The Yankees will take their 91-71 finish as an accomplishment to a season of the unexpected. But from spring training and that first two months of the schedule there was a sense that something special was evolving and that continued with a few setbacks here and there that are a part of a 162-game schedule.
These “Baby Bombers” as they have been called matured and call them what you want, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and the limited time of Greg Bird became established Major League stars. Mix in a few veterans and the usual and smart maneuvers of GM Brian Cashman and here we are.
Two times in three years and the Yankees are hosting an American League Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium Tuesday night. The Minnesota Twins, also a success story of the 2017 baseball season, are the lone obstacle now for the Yankees and their quest to move on in October.
”To me, I feel good about going in,” said manager Joe Girardi Monday afternoon. “It’s a one game playoff. It really is going to come down to execution of pitches and defense and putting a good swing on a baseball.”
Girardi was putting the finishing touches on a roster that must be submitted by Tuesday morning. The strength is a Yankees bullpen and the roster could include 12 pitchers. The Yankees have that ability to get six innings form Luis Severino in his first postseason start, score a few runs and get to the bullpen.
“Two teams that are going to fight like heck tomorrow, and one of us is not going to move on but I really like the way we’ve been playing,” said Girardi.
And this is where the Yankees belong, except it happened sooner than expected. Severino gets that opportunity to get the Yankees an opportunity to meet the Indians in the best of five AL Division series that would begin Thursday night.
“We’ve been really pleased with how he’s done,” said Girardi, “how he’s matured as a pitcher, his ability to slow things down and that will become very important.”
Two years ago at Yankee Stadium it was going to be a task facing the Houston Astros and their ace, Dallas Keuchel. Then the AL ERA leader shutout the Yankees 3-0 and that is the disadvantage of not winning your division, more reason why Yankees manager Joe Girardi went with CC Sabathia Saturday to assure that his ace, Severino, would be rested and start Tuesday night.
It will be the same type of game, but a different starter on the other side with Ervin Santana who had one start against the Yankees this year, and it was recent back on September 18th in the Bronx. He tossed 5-⅔ innings, allowed two runs on seven hits. One run, of course the home run ball to Aaron Judge.
And if the Yankees have that opportunity against Santana, it is his tendency to throw the home run ball. Santana has given up 31 long balls this season and that is among the top ten in the American League.
So It is Aaron Judge that can make the difference with one big at bat. So can Severino who will get some Cy Young Award consideration, and it all leads to what makes this Yankees team different from the Wild Card squad that lost in the Bronx two years ago.
Santana said Monday, “It’s just another game.” Yes this is another game but one bad pitch can make the difference. One team goes home for a long Winter and the other moves on with this all hands on deck situation.
The Yankees have been there and Girardi said his youngsters can handle it.
“I just want to go over there and have fun,” Severino said. “We had a great season. Nobody was expecting us to be here. We are here. I have to remind my mind to go over there and try to be like the first game of the season.”
And this Wild Card game always seems to come down to pitching. Girardi and the Yankees are confident with Severino on the mound and with the home run ball that has worked to their advantage at home.
That better than expected bunch in September got the pitching, scored enough runs and went to their big guns out of the pen.
Most of all, expected or not, the Yankees are playing October baseball again and if all goes to plan they will play more important games this month.
Comment Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Twitter@Ring786 Facebook.com/Rich Mancuso