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.

Yankeemetrics: Breaking the Camden Yards Curse (Sept. 4-7)

(AP)
(AP)

No sleep, no problem
Fresh off an inspiring series win over the Red Sox, the Yankees started the first leg of their grueling nine-game, three-city road trip under less-than-ideal conditions. Not only did they arrive in Baltimore in the wee hours of Monday morning for an afternoon game, but the Charm City has been a nightmare locale for them in recent years. They entered this series 9-24 on the road vs. the Orioles since the start of the 2014 season, easily their worst road mark against any AL team over the past four seasons.

Yet, despite their sleep deprivation and terrible record at Camden Yards, the Yankees stayed hot and got a critical win against one of the teams chasing them in the crazy AL wild card race. It was another come-from-behind victory as they trailed 3-0 after two innings, then rallied with seven unanswered runs in the middle innings en route to the 7-4 final.

Didi Gregorius sparked the comeback with a two-run blast in the fourth inning, his 20th homer of the season, which matches his career-high set last year. Even more impressively, Didi became the first shortstop in franchise history with back-to-back 20-homer seasons. He’s also put himself in the conversation as one of today’s elite shortstop sluggers too: the only other major-league shortstop to hit 20-plus dingers in both 2016 and 2017 is the Astros’ Carlos Correa.

Starlin Castro capped off the rally with a tie-breaking two-run shot in the fifth inning, his 13th home run this year, but the first one he’s hit that gave the Yankees a lead. It was also the fourth straight game he’s homered against the Orioles, the longest homer streak by a Yankee against them since Yogi Berra did it in 1955.

Aaron Judge didn’t participate in this home run derby but he did have a productive afternoon, getting on base five times in five plate appearances via a career-best four walks and a single. The four walks pushed him past the century mark for the season and etched his name in the record books alongside some franchise legends.

Four Yankees have hit at least 35 homers and walked 100 times in their age-25 season or younger: Aaron Judge, Mickey Mantle (1955, ’56), Lou Gehrig (1927) and Babe Ruth (1920).

Judge’s flawless performance at the plate also earned him our Obscure Yankeemetric of the Series (and one of the most unique “lists” we’ve produced here). He is the fourth Yankee in the last 100 years to have four walks and a hit in a road game against the Orioles. The others: Paul O’Neill (1996), Snuffy Stirnweiss (1947) and Lou Gehrig (1932)!

(USA Today Sports)
(USA Today Sports)

Nightmare in Charm City
It had been nearly two weeks since our latest update to the Worst Loss of the Season standings, so perhaps Tuesday’s gut-wrenching and stunning defeat was inevitable …. though that still doesn’t eliminate the frustration of yet another bullpen implosion and miserable loss.

One out away from nailing down the Yankees fourth straight win, Dellin Betances served up a hanging curveball to Manny Machado, who quickly deposited the pitch into the centerfield seats, flipping a 6-5 lead into a shocking 7-6 loss. Entering the game, opponents had slugged .127 when putting his curveball in play this season, the second-lowest mark among pitchers that had thrown at least 300 curves.

Now let’s get the straightforward gory losing details out of the way, before we dive into the #FunFact minutiae (all ranks through Tuesday’s games):

  • 23rd blown save, tied for the third-most in baseball. The only seasons in franchise history the Yankees had more were 1988 (24) and 1997 (25).
  • 24th one-run loss, the most in the American League – and twice(!) as many as they suffered last year. Yup, regression to the mean sucks.
  • Fourth loss when taking a lead into the ninth inning; that’s the same number that they piled up in the previous three seasons (2014-16) combined.

Despite their dreadful recent history of failure at Camden Yards, their latest loss here was somehow unprecedented for the Yankees in this city. It was the first time they ever lost on a two-out walk-off home run in Baltimore, and the first time ever that the Yankees lost via a game-ending homer in Baltimore when leading at the time of the blast.

If you’ve felt that this season has been one of the most excruciating ever to be a Yankee fan – with too many of those “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory” games – here’s the stat that might explain it:

Tuesday’s mess was the third time this year the Yankees suffered a shocking loss on a game-ending hit when they were one out away from victory. This is the first time since at least 1930 (as far back as we can search this stat on baseball-reference.com) that the Yankees have suffered three such losses in a season.

(Getty)
(Getty)

Holy cow, they did it!
The Nightmare in Charm City has finally ended — and in typical Bronx Bomber style. Powered by four home runs, the Yankees routed the Orioles, 9-1, in Thursday’s rubber game, snapping their streak of 11 straight series lost in Baltimore. It was their second-longest road series losing streak against any opponent in team history, behind a 12-series one in Oakland from 1985-91.

How long had it been since they tasted victory there? The last time the Yankees took a series at Camden Yards, the date was on September 12, 2013, the winning pitcher in the series-clinching win was Mariano Rivera, and the winning run in that game was scored by Brendan Ryan on a wild pitch in the top of the ninth inning.

The Yankees continued their assault on Orioles pitching in 2017 (like most other teams this season), averaging a whopping 8.0 runs per game with 36 homers and a .573 slugging percentage in 15 games — each of those are their best single-season marks against the franchise since it moved to Baltimore in 1954.

