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

Breaking down the best lineup for Aaron Boone to draw up for Wednesday night’s Wild Card Game.

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

In a winner-take-all situation, moves are magnified to the greatest extent. Every pitching change, intentional walk or sacrifice bunt attempt is relentlessly critiqued, whether fair or not. This will absolutely be the case on Wednesday night when the Yankees prepare for their third Wild Card Game in four years, this time against the upstart A’s. For rookie manager Aaron Boone, the critiques will likely begin well before first pitch, when lineups are posted.

With the Yankees seemingly at full strength after fending off potentially scary injuries to Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius, Boone should have any and all options at his disposal. We saw basically what an optimal lineup looks like for the Yanks on Friday night when the team clinched home field advantage against the Red Sox. That optimal lineup showed its potential by smacking three home runs en route to an 11-6 victory.

So, will Boone throw out an identical lineup come Wednesday in the Bronx? Let’s take a look at his options and figure our what’s best, because we of course know what’s best!

The first half of the lineup should pretty much be a no-brainer, at least spots one through four. The Yankees have Hicks, Andrew McCutchen, Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, all who work the count, get on base, and can drive the ball out of the park. Most importantly, it’s a daunting stretch for pitchers to get through without driving up their pitch count.

McCutchen, who has been thriving in the leadoff spot, has seen the eighth most full counts in the league this year, and has an incredible .422 OBP since joining the Bombers. Meanwhile, Judge is coming off a year where he saw the most full counts in baseball in 2017, and he would have likely been right near the top again had he not suffered a fractured wrist. Hicks and Stanton possess a similar ability to work deep into a count and make a pitcher work, as the duo ranks sixth and seventh in plate appearances with a full count, respectively. That’s a great way to start a lineup and give the rest of the hitters a chance to see a pitcher’s full arsenal, and will come in handy multiple times in a game when new relievers are brought in.

So, let’s keep the quartet in their usual spots, as McCutchen has been leading off, Judge has batted second every game he’s started this year, and Hicks can split up the big righties in Judge and Stanton (besides, Stanton’s best numbers this year have come in the cleanup spot). So far, we have this:

1. McCutchen
2. Judge
3. Hicks
4. Stanton

The five, six and seven spots can really go either way. Gregorius, Luke Voit and Miguel Andujar have all been swinging the bat well, but Voit has really had the power stroke going, and his opposite field pop plays well at Yankee Stadium. Voit has hit all over the Yankees’ lineup so far, and is likely comfortable wherever Boone puts him, so let’s slide him into the fifth spot. We’ll Gregorius behind him to avoid having three righties in a row. Andujar batting seventh seems unfair given the incredible season he’s had, but that’s how deep the lineup is at full strength. Plus, a hitter like Andujar in the seven hole? That doesn’t give opposing pitchers much time to breathe.

Now for the last two spots, occupied by Gary Sanchez and Gleyber Torres. Let’s put them in that order, considering Torres’ experience and success hitting ninth (133 wRC+ in the nine hole). So, the lineup is indeed the one that Boone drew up on Friday night in Boston, and it looks like this.

1. McCutchen
2. Judge
3. Hicks
4. Stanton
5. Voit
6. Gregorius
7. Andujar
8. Sanchez
9. Torres

That’s a tough lineup, and one of the most dangerous in the game. Again, one game playoffs are an absolute crapshoot, but this feels like the Yankees’ best chance to score runs against a potent A’s bullpen, and earn a date with the Red Sox in the ALDS.