Refsnyder, Heathcott, Sanchez all make Wildcard Game roster

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Rosters for the 2015 AL wildcard game were due at 10am ET this morning, and shortly thereafter the Yankees officially announced their 25-man squad for their first postseason game in three years. Here is the Astros’ roster and here is the Yankees’ roster for tonight’s winner-take-all game at Yankee Stadium:

RHP Dellin Betances
LHP Andrew Miller
RHP Bryan Mitchell
RHP Ivan Nova
LHP James Pazos
RHP Luis Severino
RHP Masahiro Tanaka
RHP Adam Warren
LHP Justin Wilson

Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy
Gary Sanchez

2B/OF Dustin Ackley
1B Greg Bird
SS Didi Gregorius
3B Chase Headley
2B Rob Refsnyder
DH Alex Rodriguez
IF Brendan Ryan

RF Carlos Beltran
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
LF Brett Gardner
OF Slade Heathcott
PR Rico Noel
OF Chris Young

I’m glad the Yankees took only nine pitchers. There’s really no need for more than that. Plus it’s not like the Yankees are swimming with options right now. CC Sabathia is unavailable after checking into rehab and next in line is probably Andrew Bailey, who wasn’t too good during his September cameo.

Both Severino and Nova started Saturday, so they aren’t fully available tonight. Today is their usual between-starts throw day, so they can probably give an inning or two, maybe three if they’re really efficient, but I doubt it would be much more than that. Obviously the plan is Tanaka to Wilson to Betances to Miller. Anything other than that is probably bad news.

Sanchez had only two garbage time at-bats at the end of the regular season, and the fact he is on the roster suggests the Yankees may start Murphy against the left-hander Dallas Keuchel. Murphy starts, McCann takes over once Keuchel is out of the game, and Sanchez is the emergency catcher. Sanchez could also be a pinch-hitter or DH option if A-Rod gets lifted for Noel at some point.

The rest of the roster is pretty self-explanatory. As I said this morning, I think Young will start tonight’s game, likely in place of Gardner. Young has good career numbers against Keuchel and Joe Girardi loves his head-to-head matchups. Gardner figures to come off the bench as soon as Keuchel is out of the game though. With any luck, no one outside the starting lineup and big three relievers will be used.

Workout Day Notes: Eovaldi, Capuano, Shreve, Beltran

Today is an off-day around baseball, but both the Yankees and Astros held a workout at Yankee Stadium this afternoon. Needless to say, CC Sabathia checking into rehab was the big story. Everyone in the organization stood behind him, from Brian Cashman to Joe Girardi to his teammates. “We play for CC now,” said Alex Rodriguez.

While Sabathia’s announcement dominated the workout today, there is some other news and notes to pass along. Here’s the important stuff from today’s workout:

The wildcard game rosters do not have to be made official until 10am ET tomorrow. An official announcement should come around that time.

Something to Celebrate

I (also) love this photo so much. (@Yankees)
I (also) love this photo so much. (@Yankees)

In a matter of hours, the 162 game marathon that is the Major League Baseball season will be officially over for everyone (unless we get some tiebreaker action!). The Yankees are one of ten teams both skilled enough and lucky enough to keep marching towards the ultimate goal of winning the World Series. As a team they already got to celebrate–and why shouldn’t they? This is a team that very few people thought could make the playoffs. In most best-case scenarios in February and March, this was an 85-win team that might scratch at contending for the second wildcard spot. Now, they sit assured of a spot in that wildcard game that will probably (hopefully?!) be in the Bronx. The notion that the Yankees–or any team–shouldn’t celebrate making the Wildcard Game is just silly to me. What that team is celebrating is not just the accomplishment of making it one more day, but acknowledging the impressive feat of being one of ten teams standing after 162 games. These celebrations are as much about–if not more–what has happened rather than what will happen. Anyway, now that the team has celebrated and been celebrated, let’s take a look at some individual Yankee players and what they have to celebrate about 2015.

