We’ve almost come to the end of this crazy 60-game season. Just a short time ago, it was a legitimate question whether or not the Yankees would make the playoffs. After getting it together and winning 10 straight games before Sunday’s loss, the Bombers are officially going to the postseason.
This will be our first look at the new expanded playoff format. The first round is a best-of-three series that all 16 playoff teams will participate in. Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka are locks to start Games 1 & 2 for the Yankees. If there is a Game 3, the decision comes down to two choices. Veteran J.A. Happ, or rookie Deivi Garcia. Even Brian Cashman admitted it.
Gerrit Cole. Masahiro Tanaka. And then… @Yankees | #Yankees | #NYYforNY pic.twitter.com/gGGHIpQDRI
— MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (@MLBNetworkRadio) September 20, 2020
It’s a two-horse race to see who would start a potential win-or-go-home Game 3 for the Yanks. Let’s weigh the options.
The case for Happ
When I asked Yankees Twitter whether they’d rather have Happ or Garcia start, Happ was the overwhelming favorite. Nearly everyone who chose him mentioned his “experience.” Yes, J.A. Happ has pitched in 14 postseason games, so he is much more experienced than a 21-year-old rookie. But Happ hasn’t been particularly good in the postseason.
In 14 postseason appearances, Happ has made only four starts and pitched to an ERA of 5.04. His last playoff start was in 2018 ALDS Game 1. After being traded to the Yankees, Happ went 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA down the stretch. He was promptly shelled in Game 1, giving up five runs in two innings. As soon as Happ served up a three-run shot to J.D. Martinez, that game felt like it was over. Despite his postseason track record, I do think Happ has a great case to start Game 3. But it isn’t because of experience.
After a poor 2019, Happ started out slow in 2020, struggling in his first two starts. However, Happ quickly turned things around.
Five weeks ago, JA Happ made his 1st start in 11 days. He had a 10 ERA and wasn’t thrilled about being skipped. Since then, Happ has ERA under 2, he’s mixing 4-seam/2-seam effectively and he looks like he could be major playoff factor. In a short time, Happ changed the narrative
— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) September 20, 2020
He has been nothing short of great in his last six outings, going 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA. His strikeouts per nine is 8.68 over that span. Even better, Happ’s allowed just four home runs in those six starts. The bottom line is that Happ’s performance the last few weeks gives him a great chance to be tapped in Game 3.
The case for Garcia
If you told me before this season that Deivi could potentially start a playoff game, I’d have thought you were crazy. Yet here we are, considering whether or not he can start a winner-take-all game. Garcia had his first bad start on Sunday against the Red Sox, getting roughed up for six runs in three innings. Despite that, he’s been extremely impressive since he was called up.
He pitched six shutout innings against the Mets in his debut, and tossed a pair of seven-inning gems against the Blue Jays. Most notably, that first Blue Jays start came with the Yanks in the midst of a five-game losing streak. Garcia was the stopper the Yankees needed, and clearly has a presence on the mound. Although Garcia is only 21, he pitches with the confidence of a chizzled veteran.
As much promise as Deivi has shown, is it really the right idea to start him in a must-win game based on three great starts? He’s certainly earned the right to be considered.
Deivi Garcia is excited to pitch in the postseason
"That's why I keep working very hard" pic.twitter.com/6mMd9ww31Y
— Yankees Videos (@snyyankees) September 19, 2020
Potential opponent factor
With just a week left in the season, it looks as if the Yankees will once again face the Minnesota Twins in the playoffs. Obviously that can change, but as of right now those teams are probably going to be the 4/5 seeds in the AL. All Yankees/Twins jokes aside, you have to figure the matchup will be a huge factor in deciding who gets the nod. I figured that with heavy hitting right-handers like Nelson Cruz and Josh Donaldson, the Twins must crush left-handed pitching. However, I was wrong. The Twins are much better against righty pitching.
The Twins are slugging just .342 with a .651 OPS against left-handers, compared to .462 with a .780 OPS against right handers. It’s not the largest sample size with the shortened season, but that’s a pretty significant difference. In my opinion, that’s probably enough of a factor to give Happ the edge, if he doesn’t already have it.
Who do you think should get the ball in Game 3? Drop a reply below or tweet me @ncostanzo24, tell me why I’m wrong.