With only a few regular season games remaining, the question of who will start the American League Wild Card Game against the Oakland Athletics will soon be answered.
Manager Aaron Boone has been open about not having made any decision yet. The consensus is he’s between Luis Severino, J.A. Happ and Masahiro Tanaka.
When asked this week about it, Boone was blatantly honest about his lack of a decision. According to Newsday, Boone said, “It’s something we kick around and talk about every day, but really I would say we’re not close. We’ll continue to have conversations and hopefully by the end of the week, we’re in a position to where we can kind of shape it and manipulate it how we want and make a good decision.”
This decision will prove to be Boone’s most important thus far as Yankees skipper. The team has the opportunity to win 100 games this year, but that will mean nothing if the Yankees can’t escape the single-elimination Wild Card.
Let’s take a look at the Yankees three options and consider the pros and cons Boone will be weighing when selecting his starter.
If we asked this question at the start of the year, it would’ve been a no-brainer. Luis Severino is the Yankees only starter worthy of being called an ace and he proved that through the first few months of the season.
Before the All-Star break, Severino was a serious contender for the Cy Young Award. He was 14-2 with a 2.31 ERA with 144 strikeouts. Opponents were hitting just .209 against him.
However, since the break, he’s been a completely different pitcher. His ERA is 5.57 and opponents are hitting .291. Without being injured, Severino has just not been the same stud Yankees fans watched dominate through June.
Even though he’s still not that pitcher right now, he has settled down a bit of late. In his last three starts in September, he’s surrendered two earned runs or fewer. Unfortunately, his one bad outing this month was against Oakland.
In his two starts against the A’s, Sevy went 1-1 with a 6.23 ERA. These numbers are slightly bloated because of his very poor outing this month, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Yankees’ Wild Card opponent hit .297 against him in the two games.
The second pitcher behind Severino wasn’t even on the roster to start the season. J.A. Happ was added near the trade deadline from Toronto and has been amazing to say the least.
General Manager Brian Cashman struck gold again by acquiring the 35-year-old to bolster the staff. Since joining the Yankees, Happ is 6-0 with a 2.34 ERA in 10 starts. Opposing hitters are batting just .220 against him since the All-Star break.
In his lone start against Oakland this season, Happ was fantastic despite not earning a decision. He went six strong innings, giving up only two hits and one earned run. Oakland was held to a mere .111 average. New York won the game 5-1.
If somehow Boone doesn’t decide to go with Severino or Happ, Masahiro Tanaka is his only other option. The veteran has had an up-and-down season but has been good for the Yankees in big games in the past.
For the season, Tanaka is 12-6 with a 3.75 ERA and 1.13 WHIP.
After an awful August that saw Tanaka go 0-3 with an ERA of 4.40, he seemed to have bounced back with an incredible start to September. He won his first three games of the month, allowing just one earned run in 21 innings.
These performances helped boost Tanaka’s chances to start the Wild Card Game, but he has not been able to sustain the success. In his last two outings, he’s given up eight earned in just eight innings. The Yankees lost both games.
Tanaka hasn’t faced Oakland this year. He holds a 3-2 career record against them along with a 2.53 ERA in five starts.
The decision won’t be an easy one for Boone, but unfortunately there is a lot weighing on his choice. If he makes the wrong selection, he will be questioned over and over again by fans and the New York media.
Even though Happ has been pitching at a different level than he has throughout his career, Severino should be the starter in this game. He’s the most dominant starting arm Boone has. When he’s on and right, there aren’t many better in baseball. His stuff is simply electric.
No matter who Boone goes with he must remember that this game is all hands on deck. Should the starter seem to be struggling, Boone needs to pull him early before the game is already lost. Between the other starting options and deep bullpen, the Yanks could survive even if the starter doesn’t work out.