6 thoughts as Yankees prepare for Wild Card showdown

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 23: Aaron Judge
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 23: Aaron Judge /
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The Twins are in New York to face the Yankees for the 2017 American League Wild Card Game.

Not many baseball pundits predicted this match-up before the season began. The lineups and rosters have not been announced yet, so let us look at the hot topics preparatory to Tuesday’s game for the Yankees:

1. The Yankees will have 10 pitchers, 15 position players on their WC roster:

Yankees manager Joe Girardi announced the breakdown, but not the specifics, of his Wild Card roster in a press conference Monday afternoon.

Here is a guess at who makes the cut. (Keep in mind, if the Yankees advance, they can reset their roster for the American League Division Series. All players who were on their team’s 40-man roster prior to Sept. 1 are postseason-eligible.)

Left-handers CC Sabathia and Jordan Montgomery will not be well-rested by Tuesday’s game because of their recent starts, so they likely will be left off.

Again, if the Yanks advance, they can construct a new 25-man staff and include them. Gray and Tanaka are present in case Severino implodes early or a freak injury happens.

As far as position players go, many are obvious inclusions. Then you have the sneaky, speedy Wade, who would serve as an honorary pinch runner. Clint Frazier is another base-burner with right-handed pop, so he is a pinch-hitter/runner candidate.

Overall, this a talented group of men — and clearly a better team than the 2015 Wild Card-losing Yankees.

2. For the most part, the Yankees match up well against Twins starter Ervin Santana:

Santana had himself a fine season: 16-8, 3.28 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 7.1 K/9. He faced the Yankees once, on Sept. 18, and took a loss in 5 2/3 innings of work, allowed two earned runs and whiffed three.

  • Yankees with career success against Santana: Bird (2-for-5, 2 HR, 4 RBI); Ellsbury (6-for-19); Gardner (7-for-17); Headley (4-for-13); Holliday (3-for-6, 1 HR, 2 RBI); Judge (1-for-3, 1 HR, 1 RBI); Romine (2-for-3, 1 RBI); T. Frazier (4-for-21, 2 HR, 3 RBI)
  • Yankees who struggle facing Santana: Castro (2-for-11); Gregorius (2-for-17); Hicks (0-for-6); Sánchez (0-for-3)

This is living off small sample sizes. But, hey, this is a do-or-die playoff game, right? These numbers bring us to a couple of interesting discussions…

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3. Should Headley or Holliday DH?

Just looking at the numbers, Headley and Holliday are both solid choices, which is a good problem to have. Headley collected more hits and had a higher batting average in the regular season. The switch-hitter also gives Girardi a left-handed bat against the Twins’ righty. But Holliday hits homers more frequently, already having clubbed one against Santana, which could be the difference-maker in the game.

Just a guess here, but it is plausible that Girardi starts Headley since he can save Holliday to pinch-hit if the need arises.

4. Who starts in center field?

Ellsbury was en fuego in September, batting .337 with 10 extra-base hits and a .912 OPS. Meanwhile, Hicks came off the disabled list to slug two home runs in the Yankees’ final six games. Both center fielders have great range and glove-work.

Starting Hicks would give Girardi the option of substituting Ellsbury, arguably the Yankees’ fastest runner, off the bench in a crucial pinch-running scenario. However, Ellsbury has the hotter bat and is a stolen-base threat each time he gets on base. Throw in his career success against Santana, and the bet here is the 11-year veteran gets the start.

5. Will Betances be trusted in a high-leverage situation?

Betances continues to be a 6-foot-8 strikeout machine. When he is on, his high-90s fastball and sweeping slider are untouchable. The problem this year was his sky-high walk rate, 6.6 BB/9. That metric was a career-worst for him.

Girardi hoped to get Betances right by season’s end, but in his final appearance he served up a hit and walked one without recording an out. Betances is too good to collect cobwebs in the ‘pen, but Girardi needs to have a short leash with him. Normally with Betances, you can tell if his command is off that day by the first or second batter.

6. No matter Tuesday’s outcome, the Yankees’ season was a success. But still…

If they lose against the Twins, who they swept in their last encounter, it will be a disappointing day for the fans, team and all those involved. Winning 91 games in a “rebuilding” season is a helluva triumph.

But after seeing how far this team has come, a one-game ticket to the offseason would be tough to swallow. The Yanks are pegged as heavy favorites to win this match-up.

Next: What Yankees can expect vs. Twins

Tuesday’s AL Wild Card Game will be nationally broadcast on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET.