With the wild card game being 6 days away and the Yankees still 3 games back of the Red Sox for first place in the AL East, all signs point towards the Yanks playing in the one-game elimination. This game will be played at Yankee Stadium, most likely against the Twins, who have opened up a five-game lead on the Angels. The wild-card game is pretty crazy, and I’ve had mixed feelings on it since its creation in 2012.
The excitement of a one-game playoff is unrivaled; who doesn’t love the win-or-go-home mentality that comes with elimination games? When it’s not your team playing in the game, seeing two teams’ fate come down to 9+ innings of baseball is a joy to watch (I particularly enjoyed the Mets’ loss last year.) But when your team is in it? It’s a whole different animal. I was in the stands in 2015 as Dallas Keuchel dominated the Yankees in the WC game to help the Astros advance, and watching an entire 162-game season come crashing down in one poor performance is heartbreaking. But I’m not gonna complain. The Yankees hit some serious rough spots this season, and gave away multiple games against the Red Sox. They could’ve had the division, but now here they are.
Understand, I’m talking about the roster for the wild-card game, here. If and when the Yankees should advance to the ALDS, they can adjust their roster. Obviously it is a one-game elimination, so all hands will be on deck. But I’m not gonna suggest anything outrageous like Brian Kenny saying Chad Green should start the game over Luis Severino. Let’s take a look at what we have.
LOCKS: C Gary Sanchez, C Austin Romine, 1B/3B Chase Headley, 2B Starlin Castro, SS Didi Gregorious, IF Ronald Torreyes, 3B Todd Frazier, OF Aaron Judge, OF Brett Gardner, OF Jacoby Ellsbury, DH Matt Holliday RHP Luis Severino, RHP Adam Warren, RHP Chad Green, RHP Tommy Kahnle, RHP Dellin Betances, RHP David Robertson, LHP Aroldis Chapman
So there’s 18 names right there. I can’t really see a scenario where one of those guys gets left off of the roster. If you told me 3 months ago that Jacoby Ellsbury and Chase Headley would be considered locks to make a playoff roster I would have laughed in your face so fucking hard, but they’ve proven me wrong. Let’s see how Girardi could complete his roster by looking at some of his options.
C Erik Kratz: I’ve been seeing his name pop up a lot as a potential 3rd catcher. I know the Yankees carried 3 catchers in the ’15 WC game, but that 3rd catcher was named Gary Sanchez. Kratz has an outside shot to make the roster, but for a guy who’d appeared in just four games all season I don’t see it happening.
1B Greg Bird: I almost put Bird as a lock. Bird’s season was a weird one, from his 6-60 start to his long DL stint. The guy who was supposed to be the Yankees’ #3 hitter all year caused them to have a revolving door of first basemen for a majority of the season. However, he does have 6 HR and 21 RBI since his return in late August, and his left-handed bat will be coveted with the short porch at the Stadium, whether he starts or comes off the bench. Even if Headley gets the nod at first, Girardi will surely want someone who is a primary first baseman on his bench for the late innings.
1B Tyler Austin: Like Bird, Austin has spent a lot of the year on the DL. His highlight of the year was taking Chris Sale deep at Fenway. However, he has less power than Bird, with only two on the year. I’m not ruling out the chance that he gets a roster spot, but I don’t see much of a need for him with both Headley and Bird on the roster.
IF Tyler Wade: No. Just no. I know there’s a solid chance Wade makes the roster because of his speed but I just don’t want this guy on the playoff roster. I hope he has a bounce-back year next year but for now let’s give someone else the spot.
3B Miguel Andujar: As much as I love this guy’s bat, I don’t really see a need for him on this roster. Also a potential liability in the field. He has the potential to be the Yankees’ third baseman of the future, but I don’t think we see him in this game.
OF Aaron Hicks: Hicks has been one of the Yankees’ biggest heroes at times this season. He had an All-Star caliber first half before getting hurt, and had a red-hot return with clutch late-inning homers against the Red Sox and Mets. However, he has not hit nearly as well since. But his switch-hitting power bat, arm and defense (as seen in this catch yesterday) make him a pretty safe bet to make the roster.
OF Clint Frazier: I know five outfielders isn’t ideal, but I love having Frazier on this roster. His speed makes him a prime pinch-running candidate, and he swings the bat much better than Wade.
LHP Chasen Shreve: Shreve has been pretty hit-or-miss all year honestly, but another lefty arm in the pen is always valuable.
LHP Jordan Montgomery: Speaking of lefty arms, Montgomery should be on this roster. Anyone who says Jaime Garcia should be on over him because he “has playoff experience” smokes crack or meth or both. Montgomery was our most reliable starter all year not named Severino, and god forbid we need a long reliever in the wild-card game I’d want it to be Monty. I guess he could also be used as a lefty specialist, but I’d hesitate to use a guy in an unfamiliar role in a game like this.
RHP Sonny Gray: Ideally, you’d want Gray as your ALDS Game 1 starter to go against Cory Kluber, but there’s no ALDS if you lose this game first. So even though I just said I’d hesitate to use a guy in a new role in a game like this, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sonny early in the WC game if Sevy doesn’t have his best stuff.
RHP Masahiro Tanaka: What a rollercoaster of a season it’s been for Tanaka. I trust him to start a playoff game, but I think he’s too much of a fly-ball pitcher to take the hill in a one-game playoff at Yankee Stadium, and we saw that in 2015.
LHP CC Sabathia: Give me the big guy for that last spot. Yeah, he doesn’t have his best stuff anymore. But if you’re telling me in an elimination game I can have either CC or Jonathan Holder on the mound, I’ll take Carsten Charles Sabathia 11 times out of 10.
Now that we have our 25-man roster set, let’s take a look at a potential lineup:
LF Brett Gardner
RF Aaron Judge
C Gary Sanchez
SS Didi Gregorious
2B Starlin Castro
1B Greg Bird
DH Chase Headley
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
3B Todd Frazier
SP Luis Severino
Bench: DH Matt Holliday, IF Ronald Torreyes, C Austin Romine, OF Aaron Hicks, OF Clint Frazier
Bullpen: LHPs CC Sabathia, Jordan Montgomery, Chasen Shreve, Aroldis Chapman; RHPs Sonny Gray, Adam Warren, Chad Green, Dellin Betances, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson
I know this lineup isn’t ideal with all 3 of your first basemen (Bird, Headley, Frazier) in it already, but I think this is the one you have to go with. I wrestled with who to sit out of the foursome of Headley, Bird, Frazier, and Holliday and ultimately decided on Holliday because he just hasn’t been nearly the same since going on the DL with mono. He also doesn’t give you the lefty bat Bird or Headley does, nor is he as much of a power threat as Frazier. But don’t be surprised to see Holliday as a pinch hitter in this game.
As far as starting pitching, Sevy gets the ball 100%. I know having him pitch this game & go in the ALDS only once hinders our chances, but like I said, we need to focus on getting there first. This guy has arguably been the third best starter in the AL all year, you don’t take the ball out of his hands with your season on the line.
Is this roster perfect? No. A lot of these guys have had crazy up-and-down seasons (Judge, Headley, Ellsbury, Hicks, Holliday, Bird, Betances, Chapman… you get my point.) But this team has the potential to do special things. They have the starters, they have the bullpen, and they can certainly hit. But it all comes down to 9 innings at the Stadium vs. the Minnesota Twins. October baseball. Let’s go Yankees baby!!