlin Castro, who donned high socks tonight, led the inning off with a long, 445-feet home run into the left field bleachers to tie the game at one a piece. After that, the Fraziers and Ronald Torreyes all singled to load the bases in a flash for the Yankees. Hicks, fresh off the disabled list (and that amazing catch an inning earlier) walked to score the Yankees’ go-ahead run. At this point, Snell seemed to have completely lost his command. Even after the mound visit, Snell could not throw a strike against Aaron Judge and forced in another run, 3-1 Yankees. After getting only three outs and having throw 49 pitches, the lefty was out of the game and Kevin Cash put in the former Yankee Chaz Roe to face Gary Sanchez.

Sanchez squared one to the right side… but it found Hechavarria’s glove and Hicks was doubled off at the second. Not ideal. However, during Matt Holliday’s at-bat, Roe’s slider got away from Ramos way outside, resulting in a run-scoring wild pitch. Sloppy pitching by the Rays in this frame. But hey, the Yankees will take it.

Score two more

The scoreboard was full of goose eggs after the bottom of the second till the eighth inning. With Austin Pruitt pitching for the Rays, Torreyes worked a rare walk to get on base with one out. During Brett Gardner’s at-bat, Toe advanced to second on a wild pitch and onto third on a groundout. Judge, as Judge does, walked to get on base to make it runners on corners. Sanchez followed it up with an RBI single to center to make it 5-1 Yankees and Holliday tacked on another with a bloop one to the shallow center. 6-1 Yankees and that’s how the score would remain for good.

Leftovers

The Yankee bullpen tossed three perfect innings tonight. Tommy Kahnle got the seventh inning and absolutely dominated Daniel Robertson, Peter Bourjos and Kiermaier – groundout, strikeout, strikeout, respectively – all in just 11 pitches. Kahnle has yet to allow an earned run in the month of September (10 IP) and that’s a really good sign heading into the postseason.

Taking care of the eighth was David Robertson, who struck out one and walked one in a scoreless frame. It seemed like Aroldis Chapman was going to enter the ninth for a save. But as the Yankees scored two in the bottom of the eighth, the save situation became null and Joe Girardi put in struggling Dellin Betances to end the game. Betances retired the side in only seven pitches (four strikes) to end the game rather swimmingly. Sure, he didn’t strike out anyone or anything but I’ll definitely take this from him. This should be considered a positive step for the big guy after a rough month he’s had.

Castro went 3-for-3 tonight. His home run in the 2nd inning was his first at Yankee Stadium since June 11, as unbelievable as that might sound. Torreyes, the little machine that could, maintained his status as a solid utility guy by going 2-for-3, a walk and two runs scored. Judge did not hit a home run today. Bust! However, he did go 1-for-3 with two walks, a strikeout and an opposite-field double. It was almost an on-brand game for him.

Box score, video highlights, updated standings and WPA

Here are tonight’s box score and updated standings from ESPN, video highlights from MLB.com and WPA from Fangraphs.


Source: FanGraphs


The Yankees will continue the three-game series against the Rays tomorrow at the Bronx. Luis Severino will be up against Matt Andriese for a 7:05 pm game start.

Game 157: Welcome Back, Aaron Hicks

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Aaron Hicks was activated from the disabled list this morning, and he’ll be batting lead-off tonight. It’s good to see that Joe Girardi isn’t hesitating to maximize Hicks’s opportunities to shake-off the rust of a nearly four-week layoff with the playoffs just around the corner; here’s hoping that Hicks can make the most of it, given his all-around value to the team.

It’s also worth noting that the Yankees magic number to clinch homefield advantage in the Wild Card game is just one, meaning a Yankees win or a Twins loss will seal the deal. The sooner the better, in my mind, so Girardi can allow most everyone to get a bit more rest without the added stress of a Twins run or a Yankees slump.

Jordan Montgomery will take the mound for the Yankees tonight, and here’s the Rays lineup he’ll face. Blake Snell is starting for the Rays, and he’ll square-off against:

  1. Aaron Hicks, CF
  2. Aaron Judge, RF
  3. Gary Sanchez, C
  4. Matt Holliday, DH
  5. Chase Headley, 1B
  6. Starlin Castro, 2B
  7. Todd Frazier, 3B
  8. Clint Frazier, LF
  9. Ronald Torreyes, SS

Tonight’s game will start at 7:05 PM EST, and will be broadcast on YES.

Injury Updates: There’s nothing new to report here. Didi Gregorius was expected to sit today, so it’s nothing more than a day off.

