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Five things the Yankees need to do to win the AL Wild Card Game

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The Yankees will play in the postseason for the first time since 2015 on Tuesday, hosting Minnesota in a winner-take-all contest. Let's take a look at what they need to do to beat the Twins and advance to the ALDS.

Luis Severino will start the biggest game of his career on Tuesday versus the Minnesota Twins in the AL Wild Card Game.
Luis Severino will start the biggest game of his career on Tuesday versus the Minnesota Twins in the AL Wild Card Game.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

1. Luis Severino must pitch like it's any other game

When Andy Pettitte gave up seven runs and failed to complete three innings in a 12-1 Braves' rout at Yankee Stadium in Game One of the 1996 World Series, perhaps he was a bit unnerved by the enormity of the event. After all, it was his first ever start in the Fall Classic. Pettitte rebounded in grand fashion in Game Five, out-dueling John Smoltz 1-0 in one of the greatest World Series games ever pitched.

Luis Severino will not have the luxury of a rebound game versus the Twins. If the Yankees lose on Tuesday, then their season is over. But Sevy can't approach this game as if the season is riding on the outcome, and thus risk being too tight and not having his sharpest stuff. Severino should simply have the same exact mindset and composure that he has maintained throughout his breakout 2017 campaign.

Severino has emerged as one of the top starters in the game, pitching to a 2.98 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and .208/.266/.338 slash line. He ranks among the top three in the AL for each category, and his .603 OPS against trails only Cy Young Award front-runner Corey Kluber.

The 23-year-old right-hander has also been a model of consistency, allowing three earned runs or fewer in 25 of his 31 starts. Severino doesn't need to be perfect on Tuesday. He doesn't need to hurl a shutout either. If he simply pitches to his ERA, then he will give the Yankees a great chance to win.

2. Yankee hitters must be patient at the plate

The Bronx Bombers lived up to their moniker this year, clubbing a best-in-the-majors 241 home runs. That tally is also the 15th highest single-season total by a team in baseball history. But the Yankees were only 8-27 in games where they failed to homer.

The Yankees will be facing a starter on Tuesday that has been prone to giving up home runs, with only seven AL pitchers having allowed more round-trippers than Ervin Santana (31) this year. But he has failed to allow a dinger in 12 of his 33 starts, and has had only seven starts where he gave up multiple homers. If Santana is at his best, then the Yankees must be prepared to win without the long ball.

The key is patience at the plate. Yankee hitters must be prepared to take pitches, work the count, and pass the baton. New York is tied with Cleveland for the second highest on-base percentage in the league this year (.339), trailing only Houston (.346). The Yankees have pushed 858 men across the plate, but they have also stranded an awful lot of runners.

It would be very exciting if the Bombers put on a firepower display in The House That Ruth Built versus Twins' pitching on Tuesday. But the team must be able to play small ball if that is what is required. Otherwise, this postseason run could end in a hurry.

3. The Yankees should run if they get the chance

Santana has been stingy when it comes to allowing base runners (1.13 WHIP) this year. So the Yankees must make the most of their opportunities, and this means running when they get the chance.

Brett Gardner is 23-for-28 in stolen base attempts this season, while Jacoby Ellsbury is 22-for-25. Even guys who are not known as speedsters have done well on the basepaths when picking their spots. Aaron Judge is 9-for-13, Chase Headley is 9-for-11, and Aaron Hicks is 10-for-15. Tyler Wade may be the fastest guy on the team, so expect to see him used as a pinch-runner at some point if the opportunity presents itself.

4. Gary Sanchez must have a big game behind the plate

The Kraken's troubles behind the dish have been well-documented, leading reporters to ask Joe Girardi if he is considering starting Austin Romine instead. Girardi dismissed the questions by stating "everyone has a bad day," but the concerns are valid. Girardi had previously chided Sanchez about his blocking, publicly stating, “he has to get better.”

When certain Yankee hurlers are at their best — Dellin Betances among them — their pitches sometimes end up in the dirt. That's not a bad thing; it's an important part of their arsenal. You cannot ask them to hold back for fear that one might get away and end up at the backstop. It's the catcher's job to block these nasty pitches which often generate swing-and-miss strikes.

Sanchez must be at his defensive best on Tuesday. In what figures to be a close game, the Yankees can't allow runs to score on wild pitches and passed balls.

5. Girardi must manage like this is an elimination game

I hate to state the obvious, but fans have been frustrated with Girardi all year when he remained faithful to his bullpen hierarchy amidst the struggles of multiple relievers. He must be prepared to ditch the binder on Tuesday.

This means that if Severino is pitching well, then he should be left in the game. If a reliever is brought in and is ineffective, he should be given a quick hook.

We saw a glimpse of this on Friday night when Betances entered a 4-0 game in the ninth. He was pulled in favor of Aroldis Chapman after allowing the first two batters to reach base.

Girardi has often exhibited great managerial instincts, including his in-game decision-making. If he is flexible on Tuesday and manages based on the situation, then the Yankees should be in good shape.