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Yankees playoffs: What is the team’s optimal lineup?

There really isn’t a bad option

MLB: AL Wildcard-Minnesota Twins at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Now that Minnesota has been dealt with, it’s officially time for postseason baseball. A five-game series with the Cleveland Indians is upon us and that means it is time to take a look at what an optimal Yankee lineup would be to combat the beast known as playoff baseball.

Let’s start by looking at the opponent. The Indians have been the best team in the American League this year and strong starting pitching has been a huge reason why. Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, and Carlos Carrasco will be the first three pitchers the Yankees will face. Kluber and Carrasco both have K%’s over 28% and HR/9 rates under one. Why do I bring this up? Well it’s no secret that the Yankees rely on the long ball and tend to strikeout more than most would like to see.

The numbers suggest that Bauer will be the most favorable matchup for the Yankees, but in two appearances against the Yankees this year Bauer has thrown 13 innings, given up two runs (one home run) and struck out 11. I know the postseason is a whole new monster, but the fact that the Indians went 5-2 against the Yankees this year has to tell you that their style of play matches up well against the Yankees’ plan of attack.

When Joe Girardi puts together his lineup he should seriously look at match ups as well as numbers such as OBP and K% because this series may not be one that the Yankees can slug their way out of. With that being said, his lineup against the Twins wasn’t that far off from what I had in mind.

1. Brett Gardner, Left Field

No debate here. Gardy has been that spark plug that every good team needs and his value is as high on the field as it is off of the field. Don’t expect this to change anytime soon.

2. Aaron Judge, Right Field

It seems Judge has found a home in the 2-hole. The combination of getting more at-bats and having Gary Sanchez behind him seems to have worked out pretty well. Judge has gotten red-hot at the perfect time and he’ll need to keep having good at-bats to take down this tough Cleveland staff. Also, MVP.

3. Gary Sanchez, Catcher

It seems absurd to think that Gary Sanchez has gone under the radar recently but that’s exactly what happened in September while Judge was putting up video game numbers. Sanchez quietly slashed .303/.354/.528 in September and hit five homers. Providing sufficient protection to Judge throughout this postseason is going to be vitally important.

4. Didi Gregorius, Shortstop

Didi would fit in any spot in the order. He’s hitting home runs, has a solid batting average, and he hardly strikes out (12.3 K%). However, since being inserted into the cleanup spot Sir Didi has shined. It wouldn’t be the craziest idea ever if Girardi decided to flip him and Sanchez, though.

5. Starlin Castro, Second Base

Castro has been steady all season and batting fifth seems to be where Girardi likes him the most. Splitting up the lefties is always a good thing especially when Andrew Miller is looming in the Cleveland bullpen. The one thing I don’t love about Castro’s game is that he doesn’t draw a lot of walks (4.9 BB%). However, the same can be said for Didi and I don’t think anyone is complaining.

6. Greg Bird, First Base

There were questions towards the end of the season about whether or not Bird would even be on the postseason roster. It became quite clear what the answer was when Bird got the nod against the Twins opposed to Chase Headley, who had made a smooth transition to first base. Bird also hit eight home runs in his return from the DL and it seemed that his power was on the rise as the season ended. A powerful left handed bat who sees a lot of pitches is just what the Yankees need against Cleveland’s tough, all righty starting staff.

7. Chase Headley, Designated Hitter

He didn’t get the start in the Wild Card game but I think he will against Cleveland. Being a switch hitter Headley provides flexibility near the bottom of the order and he sports a respectable OBP of .352 from the regular season. Also, Headley has had relative success against Cleveland pitchers, most notably Andrew Miller whom he is 5-for-7 lifetime against. He is also one of three players on the roster to have taken Kluber deep.

8. Jacoby Ellsbury, Center Field

This was a tough one. I know Aaron Hicks got the start against Minnesota for his defense and his switch-hitting abilities, but Cleveland isn’t as spacious of an outfield and all of their starters throw right handed. Also, Ellsbury is much more of a threat to steal a base (22-for-25). In a series where runs will not be easy to come by, getting into scoring position will be huge.

9. Todd Frazier, Third Base

It’s not everyday that your 9-hole guy hit 27 home runs in the regular season. Between his power, his steady glove, and his on base skills (.344 OBP), Frazier may be the most productive 9-hole hitter in baseball. Also, having Ellsbury on base in front of him should get him more fastballs to hit due to the threat of the stolen base. I’m not in love with his strikeout rate (21.7%) but the rest of his skills along with his intangibles make the Toddfather a worthy name to be penciled in.

Obviously this could go a number of ways and whatever the lineup is in the first game could very well be different than what the lineup will be in the next two games. The beauty of this is that Girardi has a lot of good options, and as we know in baseball, having too many options is never a bad problem to have.