Starting with number one, there are some pitchers we should discuss; chief among them is Masahiro Tanaka. TANAK may not have been quite-as-brilliant in 2015 as he was in 2014, but this was still a successful year for him. By the way, let’s talk for a moment about how crazy it is that I’m saying a year for a pitcher was “successful” and “not-quite-as-good” despite a K/BB of 5.71 and a WHIP of 0.994. The former is good for fifth in the AL among pitchers with at least 150 IP and the latter is good for first. Performance, though, is only part of why Tanaka’s been successful this year. While he missed some time recently, his elbow has more or less held up despite a whole lot of armchair-doctoring by media and fans alike at the beginning of the season. There’s a reason that doctors, the Yankees, and Tanaka didn’t opt for surgery and this year has proved it a wise decision. His elbow ligaments could snap tomorrow, but that goes for any pitcher at any time and one should never have surgery when it isn’t necessary. Try to imagine the Yankees’ season without Tanaka in the rotation. He’s the only one among the Yankees’ starters with at least 100 IP who has an ERA+ of over 100 (114); without him, there’s no way this team is in the postseason.

Sticking with the starters, there’s Luis Severino. Few, expected him to be on the team this year; even fewer expected him to have this much of an impact as a starter. Despite some hiccups and some general first-time-in-the-Majors-rough-around-the-edgesness, Severnio has been spectacular. He’s held his own against big lineups at times. He’s flashed plus stuff. He’s helped Tanaka carry the rotation in the second half and has definitely pitched his way into not only the playoffs, but also the 2016 rotation.

Lastly in the pitching category, appropriately enough, there’s the dynamite combo of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better 1-2 bullpen combination than this one anywhere in the Majors. While Betances has looked more human lately, he managed to mostly repeat an incredible 2014 and he and Miller solidified a very-shaky-at-times relief corps to give the Yankees a much-needed late-game edge. Miller, meanwhile, stepped right into the line of Yankee closers and wowed us all year with a dominant fastball/slider combination that left many batters baffled. The back end of a bullpen is important in a regular season, but is paramount the in the playoffs; the more we see these two in the coming weeks, the more likely it is that they and the team have done something special.

Moving to the lineup, we’ll start with number two–don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a position-by-position breakdown–and discuss Brian McCann and John Ryan Murphy. Like most of the Yankee offense, McCann hasn’t looked great of late, but that doesn’t mean this season isn’t something to celebrate. He raised all four portions of his slash line from last year and managed to belt a career high 26 homers. He’s also already tied his career high in RBI with 94, so anything he drives in today will represent a new career high. His backup also had a great season as JRM hit more-than-admirably and seemed like a veteran behind the plate in very limited duty. As a bonus, he also provided the hands-down best quote of 2015 by anyone in the Yankee organization.

I’ve already touched on Mark Teixeira‘s great season, so I’ll be brief here. Tex had a fantastic season and his absence has definitely been felt in the last few weeks, even if Greg Bird has done incredibly well both for the team and himself, something completely unexpected in and of itself, and also worthy of celebration. The Yankees now have a very good problem regarding Bird, Tex, and the next two guys we’ll touch on–Alex Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran–and how to get them all at bats.

Raise your hand if you thought Carlos Beltran wasn’t toast after April. Put your damn hand down, you liar. At the end of April, Carlos had an OPS of .481 (!) and had exactly zero home runs. From May on, he’s hit .292/.352/.506 with 19 homers. His bat was steady and stable throughout the summer and we’ll finally get to see his playoff prowess put to the test.

Then, finally, there’s Alex Rodriguez. Al. Al from Miami. Summer of Al. How many times did we tweet these things over the last few months? The finish hasn’t been pretty, but how delusional would you have seemed in March if you said A-Rod was going to hit 33 homers this year? I thought he MIGHT, MAYBE hit 15-20 and be average overall at the plate. He completely shattered those expectations and now a finalist for Comeback Player of the year. Considering there were a lot of people who said he might never play a game for the Yankees again, this is nothing short of an amazing year for Alex and I couldn’t be happier for him. Even though a lot of the crap he’s dealt with is of his own doing, he still deserves to celebrate this year just as much as anyone, if not more. Here’s hoping for a repeat of 2009 from Alex and his teammates.


