The New York Yankees face a tough opponent in the Oakland A’s today in the 2018 A.L. Wild Card game in the Bronx. While the Yankees compiled a 100-win season, they limped through much of the second half with key injuries, cold snaps, and some roster reorganization to get the team back to a competitive level. The problems the Yankees faced this year are numerous and have been well covered, but unlike the regular season when there was always tomorrow, in a do-or-die game, that isn’t so. The Yankees have five specific things that have to happen in order to make it to Fenway Park for a showdown with the Red Sox.
Luis Severino has to pitch up to his potential.
Severino was an All-Star and one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball during the first half of the season going 14-2, per NJ Advance Media. His fastball was filthy and the wipeout slider he throws was devastating. He showed good pitch efficiency, and mechanically he was solid. In the second half, his ERA increased by 150 percent, and he went 5-6. His command and velocity were off, mechanically he had hiccups, and it seemed to be feast or famine each time he took the ball. If first-half Sevy shows up, the champagne is on ice. If he looks like he did in the bulk of his starts since July, it’s a good thing manager Aaron Boone is carrying 10 pitchers.
Gary Sanchez has to hit and catch the ball.
Sanchez has had what can only be called a disappointing season, leading the league in passed balls and wild pitches while behind the plate while missing two months of the season. Despite hitting homers at a fair rate, his average is below the Mendoza line, he isn’t making solid contact consistently, and even the most generous metrics that say he isn’t the worst starting catcher in baseball have him in the bottom three. Tonight, he has to catch the ball, or at least keep it in front of him. If he can’t do that, he has to drive in runs like his job depends on it. If he could do both it would be great, but a bad game from him is a coffin nail.
Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres need to play defense.
Andujar and Torres can mash at the plate, but they are defensively suspect, particularly Andujar. Andujar has a tendency to make routine play adventures both with his glove and arm. Torres is a bit better than Andujar, and while a fair amount of his errors can be chalked up to footwork mistakes and rushed throws, he isn’t as worrisome as back when Chuck Knoblauch had the yips. If they can avoid mental mistakes and make the plays they have to rather than trying to do the extraordinary, they should be fine.
I want to shout out Miguel Andújar. He emerged as the team’s most consistent hitter throughout the year. His defense is an issue, but he was a major reason for the Yankees making it back and he doesn’t get enough credit.— Randy (@pamsson) September 23, 2018
The bullpen has to hold
The Yankees may have one of the best bullpens of all time right now, but Aroldis Chapman is still not quite all the way back yet. David Robertson is solid, but he makes you hold your breath a little when he pitches. Zach Britton can be lights out, but he hasn’t been on a regular basis, and Dellin Betances has to be ready to go longer than usual just in case Severino falls apart early again this year. This shouldn’t be a question mark for the team, yet it is only because they have to be prepared to potentially pitch in circumstances they usually don’t.
Aaron Boone can’t make mental mistakes
While it is usually players that are talked about not making mental mistakes, manager Aaron Boone can’t either. He has to avoid letting Severino go too long if he looks like he doesn’t have his stuff. He has to resist managing like advancing to Boston is a given when it comes to handling if and how he uses the starting pitchers he is carrying. He has to be willing to yank players that aren’t cutting it defensively. He has to avoid the urge to manage solely by what the algorithms say, and pay attention to what his eyes and ears are telling him is happening on the field.
I wonder why Aaron Boone is so bad at managing the pitchers. Hmm, maybe it’s because his qualifications to be an MLB manager are that he hit a big playoff home run once and called Sunday Night Baseball from the booth for a year ????— Nick Parco (@nick_parco) August 23, 2018
If the Yankees can make these five things happen, the rest of the game should take care of itself. Despite Oakland being a formidable opponent and one of the hottest teams in the game right now, the Yankees can win, but it means not making mental and physical mistakes, and it means Aaron Boone has to manage like there’s no tomorrow, because there might not be one.