Wednesday, October 3, 2018

AL Wildcard Preview

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The Yankees had the third-most wins in baseball. The A's had the most after the All-Star break. They're two incredibly different teams, one almost disappointed to be here after entering the year with hopes of a division title, the other shocking the baseball world by coming out of nowhere -- and overcoming a near-endless run of pitching injuries -- to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Tonight in the Bronx, the Yankees and A's will fight for the right to go to Boston to challenge a Red Sox team that just won the most games in franchise history, but they have to make it there first. As we go position by position to break this down, a few things become clear. First, a few injuries for the Yanks could make a big difference in their lineup. Second, these two teams are more evenly matched than you'd think. Third, Yankee Stadium is the best hitter's park this side of Coors Field, and that could make a big difference if some lazy fly balls find their way over the fence. And fourth, this game is going to be about the bullpens, perhaps quickly.

Who are the starting pitchers and how long will they last?

A's: Liam Hendriks will start for Oakland -- but he's an "opener." This will be a short outing by design for Hendriks, who's really a reliever -- likely no more than an inning or two, followed by heavy bullpen use. The A's have the relief arms to make it work. Plus, by now, opening games has become routine for Hendriks. The right-hander has done it eight times this season, all in September, including against the Yankees on Sept. 4, when he threw a scoreless first inning. Hendriks has not allowed a run in his last seven outings as an "opener" (all of which have lasted exactly one inning), after allowing two runs in 1 2/3 innings in his debut in the role against the Mariners on Sept. 1.

Yankees: Luis Severino (19-8, 3.39 ERA) will start the Wild Card Game for a second straight year, with Masahiro Tanaka also on the roster in case Severino is forced to make an early exit. In last year's Wild Card Game against the Twins at Yankee Stadium, Severino was knocked out after just 1/3 of an inning, allowing three runs and two homers. This season, he was also touched up for six earned runs in 8 2/3 innings in two starts vs. the A's, including five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings in an 8-2 loss in Oakland on Sept. 5. While J.A. Happ has been superb for the Yankees since he was acquired in late July (7-0, 2.69 ERA in 11 starts), New York would prefer to have him available to pitch twice in a potential ALDS matchup with Boston.

How will the bullpen line up after the starter?

A's: Once the starter is done for the night, Shawn Kelley, Lou Trivino, Fernando Rodney, Jeurys Familia and Blake Treinen figure to handle the remainder of the game. Treinen could even be asked to pitch multiple innings if things are tight. Yusmeiro Petit might get into the game if innings are needed, while Ryan Buchter could be asked to face a tough lefty. Edwin Jackson, the only regular starting pitcher on the roster, could provide a few innings, especially if the game goes into extra innings.

Yankees: With a loaded relief corps including David Robertson, Chad Green, Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman and Zach Britton, manager Aaron Boone has plenty of weapons at his disposal. The key question appears to be who would serve as the Yankees' closer. Chapman has been slowly working his way back from injury, while Britton has looked sharp in recent weeks. Boone envisions Chapman returning to the closer's role, though it remains to be seen whether that happens tonight.

Have these two teams met in the postseason before?

The Yankees and Athletics have squared off three times in the postseason, each time in a best-of-five series.

In 1981, Graig Nettles paced the Yankees with nine RBIs in a three-game AL Championship Series sweep of Oakland that sent New York to the World Series. The two teams didn't meet in the postseason again until the 2000 ALDS, when the Yanks needed a Game 5 victory at the Coliseum to win the series.

In 2001, the Yankees and Athletics went the distance for a second consecutive year in the ALDS. New York dropped the first two games at home before winning two in a row in Oakland -- the first with the help of Derek Jeter's immortal "flip play" -- before the Yanks won a decisive Game 5 for the second straight year.

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