Building the Wildcard Game Roster: Position Players


The Yankees are in position to clinch a wildcard spot very soon, possibly tonight, so it’s time to start thinking about the wildcard game roster. Earlier today we sorted through the pitching staff, trying to figure out which ten or eleven pitchers the Yankees will carry in the wildcard game. It was easier said than done.

Ten or eleven pitchers — my guess is ten, but you never know — leaves 14-15 position player spots to fill. Joe Girardi will have a decent-sized bench at his disposal, but ideally it won’t come into play too much. The starting lineup will decide the game. As we did with the pitchers, let’s go through the position player group and try to figure out who will be on the wildcard game roster next Tuesday.

The Locks

This is the easy part …

Catcher: Brian McCann, John Ryan Murphy
First Base: Greg Bird
Second Base: ???
Shortstop: Didi Gregorius
Third Base: Chase Headley
Outfield: Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran
Designated Hitter: Alex Rodriguez

That’s nine of the 14-15 position player spots right there and they’re all self-explanatory right? Right. That is eighth-ninths of the starting lineup and the backup catcher. All easy calls. Next.

Second Base

For most of the summer, Stephen Drew and Brendan Ryan platooned at second base. That is no longer the case. Drew has been dealing with some dizziness/concussion issues that may end his season, but even before that Dustin Ackley wrestled the starting job away from him. Ackley got some playing time, hit right away, and he’s continued to play against right-handers.

Meanwhile, Rob Refsnyder has started each of the Yankees’ last four games against left-handed starters, not Ryan. Chances are Refsnyder will start against lefties Wade Miley, Rich Hill, and Wei-Yin Chen the next three days too. Like Ackley, he got a few at-bats, got some hits, and has received more playing time. That Drew/Ryan platoon was together for 140 games or so. The last 16 have gone to Ackley/Refsnyder.

Smackley. (Presswire)
Smackley. (Presswire)

At this point there is no doubt Ackley will be on the wildcard roster. The rest of the guys is where it gets tricky. Refsnyder is starting against lefties, but would the Yankees actually start him in the wildcard game if they face, say, Dallas Keuchel or Scott Kazmir or Cole Hamels? I get the sense Girardi would stick with Ackley in that situation and just roll with his best player.

If Refsnyder’s not going to start the game, then what’s his role? Pinch-hitter against a lefty reliever. That’s all. I guess he could pinch-run too, but there figure to be other guys on the roster to do that. Refsnyder’s not going to come in for defense. Pinch-hitter against a lefty is a big deal though! It could be the difference in the late-innings of a close game. Given the extra bench spots, I think Refsnyder’s in.

With Ackley and Refsnyder on the roster, the Yankees will need to carry a shortstop-capable backup infielder. Neither of those guys can play short. Not even in an emergency. That leaves a spot for Drew or Ryan. In a vacuum, I’d take Drew over Ryan eight days a week and twice on Sundays. But Drew isn’t healthy and we shouldn’t count on him getting healthy before the wildcard game. He’s still dealing with this dizziness/concussion stuff and has been for almost two weeks now. That puts Ryan on the wildcard game roster along with Ackley and Refsnyder.

The Pinch-Runner

Rico Noel will be on the wildcard game roster. I’m sure of it. One of the benefits of shrinking the pitching staff in the postseason is creating an open roster spot for someone just like Noel. A burner who can come off the bench to pinch-run in the late innings of a close game. Look at Rico run:

The kid can fly and his speed can potentially have a huge impact in the wildcard game. The Yankees brought Noel up this month strictly to pinch-run and I fully expect him to be on the postseason roster. Remember, they carried Freddy Guzman on the postseason roster in 2009 for this exact reason. Noel’s on the wildcard roster. I have no doubt about it.

