Friday, September 15, 2017

Looking Ahead to Potential AL Wild Card Opponents for the New York Yankees

Before we get too far into this I want to preface this article with a little disclaimer. I want the Yankees to win the AL East Division and I don’t want to go to a one-game playoff with their season on the line. I don’t necessarily want the Yankees to win the Wild Card but I will take the Wild Card over playing golf into the first week of October so with that in mind I wanted to take a look at the potential AL Wild Card Game opponents the New York Yankees could be facing off with, assuming they make it there themselves of course, next month in the postseason. Before jumping on the bandwagon that I am jinxing the Yankees or it is bad “juju” or karma to look ahead remember that entering the series with the Baltimore Orioles yesterday the Yankees had a 98.4 chance of making the postseason according to Fangraphs. I feel good about this thing and so should you.

The Baltimore Orioles, who the Yankees continue their series with here in just a few hours, and the Tampa Bay Rays, who the Yankees just won a series against inside Citi Field this week, are still mathematically in the hunt for the AL Wild Card but the way these two teams have been playing of late mixed in with their strength of schedule you have to think both teams are considered long shots at this point. You can’t predict baseball, remember, and both teams could go on historic runs into the postseason, I am not completely counting them out, but I think by the end of the weekend the Yankees would have put the nail in both of these coffins with series victories. Just a hunch. Entering the weekend both teams had right at or less than 1% of making the postseason according to Fangraphs.

The Seattle Mariners are in front of both Baltimore and Tampa Bay and the Seattle Robbie Cano’s have four teams in front of them just to face off with the Yankees. New York has beat up on Seattle this year and won more times than not in their head-to-head series with a 5-2 record. Seattle is expected to get both James Paxton (12-3, 2.78 ERA, 1.08 WHIP) and Felix Hernandez (5-4, 4.28 ERA, 1.36 WHIP) back from injuries this week and both are returning just in time for the final playoff push for Seattle. Paxton would be tough to see in a one-game playoff as would Hernandez, only because Hernandez absolutely kills the Yankees, but I have to think the Yankees could take care of business if Luis Severino or Masahiro Tanaka, whichever right-hander starts the game for New York, pitch well.

The Texas Rangers are division rivals of those Seattle Mariners and are one of the many teams that Seattle will have to leapfrog in order to get into the postseason. The Rangers have played the Yankees tough this season splitting the six meetings between the two clubs led by Cole Hamels (10-3, 4.05 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) and Andrew Cashner (9-9, 3.19 ERA, 1.26 WHIP). While Hamels record this season may not be much to write home about the left-hander definitely knows where the switch is and knows how to flip it when the calendar turns to postseason baseball. Hamels has a career 3.48 ERA in the postseason and a 1.09 WHIP in 98.1 innings pitched including a 2008 NLCS and World Series MVP to show for it. Neither pitcher strikes out many batters leaving much of the responsibility on the backs and the bats of the Rangers offense. Can the likes of Adrian Beltre hit enough home runs off either Severino or Tanaka to keep the Rangers in the contest? They always say that good pitching beats good hitting in the postseason and if Texas wins either one of the Wild Card spots in the American League I guess we will put that theory to the test one more time.

The Kansas City Royals were left out to sea by many early on in the season and somehow the Royals just keep fighting back. The Royals have struggled against the Yankees this season losing four of the six meetings between the two clubs and in one start against Kansas City this season Severino dominated and shut out the Royals over eight innings of work but again, the postseason is called the second season for a reason. Either Danny Duffy (8-8, 3.78 ERA, 1.25 WHIP) or Jason Hammel (8-11, 4.91 ERA, 1.39 WHIP) would likely get the start for Kansas City if the Royals were to get there although Duffy comes with a question mark or two since the lefty hasn’t pitched since August 22 after nursing a pronator strain in his left pitching elbow. While this potential matchup looks great for the Yankees on paper I cannot be the one to count out the Royals, especially considering essentially this exact lineup went to back-to-back World Series including one time as an AL Wild Card winner. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have a lot to prove as each are likely on their way out of Kansas City and both would presumably like to go out with a bang.

The Minnesota Twins have been hanging around all season long and had it not been for an absolutely stellar season by the Cleveland Indians here in 2017 we may be talking about the Cinderella team of the year being these Minnesota Twins. Paul Molitor has done a great job as their manager this season and so has Ervin Santana (15-7, 3.35 ERA, 1.13 WHIP), their ace who would likely start the AL Wild Card Game if everything lined up right. If the Twins were to have to use Santana in a tiebreaker or a Game 163 scenario then the team would likely turn to Jose Berrios (12-7, 3.94 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) after silencing Aaron Judge and the Yankees offense once already this season on July 19. Berrios is the only Twin to beat the Yankees this season, Yankees lead the season series two-games-to-one, and the 23-year old does not seem bothered by the bright light or the spotlight. Minnesota is a huge threat to the Yankees, especially in a one-game playoff, but if New York doesn’t pitch to Miguel Sano and the offense makes an appearance I truly think the team will be just fine.

The final team the Yankees could potentially face off with head-to-head in the AL Wild Card Game is the team that I predicted to win the spot here a few weeks back on the blog when I discussed the strength of schedule for all the vying teams in the AL, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Disney World of Orange County of Elm Street of Pasadena, California home of the Big Bang Theory. The Angels actually have a winning head-to-head record against the Yankees winning four of the six meetings between the two clubs and in one of those starts Severino wasn’t exactly sharp allowing six runs, five earned, in six innings of work in a loss. Los Angeles may have lost their two best starters this season in JC Ramirez and Alex Meyer but the team also got back Garrett Richards (0-1, 1.38 ERA, 1.00 WHIP in three starts)  who would likely start the game if the Angels were to get that far. This is a much improved team since they have faced the Yankees also, although to be fair so is New York, after adding Brandon Phillips and Justin Upton before the August 31st trade deadline and this team could be really scary come October in a one-game playoff. I think LAA will ultimately win the second Wild Card but part of me is wishing that they won’t, that’s called respect. 

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