The New York Yankees’ pitching staff has been pretty stellar recently, boasting the best ERA in the American League since the All-Star Break (3.00), as both the starting rotation and the bullpen have been top-notch. This means that, should the Yankees find themselves without a division title and instead in the Wild Card Game, they have many options to choose from when it comes to who should start. Hypothetically, both regular season and performance and playoff experience should be taken into account when making a decision.
Option One: Masahiro Tanaka
The obvious choice has to be the Yankees’ ace for the past few years. Even though he’s been having a substandard year, he’s still putting up good numbers, albeit not “ace” numbers. Tanaka does have experience pitching in the Wild Card Game though, giving up two runs in five innings in a 3-0 loss to the Astros back in 2015. If he keeps turning in quality starts (or even better, reverts back to his 2016 form), then he will be the ideal candidate to start a one-game playoff. But he’s shouldn’t necessarily be a lock, as there are others who are more than capable.
Option Two: Luis Severino
A year after his relegation to the bullpen, Severino has established himself as one of the Yankees’ top starters. He leads the team in wins (9), strikeouts (162), and ERA (2.61, best among starters). Most recently, he pitched 6.2 innings against the Indians yesterday, giving up just one run and two hits. Unlike Tanaka, he’s never had playoff experience, but that wouldn’t stop the Yankees from starting him in a winner-take-all game. He’s been the most consistent pitcher on this staff so far, so it would not be surprising at all to see him take the hill.
Option Three: CC Sabathia
By far the Yankee pitcher with the most postseason experience, Sabathia pitched for the both the Indians and Brewers in the playoffs before headlining the Yankee rotation that won the World Series in 2009. He has pitched in four postseasons for the Yankees, and the Wild Card Game could be an ideal way to start his fifth. While other Yankee pitchers have better records this year, Joe Girardi might be most comfortable starting the one most accustomed to the big-game spotlight.
Option Four: Sonny Gray
It’s way too soon to tell if Gray will pan out with the Yankees, and if he does, he could be anywhere from second to fourth in the rotation. Still, he was the ace on the Oakland Athletics, and depending on how he performs with New York, can be an interesting choice for a Wild Card starter. He is one of three pitchers on the staff to pitch in more than one playoff game, starting two games for the A’s against the Tigers in the 2013 ALDS. While he pitched eight scoreless innings in Game 2, he gave up three runs in five innings in the deciding Game 5, and ended up with the loss. Again, it all depends on how he performs for the Yankees, but he was acquired for the playoff push, and could start in the postseason as soon as the very first game.
Option Five: It Doesn’t Matter
Realistically, the Yankees can afford to put any of these four (or more) guys on the hill in a do-or-die game, because their offense and bullpen can carry them. All the Yankees really need is a starter who can give them five quality innings because of their loaded bullpen. Any combination of Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman can pitch the final four innings and shorten games for their opponents. And with an offense that boasts the third-best run differential in the league, all it takes is an offensive outburst in the first few innings to essentially win the game. If that’s the case, then does it really matter who starts?
Of course this is all speculation two months before the playoffs, and the Yankees could end up winning the division, thus avoiding the Wild Card Game. However, it’s still fun to speculate, even with this much baseball left in the season. Just remember, if the Yankees do make it to the Division Series, they’ll probably have a pretty good rotation to give them a shot at advancing.