9/26 to 9/28 Series Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

(Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
(Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

The Last Time They Met

Citi Field was the venue the last time these teams met, as a result of Hurricane Irma. The Yankees took two of three from the Rays in Flushing, and helped to create and then take ownership of a late-season meme. Some notes from the series:

  • David Robertson had a phenomenal outing in the first game, coming in in the fifth to bail CC Sabathia out of a two-on, one-out jam with no damage. All told Robertson went 2.2 IP, allowing one hit, no runs, and no walks, while striking out 4.
  • Sonny Gray pitched like an ace in game two – 8 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 9 K. And the Yankees lost 2-1. The less said about this game the better.
  • The third game of the series was one of the more stressful wins in recent memory, with the Yankees struggling to take advantage of a slew of base-runners, and the Rays threatening in nearly every inning. It was a 3-2 victory in the record books, but it was not fun to watch.

Check out Katie’s Yankeemetrics post for more fun facts.

Injury Report

The Rays are mostly healthy – better late than never, I suppose. Their only noteworthy players on the disabled list are Matt Duffy, Nathan Eovaldi, and Shawn Tolleson, and none of them have appeared in a single game this season.

Their Story So Far

Tampa Bay is 76-80, and are a loss or a Twins win away from being eliminated from Wild Card contention. They’ve been a largely middle-of-the-pack team board this season, checking in at 11th in the majors in park-adjusted ERA and 15th in wRC+, with their outstanding defense (4th in the majors in defensive efficiency) oftentimes serving as a difference maker. They’re also 20-24 in one-run games, which ranks 21st in the league. You can look at the Rays season from any number of angles, but it all boils down to them being a remarkably average team.

The Yankees are 10-6 against the Rays this year, so they’ve already clinched the season series.

The Lineup We Might See

Manager Kevin Cash seems to play roulette with certain slots in the lineup, but by and large you can expect to see something like this:

  1. Kevin Kiermaier, CF – 276/.338/.455, 15 HR, 14 SB (409 PA)
  2. Lucas Duda, DH -.221/.321/.507, 30 HR, 0 SB (476 PA)
  3. Evan Longoria, 3B – .265/.317/.427, 19 HR, 6 SB (656 PA)
  4. Logan Morrison, 1B – .243/.352/.515, 37 HR, 2 SB (580 PA)
  5. Steven Souza, RF – .236/.344/.459, 30 HR, 16 SB (600 PA)
  6. Corey Dickerson, LF – .278/.322/.487, 26 HR, 4 SB (612 PA)
  7. Wilson Ramos, C – .263/.293/.444, 10 HR, 0 SB (211 PA)
  8. Brad Miller, 2B – .198/.326/.328, 8 HR, 4 SB (396 PA)
  9. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS – .249/.284/.398, 6 HR, 3 SB (265 PA)

The Starting Pitchers We Will See

Tuesday (7:05 PM EST): LHP Jordan Montgomery vs. LHP Blake Snell

Snell has had a disappointing and disjointed sophomore season, having spent much of it in the minors as he attempts to learn the finer points of controlling where the baseball is going. His walk rate has dropped by two full percentage points from last year (from 12.7% to 10.7%), but it remains two-plus percentage points worse than league-average (8.5%). He has great stuff and has flashed brilliance for parts of two seasons now, so he shouldn’t be underestimated; but Snell is still very much a work in progress.

Last Outing (vs. CHC on 9/20) – 7.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 5 K

Wednesday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Luis Severino vs. RHP Matt Andriese

The Yankees have faced Andriese twice this year. He got the better of them the first time around (6.0 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 5 K), but they solved him the next time out (5 runs in 5 IP). Andriese has been a serviceable fifth starter/up-and-down guy for the Rays this year, pitching to a 4.33 ERA (94 ERA+) in 16 starts.

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 9/21) – 6.0 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 8 K

Thursday (7:05 PM EST): RHP Sonny Gray vs. RHP Alex Cobb

Mike wrote everything you need to know about Cobb – a free agent to be – just last week. Give it a read, won’t you?

Last Outing (vs. BAL on 9/22) – 6.0 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 4 K

The Bullpen

Tampa’s bullpen was something of a horror show in the first half, blowing lead after lead, and allowing small deficits to grow into large ones. The group has done an about-face in the last two months, though, with closer Alex Colome, set-up man Tommy Hunter, and new additions Steve Cishek and Sergio Romo combining for a 1.84 ERA in 107.2 IP since the All-Star break. They’re a bit shallow beyond that big four, but this is a group that ranks 3rd in the majors in bWAR in the second half, and 5th in WPA.

