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Yankees 2018 Potential Playoff Opponent: Oakland Athletics

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If the Yankees are going anywhere this year, they’ll have to get past the A’s first

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Athletics Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the New York Yankees were among one of the biggest surprises in baseball by “arriving” a year early. Many expected those Yankees to miss the playoffs completely, not make it to game seven of the ALCS. They did, and now they’re among the best in baseball. On Saturday, they officially clinched a Wild Card spot.

Barring a completely shocking turn of events, the Yankees will most likely be facing this year’s most surprising team, the Athletics, in the Wild Card game. What remains to be seen is which team will host the game, but New York does have a 1.5 game lead in the standings on Oakland. With their opponent all but decided, let’s see how the Yankees match up with the A’s in a one-game do or die.

Lineup

On paper, the two teams’ offenses are remarkably similar. The Yankees own a collective .248/.329/.448 (109 wRC+) slash line, while the A’s are hitting .252/.325/.438 (110 wRC+). The Bombers own the advantage in the power department, having hit 38 more home runs as a team than their opponent, but Oakland is home to the major league home run leader.

The A’s are led by a triumvirate of Matt Chapman, Stephen Piscotty, and the aforementioned home run leader, Khris Davis. Chapman has emerged as one of the top third basemen on both sides of the ball, while “Khrush” Davis is one of the scariest hitters in baseball right now.

Fortunately, the Yankees can counter any lineup with their own. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are the obvious highlights, but the Bombers are much more than that. They have one of the deepest lineups in baseball, with All-Star potential at almost every position.

Certain players like Stanton and Gary Sanchez need to get going, but they can erase all regular season grievances with a strong showing in October. The good thing is that the Yankees don’t rely on any handful of players to get them through a game. Their production can come from anywhere.

Advantage: Oakland’s trio is as good as any in baseball, but the depth in the Yankees’ lineup gives them a slight edge.

Rotation

Yankees: 834 innings pitched, 9.14 K/9, 2.76 BB/9, 4.04 ERA, 3.84 FIP

Athletics: 804 innings pitched, 6.6 K/9, 2.62 BB/9, 4.10 ERA, 4.34 FIP

The Yankees’ rotation woes are no secret, but the A’s have an even messier situation. Sean Manaea just went down with a shoulder injury and is going to miss the rest of the season. While not quite the Rays, Oakland saw Tampa Bay’s success with the “opener” and has used the strategy quite often this year.

Of course, we’re talking about a one-game playoff, where the A’s will most likely send out Mike Fiers. Since joining Oakland’s rotation, Fiers has pitched to a 2.90 ERA (4.58 FIP) across nine starts with a 8.9 K/9 and a 2.0 BB/9. Fiers has a 43.1 FB%, though, so if the game’s at Yankee Stadium, that could spell trouble for him. Who knows, maybe the A’s go wild and run out the opener.

The Yankees situation has stabilized a bit in the second half thanks to the addition of J.A. Happ and the resurgence of Masahiro Tanaka, excluding his last start in which he struggled against the Red Sox. While earlier in the year Luis Severino would’ve been the clear-cut choice to start the Wild Card game, right now one of Happ or Tanaka are probably the favorites here, though Severino helped his case the last time out with an excellent start against the Red Sox.

Advantage: It all depends on who Aaron Boone sends out here. Happ has been the Yankees most consistent starter and between him and Fiers, it would be a wash. If Tanaka or Severino are the choice, their ace-like potential should give them an edge.

Bullpen

No matter who the starter is for the Yankees, he will have a short leash, thanks largely to Boone’s ability to fall on his star-studded bullpen. The Yankees bullpen leads all of baseball with 9.2 fWAR, whereas the A’s relievers are sixth with 5.3 fWAR.

The A’s bullpen is led by Blake Treinen. Treinen alone has been worth 3.4 fWAR and is among the best relief arms in baseball. Below him in the depth chart, there’s a bit of a drop-off in terms of top-tier talent, but Bob Melvin still has a solid unit highlighted by Jeurys Familia and Lou Trivino.

Unfortunately for Oakland, they have to go up against the Yankees bullpen. At the first sign of trouble, the Yankees can send out Chad Green, David Robertson, and Dellin Betances. Then they would still have Zach Britton and Aroldis Chapman waiting in the wings. This bullpen is exactly what got them through the Wild Card game last year, except now they’ve added good Betances and Britton.

Advantage: While the differences in the lineup and rotation aren’t too great, the Yankees have a clear advantage in the bullpen.

On paper it seems like the Yankees do have an overall advantage over the A’s. Still though, those advantages are probably more significant over a five or seven-game series. In a one-game match, advantages are nice but they don’t matter all that much. Anything can happen. The Yankees just have to show up ready to play and win.