(Since he wasn’t called up until September 1st, Noel will technically have to be an injury replacement. The Yankees have two position player injury spots available thanks to Mark Teixeira and Mason Williams.)

The Backup Outfielder

Noel will be on the wildcard game roster but he’s not really a backup outfielder. He’s a pinch-runner and that’s all. (The scouting reports indicate Noel is a pretty good defender, but the Yankees haven’t used him defensively all that much.) The Yankees will still need to carry a legitimate backup outfielder if for no other reason than to replace Beltran for defense in the late innings. Chris Young, who is the only righty hitting outfielder on the roster, held that job all season and I expect him to be on the wildcard roster. I know he’s stumped lately, but there’s no reason to think the Yankees won’t carry Young in October. In fact, I’m not sure how you can look at the 39-man active roster and saying Young doesn’t belong on the wildcard game roster. He’s in.

The Final Roster Spot

We still have one last roster spot to fill. The nine locks above plus Ackley, Refsnyder, Ryan, Noel, and Young gets us to 14 position players. I suppose the Yankees could carry eleven pitchers, but I doubt it. It was hard enough coming up with ten pitchers worth a spot on the wildcard roster. One last position player makes sense.

There’s no point in carrying three catchers, so Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez are out. The remaining candidates are Jose Pirela and Slade Heathcott, assuming Drew is indeed done for the year. With Refsnyder on the roster, there’s no need for Pirela, another righty hitter. Yeah, Pirela can play the outfield if necessary, but he’s an emergency option out there only. Noel and Ackley are available as emergency outfielders. I also think Pirela would have played more this month if he was a serious wildcard game roster candidate.

Slade. (Presswire)
Slade. (Presswire)

That leaves it between Heathcott and a possibly but not likely healthy Drew. If Drew is not over high dizziness/concussion symptoms by next week, this questioned gets answered for us. In the unlikely event Drew is healthy though, would it make sense to carry another infielder or another outfielder? I think an extra outfielder makes more sense. Between Ackley, Refsnyder, and Ryan, you’ve got the second base starter and two backups. The only backup outfielder is Young considering Noel’s job is pinch-running.

Heathcott gives the Yankees another potential pinch-runner — he’s no Rico, but he’s faster than Young or Refsnyder — and another quality defender, as well as a left-handed bat on the bench. In fact, Drew and Slade are the only possible lefty bats off the bench, and one’s hurt. Besides, if Drew is healthy, it’s Ryan or Heathcott, not Drew or Heathcott. I’d take Heathcott over Ryan.

With Slade on the roster, the Yankees would have two backup infielders even without Drew (or Ryan), and Heathcott at least has a chance to contribute offensively and defensively. I mean, if Drew’s healthy and on the roster, what’s the point of Ryan? What does he offer in a winner-take-all game? I’d expect neither guy to actually play in the game, but, if pressed into action, it’s easy to see Slade having more potential impact than Ryan.

So after all of that, here’s the 25-man wildcard game roster we’ve kinda sorta pieced together today:

Catchers (2) Infielders (7) Outfielders (6) RHP (5) LHP (5)
McCann Bird Gardner Masahiro Tanaka (SP) Andrew Miller
Murphy Ackley Ellsbury Dellin Betances Justin Wilson
Gregorius Beltran Adam Warren Chasen Shreve
Headley Young Andrew Bailey Chris Capuano
A-Rod (DH) Heathcott Nova/Severino/Pineda CC Sabathia
Refsnyder Noel (PR)

Remember, the Yankees can change their 25-man roster prior to the ALDS should they advance, and they’ll have to change it too. They’d need to get more starting pitchers on the roster. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. One thing at a time.

