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Open Thread: AL Wild Card game

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One of the best teams in the league will face off against the biggest surprise team this year.

New York Yankees v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

The Yankees will host the Athletics for the right to ship off to Boston. Luis Severino will take the mound for the Yankees, while the A’s appear to be going the opener route with Liam Hendriks scheduled to “start.”

The AL Wild Card ironically features the third and fourth best teams not just in the AL, but in the entire league. The Yankees and A’s had the misfortune of sharing a division with the league’s best and second-best teams, respectively. The A’s won 97 games, and they do not even get to host a Wild Card game, let alone forgo it altogether. If they were in any other division, they would have been in first place. If they were in the NL, they would have had the NL’s best record! Instead, they’re one bad night away from going home without ever playing a postseason game in Oakland.

The Indians won only 91 games in what might have been the worst division since the 1994 AL West, yet they get to to go straight to the ALDS. They will have a big challenge against the Astros, to be fair, but if you are a Red Sox fan, wouldn’t you much rather face Cleveland in the ALDS as opposed to the Yankees or A’s? As for the Yankees, they won 100 games and are going to get eliminated if Severino’s second half struggles persist tonight. That isn’t right.

This article might not seem like it has dealt with tonight’s game yet, but it has. People are going to gripe about this playoff system regardless of the outcome, though likely more so if the league’s most prestigious team happens to lose. The points I have made so far are points you are going to hear again. While the current MLB playoff format is undoubtedly entertaining, it might benefit the league to strike a stronger balance between entertainment and fairness.

As I mentioned, the Yankees are going to start Severino, perhaps somewhat surprisingly. I am not saying that because of his dismal performance in last year’s ALWC game where he gave up three runs while recording only one out. The thing is, Severino has been a completely different pitcher in the second half. He had a 2.39 RA9 in the first half, but a whopping 6.00 RA9 in the second half, and he managed to pitch in fewer than half the innings than he did in the first half. He game up home runs at nearly twice the rate he did in the first half. The strange thing is that his strikeout rate, walk rate, and velocity were not much different.

I imagine that Yankees fans are a bit nervous with Severino pitching tonight. The fact of the matter is that he’s their best pitcher, despite his second half struggles. Perhaps Masahiro Tanaka or CC Sabathia would be “safer” picks, but the Yankees are not going to go far in October if Severino isn’t right anyway.

The Yankees do have the benefit of putting in Tanaka, Sabathia, or somebody from their elite bullpen if things start to go south for Severino. With his predecessor Joe Girardi setting the precedent last year, I am confident that Aaron Boone will not hesitate to pull Severino as soon as there is trouble, regardless of how early it is.

The A’s are going the interesting route of having Liam Hendriks as the opener, a strategy they have tried in the past month. He “started” eight games in that time period. He pitched more than one inning only once, and that was his first time opening. He pitched 1 23 innings and gave up two runs. After that shaky start, he did not give up any runs in his seven other times opening.

As I wrote about before, the AL does not have much in the way of great left-handed hitters. The Yankees are no exception. Didi Gregorius hits left-handed, but he has been an average hitter since his Ruthian April. Aaron Hicks is a switch-hitter, and he might be the closest thing to a dangerous left-handed hitter this lineup has.

Usually when talking splits you want to go with an entire career for a significant sample size, but Hicks has clearly been a different guy since 2017. He hit .258/.383/.463 against righties in 415 PA this season. Last year he hit .240/.363/.453 against righties in 235 PA. It is hard to discern his true talent against right-handed pitching right now if he is indeed a different guy than he was pre-2017. Take that for what you will.

Hicks tends to be high in the batting order, so Hendriks is almost sure to face him tonight. I expect that Andrew McCutchen will bat leadoff and Aaron Judge will bat third. Given the Athletic’s mediocre rotation — which is probably a generous evaluation with the absence of Sean Manaea — having Hendriks open makes sense. The A’s have one of the strongest bullpens in baseball. Leveraging that strength will be key to the A’s booking a trip to Boston.

Some might point out that Hendriks has pitched poorly against right-handed hitters this year, giving up a line of .327/.373/.463 this year. But that is against only 59 batters faced. That is a nothing sample size. You could argue that another right-handed pitcher would be better suited for this role, such has Jeurys Familia or Yusmeiro Petit, but I am not going to argue against opening with a solid right-handed reliever who has been groomed for this role.

As for the offenses, they are surprisingly even. The Yankees get all the attention, and understandably so, but their offense was negligibly better than the A’s this year. Matt Chapman (137 wRC+), Jed Lowrie (122 wRC+), Stephen Piscotty (125 wRC+), and Khris Davis (135 wRC+) have been driving the A’s offense.

The Yankees have home field advantage while the A’s had to travel cross country. The A’s actually have not been home in 10 days. Home field advantage might be worth a little extra for the Yankees.

So who is going to win? I don’t know. It’s one game. Just watch and enjoy!

Starting time: 8:08 PM EST
Live stream: Watch TBS (TV sub. required)

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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.