Aaron Judge ignited the dinger-fueled fireworks with a majestic two-run bomb to deep right-center, his 39th of the season. That moved him into sole possession of second place on MLB’s all-time rookie home run leaderboard, trailing Mark McGwire’s 49-homer campaign in 1987. The blast also extended his personal annihilation of the O’s pitching staff: in 15 games this year, he is hitting .449 (22-for-49) with nine homers and 18 RBIs against them.

He joined Graig Nettles — who went deep 10 times against the Indians in 1974 — as the only Yankees in the Divisional Era (since 1969) with at least nine homers in a single season against one opponent. The list of Yankees to hit nine or more longballs in a season against the Orioles/Browns franchise is a good one, too: Judge, Tommy Henrich (1941), Joe DiMaggio (four times), Lou Gehrig (twice) and Babe Ruth (three times).

Game 135: Need More Than A Split

(Corey Perrine/Getty)
(Corey Perrine/Getty)

Now that they’ve split the first two games of this four-game series with the Red Sox, the only way the Yankees can gain ground in the AL East race this weekend is by winning the next two games. A split does nothing. It’s actually a negative, because they’d leave the series with the same 5.5 game deficit they started with, only with four fewer games on the schedule. Important games, these are.

Of course, gaining ground will require offense, and three times in the last five games the Yankees have been held to two runs or fewer. It’s four times in the last eight games overall. I’m not sure what more the Yankees can do at this point other than keep running the same guys out there and hoping it clicks. The pitching has been really good overall in the second half. The bats have to pick it up. Here is the Red Sox’s lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. C Gary Sanchez
  4. RF Aaron Judge
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. DH Matt Holliday
  8. 1B Greg Bird
  9. 2B Ronald Torreyes
    RHP Masahiro Tanaka

It is cool and cloudy in New York today, and there’s a little bit of rain in the forecast later this afternoon. Nothing that should interfere with the game. This afternoon’s game will begin at 1:05pm ET and you’ll be able to watch on YES locally and MLB Network out-of-market. Enjoy the game.

Injury Update: Starlin Castro needed some emergency dental work this morning — apparently he bit into something and lost a tooth last night — which is why he’s not in the lineup. He’s expected to be available to pinch-hit.

Appeals Update: Still no update on the Sanchez and Austin Romine suspensions. I imagine a ruling won’t come until after Labor Day. MLB’s offices are closed for the weekend.

Full Strength–Or Something Like It

Apr 4, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees first baseman Greg Bird (33) works out during batting practice prior to the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
(Presswire)

Like any full baseball season worth its salt, the second half for the Yankees has been an unpredictable series of ups and downs. At times, they’ve looked as dominant as they did in the early season; at other times, they’ve looked as hapless as they did in June. Overall, though, they’re holding the line and keeping their first wildcard position with some room to spare. The division is also in reach, but they’re gonna need a boost to catch the Red Sox. Enter Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, and Greg Bird. All three are on rehab assignments right now and are the cavalry to the Yankees’ main fighting force.

All three players are returning from varying circumstances. Castro is in the midst of an All-Star season, just injury riddled. Holliday is hoping to recover from a mid-season crash after a solid start. And Bird is hoping to take off, finally, after a disastrous and frustrating stretch of bad health. Despite those different paths to this spot, the ‘destination’ is clear: give the Yankee lineup a much wanted and much needed spark to help push them over the edge. The challenge for the Yankees, then, is to incorporate these guys into a lineup that has been molded and established without them.

Let’s not worry about arrival times for the moment and just take a look at what the lineup may look like when all three are back in action.

Though Holliday was hitting there during his hot times early on and Bird was slotted for there at the beginning of 2017, neither should bat at the top of the lineup right now. The top five, really, should look about the same as it has recently:

  1. Brett Gardner OF
  2. Aaron Hicks OF
  3. Aaron Judge RF
  4. Gary Sanchez C
  5. Didi Gregorius SS

Now comes the part where we might expect Bird to hit, but I’d imagine Joe Girardi would want to break up the lefties. He can do so in two ways, by either inserting Holliday in the six spot, or keep Chase Headley there, who’s had a solid, if powerless, season. Also, given Bird’s presence in the lineup, this shifts Headley back to third and Todd Frazier to a bench role (I imagine he’ll play against LHP to ease Bird’s transition). The other wrinkle here is Castro. Given the year he’s had, I think he’d get preference to bat sixth, bumping Headley down to seventh. The ripple effect here, of course, is it pushes the veteran Holliday to eighth and Bird to ninth.

6. Castro 2B

7. Headley 3B

8. Holliday DH

9. Bird 1B

That lineup is…really friggin’ good. It has the potential to absolutely mash. Best laid plans and all, but that lineup, with Frazier, Ronald Torreyes, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Austin Romine on the bench is just fierce. Even if Girardi gives deference to Castro and Holliday as veterans and moves them around towards the top, the bottom loses nothing with Gregorius and/or Hicks moving down.

