The Yankees saw many of our rebuilding year predictions back in March and raised us a playoff appearance. Now it’s time to find out if a trip to the ALDS for the first time since 2012 is in the cards.
If the Bombers are to secure that long-awaited postseason win, they will have to find success against Twins starter Ervin Santana during Tuesday night’s Wild Card showdown. One game, winner-take-all situations are always a crapshoot. Looking at Santana’s numbers, combined with the fact that he will have to duel Luis Severino gives cause for optimism though.
Fortunately for the Yankees, they’re not facing Santana in Aprils. That’s when the right-hander allowed just three earned runs in 35 innings. Not surprisingly, he was unable to maintain that amazing pace for the entire season. He has still been a solid ace for the Twins, though, finishing the regular season with a 3.28 ERA. That’s good for 11th best in the majors. The 34-year-old enjoyed his first All-Star season since 2008, but he does have his weaknesses.
Santana has gone through spurts this season where he struggles with his control. He went through an extended period of 101 innings this season in which he walked 37 batters, putting him in the top 20 in the American League in walks per nine innings. Granted, Santana was better with his command in September and never issued more than one walk in a start during the final month of the regular season. Still, if the control bugaboos return, the Yankees could have baserunners early in the game.
Should the Bombers find themselves with ducks on the pond, they have the sluggers to break the game open. Greg Bird should absolutely be the starting first baseman on Tuesday night, especially when you consider his brief track record against Santana. In just five career at-bats, Bird has taken Santana deep twice. Plus he’s been getting better at the plate with each passing game since his return from the DL.
Todd Frazier hasn’t had the most success against Santana in his career, but has also taken him deep twice in 21 career at-bats to give him an OPS of .857. Aaron Judge has also homered against Santana in just three career at-bats. The lineup will be full of hitters who can do damage against the Twins starter.
An interesting case to examine is Matt Holliday, who has been struggling to find playing time since his return from the DL. Holliday was a lethal bat in the Yankees’ order earlier in the season. That was before coming down with a rare illness that sidelined him for weeks. In 12 career at-bats, Holliday has two doubles and two home runs against Santana, good for an OPS of 1.500.
Despite the impressive numbers, Holliday might not have enough recent playing time to earn him the DH spot on Tuesday. Limited September appearances along with other veterans like Jacoby Ellsbury heating up could make Holliday the odd man out against Santana. It will be interesting to see how Joe Girardi draws up the outfield and DH spots come Tuesday night.
It is also comforting for Yankees fans to look at Santana’s home run rate this season. After surrendering 19 dingers in 2016, Santana has watched 31 homers disappear over the outfield wall in 2017. Sure, home runs are more frequent this year across the board, but Santana’s 1.32 HR/9 ranks in the top ten in the American League. In short, we are hoping for a Toe-night show marathon occurring in the Yankees’ dugout.
The Yankees clearly have the offensive firepower to get the job done on Tuesday, but this is baseball. Who would have thought that in Santana’s only outing against the Yankees this season, he would have been out-dueled by an impostor dressed as Jaime Garcia? Wild Card games are nearly impossible to predict, but the Yankees have plenty of things going for them heading into the fight for their postseason life.