The Yankees outperformed their pre-season expectations and find themselves back in the playoffs but they’ll need to clear a large hurdle called the “Wild Card Game” if they hope to compete in a playoff series for the first time in five years.
The last time the Yankees were in a playoff series was the 2012 American League Championship Series when they were swept by the Detroit Tigers in four games.
Two years ago, the Yankees hosted the Houston Astros in the Wild Card game but were shutout by Dallas Keuchel and company, 3-0. That team was “fool’s gold” as they were not that good and it showed in the first half of 2016 when it became apparent that changes needed to be made.
The 2017 Yankees have an opportunity in front of them. If they can win the Wild Card game, this team could be a dangerous opponent for the rest of the field.
On paper, the Yankees are the better team and have some distinct advantages going into the game, but we’ve all heard the cliche’ over and over the past few days, “anything can happen in one game”. So what factors can the Yankees rely on to help them prevent “anything” from happening.
Home field advantage:
The Stadium itself has not proven to be as intimidating as the building across the street but strictly for on-field results, the Yankees have been a much better team at home. (51-30 as opposed to 40-41 on the road)
In relation to franchise history, the Yankees have a unique lineup in that it’s strength is right handed. Throughout the course of team history, a left handed lineup has usually dominated the offense but this Yankee team has right handed power that takes full advantage of the friendly dimensions to the right side of the outfield.
Yankee starter Luis Severino faced the Twins on September 20th and had one of his shortest outings of the season. The young right hander lasted three innings and had to battle through a 13-pitch at-bat with Twins first-baseman Joe Mauer with the bases loaded that really drained him. Mauer eventually won the confrontation with a two-run single.
That game wasn’t that long ago so I’m sure it’s still on Severino’s mind. If he struggles early, he won’t have a long leash. The bullpen is a strength but there have been occasions this season when they’ve experienced control problems and have not gotten the job done.
Don’t underestimate Ervin Santana’s experience in this spot. The Twins’ starter will not be fazed by the atmosphere or the opponent.
Something to prove:
Two years ago, in the Wild Card game that I referred to previously, Yankee manager Joe Girardi decided to start Brett Gardner in center field over Jacoby Ellsbury against Keuchel. Gardner had an awful game as he struck out three times in four at-bats and never got the ball out of the infield. Ellsbury was 0 for 1 as a pinch hitter. (BTW: Greg Bird started at first-base and had one of the three Yankee hits)
Fast forward two years and Gardner is coming off one of his best seasons while Ellsbury finished the season very strong after an awful first four and a half months. The two of them will be going into this game with a chip on their shoulders which should help take some pressure off of players like Aaron Judge (who will have a spotlight on him in this game) and Gary Sanchez who are in the post season for the first time.
The Yankees should be feeling confident going into the game. The team played very well in the month of September as they pursued Boston for the AL East title.
There are some “red flags” that should be noted.
The Yankees were poor (18-26) in one-run games this season. At times, it was the bullpen that was blowing leads but there were times that the offense sputtered and the Yankees blew many scoring opportunities. The Yankees will need to cash in on their chances and not just with hits. Productive outs are a must in a game of this magnitude.
Base running has been a problem at times. Mistakes on the base paths are two fold. They hurt the offense and give the defense a lift. The Yankees were running a little more towards the latter part of the season. A little “small ball” can go a long way.
The Twins can put runs on the board and can also take advantage of the Stadium’s dimensions. A key for Severino will be to keep the ball in the ballpark, especially against Minnesota’s left handed hitters like Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario, Mauer (who is still dangerous with men on base) and Jason Castro who had some good swings against Severino. It doesn’t appear as if Miguel Sano will start but he still looms large on the bench and can wreck the game with one swing.
All things considered, the Yankees should win. Then again, “anything can happen.”