Is this a bit of rosterbating? Sure, but why not? This year has been better than any of us could’ve imagined and I’m feeling positive right now. That lineup, combined with a rotation of Luis Severino, Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia in the playoffs, backed up by a dominant bullpen, is a recipe for playoff success. Get there, Yanks, and you’ll do some damage.

Game 120: Going for the Subway Sweep

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

The Subway Series has been pretty enjoyable so far this season, has it not? The games have been close and exciting, and of course the Yankees have won all three, so that’s fun. The Mets swept all four Subway Series games back in 2013, remember. Time to return the favor. Here is the Mets’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. C Gary Sanchez
  5. SS Didi Gregorius
  6. 3B Todd Frazier
  7. 1B Tyler Austin
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. RHP Luis Severino

Very nice weather in New York today, and it’ll continue tonight. The rain isn’t coming until early tomorrow morning. Tonight’s Subway Series finale will begin at 7:10pm ET, and you’ll be able to watch on YES and WPIX locally, and MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the ballgame.

Injury Updates: Garrett Cooper was placed on the 10-day DL with left hamstring tendinitis, the Yankees announced. That’s why Austin is back and in the lineup … Aroldis Chapman (hamstring) threw a bullpen session today and everything went well. He won’t be available tonight. The hope is he’ll be available tomorrow … Matt Holliday (back) and Starlin Castro (hamstring) will both begin rehab assignments tomorrow. Castro is going to Triple-A Scranton and Holliday is going to High-A Tampa.

Game 117: The Subway Series

(Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Cessa. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The roles have reversed from last year’s Subway Series, when the Yankees had just waved the white flag and the Mets were still chasing the playoffs. Both teams are reeling right now, though, and tonight’s pitching match-up represents something close to the bottom of the barrel for both teams. Nevertheless, this series represents an opportunity for the Yankees to get back on-track against a subpar team, with the added (and somewhat artificial) drama of an inter-borough rivalry.

Here’s the lineup that Luis Cessa will face tonight; and here’s the group that will square-off against Rafael Montero:

  1. Brett Gardner, LF
  2. Aaron Hicks, CF
  3. Aaron Judge, RF
  4. Didi Gregorius, DH
  5. Gary Sanchez, C
  6. Chase Headley, 1B
  7. Todd Frazier, 3B
  8. Ronald Torreyes, 2B
  9. Tyler Wade, SS

The first pitch is scheduled for 7:05 PM EST, and will be broadcast on both YES and ESPN (for those out of market fans).

Injury Updates: CC Sabathia (knee) threw a bullpen session today and was “very encouraged.” He’s expected to throw one more bullpen session, then come off the 10-day DL as soon as he’s eligible (Saturday) … Starlin Castro (hamstring) ran the bases today and is on track to begin a minor league rehab assignment Friday … Greg Bird (ankle) and Matt Holliday (back) both took batting practice again. Bird will begin a rehab assignment Wednesday.

Roster Move: To get Cessa on the roster, the Yankees sent down Caleb Smith.

Game 116: Rubber Game

Bat Gary 1-9 and maybe no one will notice. (Rich Schultz/Getty)
Bat Gary in all nine spots and maybe no one will notice. (Rich Schultz/Getty)

The Yankees and Red Sox have split the first two games of this game three-game series, which means tonight’s series finale is the difference between being 3.5 games back in the AL East or 5.5 games back in the AL East come Monday morning. There are still 46 games to play after tonight, but at some point the Yankees have to stop treading water, you know? The division title is within reach. It’s not going to win itself though.

Now, the bad news: tonight the Yankees are facing Chris Sale, who has been the best pitcher in the AL all season. His numbers are insane: 2.57 ERA (1.98 FIP) with 36.5% strikeouts and 4.6% walks. HOWEVA, the Yankees have won both times they faced Sale this season. Don’t get me wrong, he pitched great (two earned runs in 15.2 innings), but eking out a win is possible against him. Here is the Red Sox lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. CF Aaron Hicks
  3. RF Aaron Judge
  4. DH Gary Sanchez
  5. 3B Todd Frazier
  6. SS Didi Gregorius
  7. 1B Chase Headley
  8. 2B Ronald Torreyes
  9. C Austin Romine
    LHP Jordan Montgomery

The weather was pretty much perfect for baseball all afternoon. Too bad this game had to be played tonight. It’s a little cloudy in New York right now, though there’s no rain in the forecast, and that’s the most important thing. Tonight’s game will begin at 8pm ET and ESPN will have the broadcast. Enjoy.

Injury Updates: Greg Bird (ankle) will begin a minor league rehab assignment Wednesday while Starlin Castro (hamstring) will begin one Friday … Matt Holliday (back) took batting practice today. I guess that means he’s inching closer to a return.

Roster Move: The Yankees sent down Gio Gallegos and called up Caleb Smith, the team announced. Smith was scheduled to start for Triple-A Scranton today, so he’s available for very long relief, which I hope is not necessarily. Joe Girardi said Luis Cessa is tentatively scheduled to start in Masahiro Tanaka‘s place tomorrow.