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Could J.A. Happ start the wild-card game for the Yankees?

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It was long assumed that Luis Severino would be tabbed to start the winner-take-all contest on October 3rd, but he has struggled of late, which has opened the door for someone else to step up.

J.A. Happ dominated the Athletics to the tune of one run on just two hits over six innings on September 4th in Oakland.
J.A. Happ dominated the Athletics to the tune of one run on just two hits over six innings on September 4th in Oakland.
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

After securing a rotation spot during a spring training competition last season, Luis Severino ultimately went on to emerge as the Yankees ace. He ended up finishing third in the American League Cy Young Award voting, and looked to build on that success heading into the 2018 campaign.

For awhile he did just that, posting first-half numbers that rivaled elite arms like Chris Sale and Justin Verlander. Severino compiled a 14-2 record and notched a 2.31 ERA, earning his second straight All-Star nod.

Unfortunately, Severino has struggled mightily since. In nine starts, Sevy is only 3-5 with a bloated 6.95 ERA and 1.59 WHIP. He’s produced only two quality starts since the break, while managing to limit opponents to two runs only once. Three of those outings resulted in opponents scoring six runs or more, including his most recent start in Oakland.

Sevy could be fatigued, having pitched a career-high 193.1 innings last season, a sizable increase of 42 frames from 2016. Whatever the reason, Severino has been hit hard of late, and is unlikely to be trusted to start the winner-take-all Wild Card game on October 3rd.

Enter J.A. Happ. The journeyman southpaw was acquired at the July trade deadline, with the Yankees hoping he would prove a more effective fifth-starter than existing in-house options. Despite the low expectations, Happ has actually been the team’s best starter over the period since he arrived.

Happ has pitched to a 3.10 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over seven starts in pinstripes. The team went 6-1 in those games, with Happ limiting opponents to three runs or less in all but one start.

The only stinker in the bunch occurred when Happ gave up five runs on 10 hits to Detroit on August 30th. The veteran rebounded brilliantly in his next outing, though, dominating Oakland to the tune of one run on just two hits over six innings. He made one bad pitch all night, which was belted for a home run. Other than that, Happ was great pitching against baseball’s hottest team since the break.

Masahiro Tanaka, meanwhile, also appears to be in postseason form. Over his last 10 starts, Tanaka has allowed just 17 earned runs across 65 innings, good for a microscopic 2.35 ERA. During that span, Tanaka has held opposing hitters to a measly .239/.277/.378 slash line, while holding them scoreless on three occasions.

That includes a complete game shutout against the Rays on July 24th, six scoreless three-hit frames versus the Orioles one week later, and this past Friday’s gem in Seattle. Tanaka allowed just three hits to the Mariners over eight scoreless innings. He also fanned a season-high 10 batters.

If the season ended today, I would start Happ in the Wild Card game at Yankee Stadium, followed by Tanaka, Sabathia, Happ, and then Severino in the Division Series. That rotation would align Tanaka to pitch a possible decisive Game Five at Fenway Park.

Happ’s brilliance last week against New York’s would-be Wild Card opponent is hard to ignore. So is having a dominant southpaw open the playoffs for the Bombers in the Bronx. Also, the veteran’s poise on the mound is an X-factor that I really like. Happ works quickly and throws strikes. Besides, Tanaka has shown that he can handle the pressure of pitching in Beantown, having hurled a masterful complete game shutout there last April. I like him starting possibly two games there during the ALDS.

With only three weeks and 20 games to go in the regular season, each member of the rotation has four starts left to make his case. If the season ended now, who would you start in the Wild Card game? Let us know in the comments section below.