That appears to be the best 25-man roster the Yankees can carry in the wildcard game. Maybe not the most talented, but the most useful given the circumstances. We’re not planning for a best-of-five or best-of-seven series. It’s one game. One stupid little game where anything can happen. Hopefully Girardi won’t have to use anyone beyond the nine starting position players, Beltran’s defensive replacement, Tanaka, and the big three relievers. That’s the best case scenario. If the Yankees need to dip any deeper into their wildcard game roster than that, then, well, just hang on tight.

Beltran, Bird, and Severino have gone from non-factors in April to indispensable in September


Last night the Yankees beat the Blue Jays thanks in large part to Carlos Beltran, Greg Bird, and Luis Severino. Others certainly helped, but Beltran and Bird stood out for their clutch late-inning home runs, and Severino chucked six innings of two-run ball against a great offense. They were the heavy-lifters in the team’s most important win of the season (to date!).

Back in April, last night’s win would have felt impossible. Beltran had a miserable opening month and looked very much like an older player on his last legs. Bird and Severino? They were in Double-A. Not Triple-A, Double-A. Calling up Severino in the second half seemed possible, sure, but Bird? I don’t think anyone thought he would come up in the second half and play everyday.

Beltran, Bird, and Severino were total non-factors for the Yankees back in April. Beltran was a negative both at the plate and in the field, and the other two guys were two minor league levels away from the Bronx. The season is very long though, things change constantly over the course of 162 games, and now those three guys are all indispensable pieces as the Yankees look to clinch a postseason spot.

Let’s be clear here: these are three players the Yankees can not live without right now. That’s not hyperbole. Beltran and Bird have been the club’s two best hitters this month and Severino has been no worse than their third best starting pitcher since he was called up. You could easily argue he’s been their second best starts since being summoned. The Yankees are not hanging on to the top wildcard spot without these guys doing what they’ve done.

Beltran’s first month was awful. You don’t need me to remind you. He hit .162/.216/.265 (21 wRC+) with no homers in April. It was ugly. We all wanted him out of the lineup. Since then though, Beltran has hit .300/.361/.514 (136 wRC+) with 17 home runs in just over 400 plate appearances since May 1st (406 to be exact), including the go-ahead solo homer in the eighth inning last night. The crazy thing? It wasn’t even Beltran’s biggest homer against the Blue Jays this year:

Beltran’s home run last night didn’t stand up — Andrew Miller blew the save in the ninth, only his second blown save of the year — but the Yankees again rallied to take the lead, this time on Bird’s three-run homer in the tenth. Chris Young (walk) and Slade Heathcott (catcher’s interference) deserve credit for reaching base to start the rally, but it was Bird who not only hit the homer, but battled back from an 0-2 count to work it to 2-2.

In his short time as Mark Teixeira‘s injury replacement, Bird has hit .256/.336/.562 (142 wRC+) with ten homers in 34 games. Ten homers! He hit a dozen homers in 83 minor league games this year. Furthermore, six of Bird’s ten homers have either tied the game or given the Yankees the lead. He’s had some huge ones. The two-homer game against the Twins, the go-ahead blast against the Orioles, last night … Bird’s been huge. Huge. Just don’t ask him to talk about it.

“I’m just comfortable playing baseball. I don’t really know how else to put it. But I enjoy it. I enjoy it here,” he said to reporters following last night’s win. That’s the boring answer we’re used to hearing from seasoned veterans, not a 22-year-old with barely more than month in the show. Bird is the big new thing but let’s not forget how great Teixeira was before getting hurt. He was a monster and the Yankees aren’t where they are without him. It could have been very bad when he went down. It hasn’t been thanks to Bird.


Then there’s Severino, who zoomed through the system and has become a big time contributor who is only 24 months removed from rookie ball. He came up after the trade deadline — after the Yankees declined to trade for rotation help at the deadline, more precisely — and has given the team as huge boost, pitching to a 3.10 ERA (4.38 FIP) in nine starts and 49.1 innings. That’s as good as it gets for a 21-year-old kid thrust into a postseason race. The Yankees have needed him too. The rotation is stretched thin due to injury.