Who (Or What) To Watch

Alex Cobb may well be auditioning for the Yankees on Thursday, and a strong final start could help his cause a bit.

Taking a more Yankee-centric approach this time around, it’s also worth mentioning that some scoreboard watching is in order. A win for the Yankees or a loss for the Twins will wrap-up homefield advantage for the Yankees in the Wild Card game, and that’s significant. The Yankees are 47-28 at home and 40-41 on the road, which isn’t too far off from their split last year. This is a team that utilizes Yankee Stadium to the fullest, so we should have one more cause for celebration during this series.

Nine goals for the final week of the regular season now that the Yankees have clinched a postseason spot

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Over the weekend the Yankees clinched a postseason spot — heck of a rebuilding transitioning year, eh? — and pretty soon they’ll lock down homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game. The magic number to do that is one because the Yankees hold the tiebreaker over the Twins. The Yankees are mathematically alive in the AL East race, but forget that. Wild Card Game it is.

Because the Yankees clinched with a week to spare in the regular season, they have the luxury of using these last few regular season games to prepare for the postseason. Line up the rotation, rest the regulars, give those bumps and bruises a chance to heal … that kinda stuff. The obvious stuff every team hopes they get a chance to do before playing in October.

“I think the physical part of it is really important for our players so that they are strong going into the playoffs, and they’re not beat up and they feel rested. That’s really important,” said Joe Girardi yesterday. “There’s a balance there because you want everyone to feel confident and feel good about where they are going into the playoffs … Going into the playoffs, you want guys to feel confident and feel that they’re right where they want to be.”

Resting players and lining up the postseason rotation — right now Luis Severino is lined up to start the Wild Card Game and Sonny Gray is lined up to start Game One of the ALDS, so that part is done already — are the obvious big picture goals this week. What else do the Yankees need to accomplish before their season is on the line in the Wild Card Game one week from today? Here are nine other goals for the Yankees this week, in no particular order.

Clinch homefield advantage in the Wild Card Game

A formality with the magic number sitting at one, yes, but the Yankees have to actually do it at some point. They can’t go into cruise control just yet. Clinch homefield advantage and do it soon. The sooner the better. Lock into the top Wild Card spot and be done with it. That’s not something you want to let linger, you know?

Try to get Betances straightened out

(Presswire)
Dellin. (Presswire)

I gotta say, I was pretty surprised to see Dellin Betances go five days between appearances last week. It’s not like Girardi didn’t have chances to use him. The Yankees won by eight runs Wednesday and lost by seven runs Friday. Want to get Dellin straightened out in low-leverage spots? Well, there were two low-leverage spots, and Betances was nowhere to be found. Hmmm.

The Yankees are a potentially dominant postseason team because their bullpen is so deep with power arms, so they figure to have the advantage in the late innings pretty much every night. Betances is a big part of that bullpen, and the Yankees need him to be at his best in October. Dellin’s not going to right the ship by sitting in the bullpen. Heck, the longer the sits, the worse he gets. He has to get enough work this week to try to figure things out.

“I think best case scenario is we’ll be able to get Dellin in three — maybe four — games this week if we can to get him going,” said Girardi. “If you feel like he’s going and you don’t need to push him as hard, you can do that too. He’s important to us. Much like (Aroldis Chapman) — Chappy had a little period where he was struggling, and we got him going. We need to do the same with Dellin.”

Let Green pitch back-to-back days

With Betances still having control problems, Chad Green has taken over as the third option in the bullpen behind Chapman and David Robertson. You could argue Green is the best option out of the bullpen, though that’s a waste of time. They’re all pretty great. Girardi clearly trusts Green and he’s going to see plenty of high-leverage work in the postseason. Lately Girardi has been using him as a one-inning setup man, which is kinda new.

Anyway, because he’s done the multi-inning reliever thing pretty much all season, Green hasn’t pitched back-to-back days much. Just once, in fact. He threw 14 pitches in a perfect inning on July 22nd, then threw 37 pitches in 2.1 perfect innings the next day. Green hasn’t pitched back-to-back days since. Should the Yankees advance to the ALDS, they’re probably going to need to use Green back-to-back at some point, and you don’t want that to be a new experience. Get his feet wet. Use him two straight days at some point this week so he knows what’s up.

