The Case for Each Potential Wild Card Starter
There are still roughly five weeks left in the regular season. While the Yankees are playing (mostly) well of late and Boston is experiencing their first sign of relative struggles, the overwhelmingly most likely scenario is that the Yanks will have to play that one-game Wild Card matchup. That sucks, but at least that game will almost certainly be in the Bronx. Let’s try to envision who Boone, Cashman, and/or the nerds upstairs decide will be most suitable to start that game.
Sevy is the ace. He is having a great year and was probably the front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award at the All-Star break (or at least on the short list). Of course, he hasn’t looked like himself in about eight or nine starts now. His last two starts have been his best in a while, though, looking much more dominant. He’s failed to pair dominance and length, but that’s the next step. Despite those struggles, he is still the favorite to start the game, and I agree with that assessment. He’s probably still the guy I want out there. His overall numbers are still very strong: league-leading 17 wins, 3.27 ERA, 10.3 K/9, 4.4 bWAR. Severino is still my guy.
Tanaka is the next choice, right? He’s been cruising for a while now and has earned about as much trust as someone can earn with his performances last October. He’s been burned by soft-contact hits and subpar defense behind him in August and home runs are obviously still an issue, but he’a coming off a July that featured a 1.75 ERA and a sub-1.000 WHIP. The home run thing is what takes him out of the running, for me, in a one-game scenario, but I think he has to be in some amount of consideration with how sharp he has looked of late.
I don’t feel like finding the tweet, but I’m pretty sure I was among the first a couple months back to say I was open to the idea of having CC pitch the Wild Card Game. CC has been incredibly reliable this year, and we know that the big moment will not be too big for him. The biggest knock against the big fella is stamina. He’s struggled with a consistent bill of health for a few years now- he just went on the DL to nurse a knee issue- and that, coupled with his age, have made him not able to give the length that he once was able to give. I still have all the trust in the world in CC to give me 4-5 strong innings in any high-leverage outing, but I’m not sure I can sign off on a plan where there is a zero percent chance my starter can give me seven innings and save the bullpen for the start of the ALDS. Can’t do it!
Just kidding! Could you imagine if that were a serious suggestion?
Happ has been awesome since coming over from the Blue Jays in exchange for Brandon Drury and Billy McKinney. I honestly can’t say enough good things about the guy. In five starts with the Yanks, Happ is 5-0 with a 2.37 ERA and is getting more than a strikeout per inning in 30.1 total innings. I’d be very open to the idea of bringing him back next year if he can maintain the consistency. Happ, if he keeps pitching like this, probably should get some very real consideration for the game. He has playoff experience, he won’t completely shit the bed on us, and Severino would certainly be available for game one of the ALDS. I still highly doubt he gets the nod because he just won’t. I don’t think the Yankees can justify rolling with a guy who they got at the deadline and isn’t far and away the best pitcher on the roster. It would be one thing if they had just gotten de Grom or something at the deadline, because, yeah, he’d obviously be the guy in this game, even though he’s the new guy. Happ has never been the bona fide ace, though, and if he pitched that game and lost, the Yanks couldn’t live it down.
A lot of people might propose they do the bullpen game thing. It saves your best starter for the Division Series and, theoretically, gets you to use all of your best pitchers in the most ideal matchups without having them face the same hitters twice.
The Yankees basically did it last year, by necessity, when Severino recorded just one out, and you can see how they could do it again. Chad Green and Jonathan Holder for two innings apiece, then David Robertson for two, and Zach Britton, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman can go an inning apiece to close it out. Maybe you let Kahnle air it out for one of D-Rob’s innings or something, but you get the point.
I see the appeal of such a plan, but it requires so many things to go right, and I do not think any team should use this as “Plan A.” If the starter doesn’t give much length or needs to be taken out because they do badly, then, yeah, it’s going to become a bullpen day, but there’s no way a sane person can claim that Bullpen Day is the best choice, especially since they haven’t done it once this season and pitchers are notorious critters of habit (that’s a Chad Green joke, for the longtime podcast listeners).
There’s a month left in the season, of course, and hopefully, every starter is pitching the best they’ve ever pitched in their lives by then, so all the options become acceptable. That would be pretty neat!