The Yankees clinched a playoff spot for the second straight year on Saturday, but there is still work to be done in terms of putting a bow on home-field advantage in the Wild Card Game. Last season, New York saw the importance of hosting the win-or-go-home playoff opener, as the Yankees rode their electrifying crowd to a comeback win in the Bronx, en route to a deep playoff run. This year presents a new challenge, as their opponent in 2018 will be the Oakland A’s, who present a much greater challenge than the Twins last year. Home-field advantage will be crucial.
So, what do the Yanks need to do to wrap up home field? Win one game. That’s it. End of story. You can return to the home page now.
But seriously, I have a word count to satisfy, so let’s look at how the Yankees can go about winning that one game, and head into the winner-take-all game with a heightened confidence.
Of course, the Yanks could also clinch without winning a game, so long as the A’s drop one of their weekend games against the Halos. Still, the Bombers want to head into the playoffs feeling good, and a sweep at the hands of a resting Red Sox team won’t accomplish that.
For starters, the Yankees could continue seeing improvements from Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez, who both showed encouraging signs on Tuesday night after lagging through September (Sanchez has been lagging much longer). Stanton laced a 112 mph double, his second two-bagger in as many nights. He also bopped a pair of homers in Thursday afternoon’s beatdown.
Meanwhile, Sanchez drove in four runs, including a three-run homer on Tuesday night, but hasn’t shown much life on offense since. Sanchez and Stanton are two of the most crucial bats in the Yankees’ lineup, and to get them going en route to clinching home-field advantage would be huge for the team, and it could help them go even further into October.
Two of Boston’s three starters this weekend have given the Yankees problems of late, namely Rick Porcello and Nathan Eovaldi. With Stanton’s recent resurgence and his success against Boston this season, this would be the time to lead the offense and seal a win. Of course, swingman Brian Johnson — whom the Bombers knocked around for five runs in five innings when they last saw him — is on the bump in the series opener against J.A. Happ, so the club would be better off just taking care of business on Friday night and not worrying about Porcello or Eovaldi.
The Yankees could also benefit from seeing the bullpen return to dominance. Last year, the bullpen was reaching its peak at this time, and it carried them to within a game of the World Series. David Robertson has been solid (save for Wednesday night) and Dellin Betances has been fantastic (though his strikeout streak came to and end), but Aaron Boone would love to see his other relief arms give him more reason to trust them on October 3rd.
The Bombers needed their bullpen to cover 8.2 innings in last year’s Wild Card Game, and they’ll need other arms to be return to form should a similar situation arise. Aroldis Chapman is working his way back from injury, and is obviously vital to the Yankees’ playoff hopes. His returned velocity would help the Yanks keep the Wild Card Game in the Bronx, as would the continued improvement of Zach Britton, who has been looking like the Britton of old as he overcomes the after effects of his Achilles injury.
Home-field advantage is within sight, so the best way for the Yankees to seal the deal is continue to improve in places that will also help them down the road. It will help them now, and when the games matter even more.