Keep running Bird out there

(Presswire)
Bird. (Presswire)

For the first time all season, Greg Bird really looks comfortable at the plate. He’s gone 6-for-14 (.429) with three doubles and two home runs in his last four games — he was 5-for-40 (.125) in his first 14 games this month — and you want him to keep building on that. I know this is the time to rest players and all that, but it shouldn’t be for Bird. He was out too long earlier this season. Play him every game the rest of the way — against righties and lefties — and let him continue to find his stroke. Bird can be a impact hitter and provide a big time boost to the lineup.

Let Sanchez catch Montgomery

For whatever reason Austin Romine has become Jordan Montgomery‘s personal catcher. Romine has caught Montgomery’s last ten starts now, and I guess this is why:

  • Montgomery with Romine: 3.78 ERA (4.31 FIP) in 102.1 innings
  • Montgomery with Sanchez: 5.19 ERA (4.35 FIP) in 26 innings

That’s all well and good, but here’s the thing: Romine can’t play in the postseason. He just can’t. Girardi twice started Jose Molina in the World Series so he could catch A.J. Burnett, but Romine is no Molina. Molina was at least a great defensive catcher, plus he’d occasionally run into a fastball for a double. Romine does neither of those things. (Plus Burnett was much more important to the 2009 Yankees than Montgomery is to the 2017 Yankees.)

As things stand, Montgomery will not be in the postseason rotation. He might not even be in the postseason bullpen. But! If the Yankees need a replacement starter due to injury at some point, Montgomery figures to get the call over Jaime Garcia, and he and Gary Sanchez need to be on the same page. The postseason is no time for personal catchers, especially with your fifth starter. Montgomery is starting tonight and could start Game 162 as well. Let Sanchez catch him so they can get reacquainted. You don’t want them paired up for the first time in three months in a postseason game.

Play Hicks as much as humanly possible

Earlier today the Yankees activated Aaron Hicks off the disabled list, so he will be in uniform tonight. And now that Hicks is back, the Yankees should play him as much as possible. Basically every game from here on out. Even if Hicks is slated to be a bench player in the postseason, it wouldn’t take much to push him into regular duty and the Yankees should want him ready in case that happens. He’s missed a lot of time and needs the at-bats.

Girardi said yesterday the Yankees plan to give the regular outfielders a rest this week — they’ve played a ton the last month or so — and that creates the perfect opportunity for Hicks. Play him every game, move him around the outfield as needed, give the regulars rest. Heck, bat Hicks first or second too, so he could maybe get that one extra at-bat each game. Every little bit helps. We saw Hicks be an impact player earlier this year. After the long layoff, giving him as much playing time as possible to help get him back to being that impact player is a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned.

Make sure Warren gets all the way back

Warren. (Presswire)
Warren. (Presswire)

As with Hicks, the Yankees will get Adam Warren back from injury this week, and they need to make sure he’s on track prior to the postseason. Warren, who hasn’t missed nearly as much time as Hicks in the second half, will throw a simulated game today, and figures to be activated as soon as tomorrow if that goes well. The big name late-inning guys get all the attention, but Warren is a really important part of the bullpen as the Swiss Army knife reliever who can get one out in the tight spot or throw two innings in the middle of the game or fill-in as the setup man for a day. He’s an underappreciated weapon for Girardi and the Yankees want to make sure Warren is ready to go come October.

Test Wade as a pinch-runner

With Jacoby Ellsbury playing his way back into the starting lineup and the Yankees not bringing in an Eric Young Jr. or Rico Noel type to pinch-run this month, Tyler Wade is the obvious designated pinch-runner candidate for the postseason. And maybe the Yankees decide they don’t need that guy. Even if they don’t, it would be smart to give Wade a bunch of pinch-running opportunities this week. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but coming off the bench cold and stealing a base in a big spot is not easy. Wade’s been an everyday player pretty much his entire life. Getting him prepared for a potential pinch-runner role makes sense even if the Yankees aren’t planning to carry him on the postseason roster. One injury could land him on the postseason bench.

Win at least three more games

In the grand scheme of things, there is nothing important about this. Heck, once they clinch the top wildcard spot, you could argue the Yankees should lose as much possible to improve their draft position! I won’t do it, but I’m sure someone out there is thinking it. Anyway, I want the Yankees to win at least three more games because damn, a 90-win season sure would be sweet. Lots of people, myself included, pegged this team for 82-84 wins. Somewhere in that neighborhood. Plenty of pundits were picking them to finish under-.500 for the first time in an eternity. It’s not happening. Seeing the Yankees join the 90-win club for the first time since 2012 sure would be a nice cherry on top of an otherwise wildly successful rebuilding season.