I know I know, you haven’t seen one baseball column from me all season since my preview in the Spring. Thanks to two week-plus vacations and a Summer spent preparing for college, I just never got around to publishing one (There’s a column that was supposed to go up around the All-Star Break in my drafts that’s pretty hysterical to read now).
As my WordPress drafts prove, the lack of columns doesn’t mean I haven’t paid attention to baseball. I’ve learned more than ever about the game this season, thanks to a state championship run put on by the team I scouted for , and thanks to some new friends in college.
If you compare the two leagues, these playoffs could not be more opposite. While the NL is even more wide open thanks to the Cubs’ loss, the AL is loaded with four powerhouse teams: Boston, Houston, Cleveland and these Yankees. Those four have been relevant and decently consistent all season; all have gotten serious World Series consideration at some point. And then there’s the A’s, who had the most classic A’s season possible and have made the AL even more ridiculous than it was in July. The AL playoffs are going to be filled with titanic matchups no matter who the teams are. That starts tonight, even in the Wild Card Game.
Whoever wins this game might be screwed though, and have their amazing season wasted, as they have to face the buzz-saw that is the 2018 Boston Red Sox, who won an obscene amount of games.
When the playoffs come around, we always talk about how important pitching is. It makes or breaks you in the postseason. It can’t be average, and there’s no such thing as innings eaters, in the rotation or the bullpen.
With that heavy reliance on pitching comes trust, health and longevity. Which pitchers can we trust in a high leverage situation? Which pitchers can we trust to start Game 1 of a Championship Series? Who’s not gonna meltdown? Which bullpen is out of gas?
For these teams, that’s everything. The Yankees and Athletics have been two of the heaviest reliers on their bullpen this season. Oakland ranks 3rd last in the league in innings pitched by starters; the Yankees are actually above the league average, thanks to a rotation that’s held together decently for not being the most talented in the playoff field (I see you CC!). New York will crank up that usage though, as their starters are not the most trustworthy group around (Are we sure CC starting a playoff game is a good idea?).
Tonight’s game will see the bullpens used to an extreme we haven’t seen before. The Yankees are tabbing their ace Luis Severino as their starter for tonight. Severino’s been excellent by Yankees standards, with a 3.39 ERA and a 129 ERA+. Those numbers don’t pop, but they’re by far the best in the Yankee rotation. I liked the prospectus of J.A. Happ starting this game due to his hot streak, but in the postseason, if luck rules first, then talent rules second. Severino’s got more of the latter. Severino has quite a bit of postseason experience for a 24 year old, but it hasn’t all gone his way. He has a 5.63 postseason ERA, most of which comes from the brutal start to last year’s AL Wild Card Game against the Twins. Severino got better throughout the playoffs last year, but no outing was fantastic. It’s still troubling though; we have strong evidence of Severino being meltdown prone (As evident by last year). In a September 5th outing against these A’s, Severino gave up four runs in the bottom of the 1st inning. He lost control, as two wild pitches scored two of the runs. There was also an outing earlier this year against the Royals, where Severino gave up another four runs in an inning.
The bottom line is that the Yankees are starting a young pitcher in a must win game who hasn’t exactly been great in the postseason and is prone to meltdown innings.
Besides experience and the prevention of trouble innings, the biggest trait a pitcher has to have in these playoffs is a lack of fly balls and home runs given up. Severino’s been good at limiting homers; he possesses the lowest percentage of home runs-to-fly balls on his team. That’s good news, considering the A’s hit the 3rd most home runs in the league this season.
Against any other team, the A’s home run achievement would be a much bigger deal. But these Yankees not only hit the most home runs in the MLB this season, they hit the most ever, with 267. Nice try Oakland.
Whatever level of aggressiveness the Yankees have with their bullpen, the A’s will probably double it. Not because they have to, but because they’re the A’s and they like to get funky. No one has any oppositions to that.
The A’s are going with Liam Hendricks right out of their bullpen to start tonight. Oakland’s bullpen collectively finished the season ranked 6th in WAR, and has the 4th highest WAR total out of playoff teams.
The numbers for each team cancel out when it comes to the bullpens. All the top relievers have ridiculous numbers, though none top A’s closer Blake Treinen’s. With a 0.89 ERA (Yes you read that right) and a 524 ERA+ (Yes you also read that right), Treinen has been absolutely dominant. He’s given up seven runs in 67 outings, and his FIP sits at an incredibly low 1.85. A lot of these massive numbers are attributed to the small amount of innings he’s pitched, but it doesn’t discount his dominance.
If the numbers cancel out, then we have to go with our guts and act as if we are fans of both of these teams.
Yankees fans will tell you they don’t trust this team at all in any area. Sure they pulled out 101 wins, but things like the Sonny Gray fiasco, Gary Sanchez’s overall performance and Greg Bird forgetting how to hit (And Greg Bird not starting tonight) will trigger a Yankees fan like nothing else. If you look at the Game Results feature on the Yankees’ Baseball Reference page, the red streaks pop up about half the time lately.
But the bullpen has been the one stability lately. Yankees fans should trust Chad Green, David Robertson, Zach Britton and probably Dellin Betances, although my confidence in him fluctuates; he has some meltdown potential.
Aroldis Chapman is the (no pun intended) wild-card here. He’s been excellent when healthy (2.49 ERA, 178 ERA+, 16.8 strikeouts per nine (!!!)), but has been injured and is just returning. A not totally healthy, playoff Chapman is kinda a scary thought, especially if this game is close at the end. High leverage Chapman is a roller coaster. Bottom line for the Yankees is: Don’t allow that situation to arise, whether that falls on Aaron Boone or the offense’s shoulders.
If we’re evaluating based off of trust, then the Yankees bullpen has the edge. It’s the talent and the quality that the Yankees have that overmatches the A’s. Chad Green’s just better than say, Lou Trivino. At the same time, Jeurys Familia has been there before, and though Treinen only has one career postseason outing, I’m not betting against that guy this season.
When the matchups are this close, you kinda have to go with what feels right. I trust the Yankees bullpen a little more than I do the A’s tonight, but big picture wise I trust Oakland. The A’s have that feel-good run going for them right now; they have all the momentum in the world and a lot of bandwagon fans on their side. They have this 2014-2015 Royals mantra to them; a team that comes out of nowhere in the 2nd half and makes a huge run in the postseason. You can see the A’s going deeper than the Yankees this postseason, just because of the momentum. Every year, a 90-95 win team (or in the case of this year, a 95-110 win team) falls in the ALDS/NLDS; a team that we think will go to the Championship Series or even the World Series. Why can’t the A’s knock off the Red Sox next round? This is playoff baseball. Sure, Yankees-Red Sox would be great, but I can tell you right now that has all the makings of a Boston sweep. The A’s are pesky; they’re gonna give every team a battle. That trait will come through tonight, and I expect it to come through this postseason.
Prediction: A’s-4 Yankees-2