The Yankees just secured home-field advantage for the wildcard game. While there’s an outside chance of stealing the division from the Red Sox, it’s currently much more likely that they’ll be fighting in the do or die wildcard. These games are scary. Any baseball team can win any one game. Any ace can blow up for one start.
So who should be starting the wildcard game for the Yankees? The obvious pick is Luis Severino, who’s been the team’s undisputed ace all season. But here’s an interesting thought. Brian Kenny of MLB Network recently pitched the idea that the Yankees shouldn’t start Sevy, but rather Chad Green and the bullpen. His arguments include the fact that the Yankees franchise isn’t interested in winning the wildcard just to lose in the next round, and so should best set themselves up for success in the ALDS.
It’s an interesting idea. First of all, there’s no way the Yankees do this. It’s too crazy and too creative for this franchise. Girardi likes to stick by the book. Also, Al Leiter or Paul O’ Neill or one of those color commentators has said on YES broadcasts in the past that relying on good bullpens is risky because you’re adding so many variables.
With a good starter you only have to worry about that one pitcher being on. When you leave multiple innings up to a bullpen, you’re relying on several pitchers ALL being on in the same game. It’s risky. But for the fun of it, let’s look at some 2017 pitching stats against the Minnesota Twins. I’m not looking Masahiro Tanaka because I highly doubt the Yankees start him with how poorly he’s pitched recently.
Severino has only had one start against the Twins in his career and it came in their most recent series. He didn’t look great. Across three innings he gave up five hits and one walk to the tune of three runs. Yikes. Maybe it’s part of a master plan to have him bomb the only time they see him in order to fake them out. Doubt it. Regardless of these numbers, Severino has been the ace this season. He probably deserves the start because as you’re about to learn, the alternatives aren’t great.
Sonny Gray is the other obvious candidate to start the wildcard game. If the Yankees really do decide to save Severino to pitch in the ALDS to get two starts, this is a decent hedged bet. The problem is Gray hasn’t had success against the Twins anywhere in his career. This season he pitched six innings and gave up four earned runs. His career numbers against the Twins are just as bad. In five games against them, he has a 5.14 ERA and 1.464 WHIP. Knowing that Girardi likes to use his binder, it seems increasingly unlikely Gray starts this game if the Yankees have a choice.
CC Sabathia has been dominant against the Twins in his career. Granted, the CC of today isn’t the CC from most of his career, but he still put up a good showing against them earlier this season. Against the Twins overall, though, he’s 19-9 with a 3.16 ERA. He’s probably not going to start this game, but he’s not a bad option if the Yankees push for the division and are forced to start Sabathia based on where the rotation falls.
Chad Green this season has been lights out. This year against the Twins he’s pitched in two games, striking out two, walking two, and giving up a hit. Decent numbers. It’s the only time he’s ever faced the Twins. It’s not that his numbers don’t justify trying a bullpen option, it’s just that there’s no way the Yankees do this and there’s too much risk associated with using so many different pitchers when you have high quality starting options.
So what will the Yankees do? Given that they’d probably want to start one of their two best starters, and given that Sonny Gray has poor numbers against the Twins, it seems increasingly likely that they’ll give the ball to Severino. The bullpen idea is fun, but too risky in a do or die wildcard game and too creative for a manager who goes by the book.