In the final week of the MLB season, it is clear that the New York Yankees will most likely be playing in the wild card play-in game next Tuesday. What is not clear, however, is who will be the starting pitcher for the Yankees in that game.
This decision will be tough for Yankees manager Joe Girardi, because whoever pitches in the game will likely not be available until Game 3 of the American League Division Series, should the Yankees advance.
The two likely candidates are Masahiro Tanaka and 21-year-old rookie Luis Severino. Given the circumstances, Severino should be given the start in the wild card game.
Although Severino is a rookie, he has not pitched like one all season. Since making his debut in August, Severino has a 2.77 earned run average in along with 50 strikeouts in 55 innings pitched. Aside from one bad game against the Toronto Blue Jays, where Severino was lit up for six runs while getting just seven outs in the game, he has always given the Yankees a chance to win.
The Yankees will also have home field advantage in the game, which is both a positive and a negative. Like any hard throwing pitcher, Severino has been susceptible to the long-ball. Of the seven home runs he has given up this season, five of them have been at Yankee Stadium. If Severino can focus on keeping the ball in the park, that gives the Yankees a chance to win.
Although he is a rookie, Severino has rarely shown signs of a moment being too big for him. What better place to make your playoff debut than in a one-game playoff in front of your home fans. I believe Severino will be up to the challenge, especially since he is clearly the Yankees’ ace of the future. Given their long-term plans for Severino, it only makes sense to throw him right into the postseason fire. Every game matters anyway, so there is no point in trying to ease him into things.
It is hard to go against your current ace, Tanaka, in a one-game-takes-all situation, but it is a risk worth taking. Tanaka, who missed his last start with a hamstring strain is expected to pitch on Wednesday in order to get himself ready to pitch the wild card game. Regardless of how Tanaka pitches on Wednesday, he should be saved for the American League Division Series.
If Tanaka pitches the wild card game, then he will only be available to pitch in one game in the American League Division series. If you have Tanaka throwing twice in the ALDS, the Yankees will look at both starts as games they can win. You then look to Severino to get you the third win that you need to advance.
Whoever the starter is in the wild card game, they will certainly be on a short leash. Girardi is not afraid to use his bullpen to get at least nine outs with dominant arms like Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Whoever pitches just has to bridge the gap to get to those two guys, which is why pitching Severino makes sense. If he can give the Yankees six solid innings while allowing two runs or less, he will have done his job.