Last night’s start was Severino’s third against the Blue Jays this year and easily his best. They hit him around a bit in their first meeting (three runs in six innings) then really did a number on him in their second meeting (six runs in 2.1 innings), but Severino rebounded, made the necessarily adjustments, and held them to two runs in six innings on the road last night. It would have been easy to understand if a rookie pitcher had been overwhelmed by that environment last night. Severino wasn’t.

Back in April, I’m not sure anyone figured Beltran and Bird and Severino would be playing major roles down the stretch and into September. Beltran looked washed up and both Bird and Severino were sitting in Double-A, far away from the Bronx. (Well, not literally. They were only in Trenton.) The Yankees stuck with Beltran and have been rewarded in a huge way. They didn’t trade for any significant help at the deadline and instead placed their trust in Bird and Severino. Again, they’ve been rewarded in a huge way.

Chances are the Yankees won’t win the division. There’s not much time left in the season and the Blue Jays are really good. They are in great position to claim a wildcard spot and return to the postseason, however. They wouldn’t be where they are without Beltran, Bird, and Severino. They’ve all been major contributors down the stretch after it appeared none would have any impact earlier this season.

Game 104: End of the Road Trip

(David Banks/Getty)
(David Banks/Getty)

The three-city, ten-game road trip ends today. The Yankees are 5-4 in the first nine games of the trip, which is a bit disappointing considering they won four of the first five games. The offense has certainly shown up this trip (66 runs scored in the nine games) but the pitching has not (50 runs allowed).

Ivan Nova gets the ball this afternoon after leaving his last start with arm fatigue, which the Yankees insist is just a normal dead arm phase following Tommy John surgery. The rotation is really starting to become an issue — the starters have allowed 35 runs in 45.2 innings on the trip — so a solid outing from Nova would be very appreciated. Here is the White Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Brett Gardner
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. 3B Chase Headley
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Stephen Drew
    RHP Ivan Nova

It is cloudy and very windy in Chicago this afternoon. I don’t know if that means the ball will be flying out of the park or getting knocked down. We’ll find out soon enough. Either way, first pitch is scheduled for 2:10pm ET and you can watch on YES locally and TBS nationally. Enjoy the game, folks.

Injury Updates: Diego Moreno has been placed on the DL with irritation in the back of his elbow, Joe Girardi announced. Moreno said he doesn’t think it is serious but he will see Dr. James Andrews tomorrow … Beltran is good to go today. He sat yesterday in part due to soreness in his foot. He fouled a couple pitches into his foot the last few days.

Roster Updates: Chris Capuano has cleared waivers and accepted his outright assignment to Triple-A Scranton after being designated for assignment a few days ago. He’s starting for the RailRiders today. Capuano could have elected free agency, but he would have forfeited about $2M in free agency by doing so. My guess is we’ll see him again when rosters expand in September … Branden Pinder has been recalled to replace Moreno on the roster.

Game 91: Reverse Trap?


About four years ago, this afternoon’s pitching matchup would have been a gem. CC Sabathia vs. Felix Hernandez. Two of the ten best pitchers in the game. Now it’s lopsided and not in the Yankees’ favor. Sabathia has been one of the worst pitchers in baseball over the last three seasons while Felix remains one of the best. Not a good matchup!

Of course, the Yankees clobbered Hernandez last month, scoring seven runs in 4.2 innings after he started the game with three perfect innings on 21 total pitches. Hopefully today is a reverse trap game. The kind of game with a pitching matchup so lopsided the exactly opposite of what everyone expects to happen happens. That would be nice.

I’m not going to be home in time to post the lineups, so I will direct you to Chad Jennings for New York’s batting order. Carlos Beltran was activated off the DL and Rob Refsnyder was sent down, which is dumb, but the Yankees haven’t exactly shined with their decision making lately.

It’s nice and sunny in the Bronx this afternoon. Hot too. The game is scheduled to begin a little after 1pm ET and you can watch on WPIX locally. Enjoy.