Wild Card mid-week has flown by, and now we’re only a day out from Game One of the ALDS against the Minnesota Twins. For this reason, let’s take a look at how the two lineups shape up with a position-by-position breakdown (note: rosters have yet to be officially announced).
At the beginning of the season, the Yankees would be the slam-dunk favorites at the position. However, Gary Sanchez’s health and Mitch Garver’s breakout season (31 HRs, 156 OPS+ in only 93 games) has made the position much more of a toss-up. If Sanchez were healthy, he’d definitely get the nod, as he has a longer track record and combines an elite bat with solid defense, but at the moment, this comparison is between Garver and a Sanchez/Austin Romine combination. With for that, Garver’s consistency in 2019 balances the scales.
No position has caused as many problems for either the Yankees or the Twins as first base. Luke Voit has been struggling down the stretch this season — and in truth, has struggled since the sports hernia that cropped up in London — while Edwin Encarnacion has battled the injury bug ever since coming to the Yankees, and Mike Ford may not even make the postseason roster. Perhaps they might even use DJ LeMahieu at the position. On the flip side, Twins first baseman C.J. Cron has dealt with a sore thumb over the latter half of the season, and saw his playing time limited down the stretch because of it.
Both teams have the potential to pack a lot of firepower at the position, but at the moment, it’s unclear whether that firepower will be able to produce. The Yankees probably have the advantage, though.
The Yankees and Twins have each split the second base position, with All-Stars DJ LeMahieu and Gleyber Torres each playing about 60 games apiece in New York, while Jonathan Schoop manned 110 games and utilityman Luis Arraez played 40 of his 92 games there in Minnesota. There are some questions on both sides, as Torres has struggled down the stretch, LeMahieu might end up as the primary first baseman, and Arraez has battled a sprained ankle, but in truth, neither team can truly go wrong at the position; of the four, Schoop had the worst season, and he still posted a 102 OPS+.
Slight nod here to the Yankees, however, especially with Arraez hurting.
Much like second base, the Yankees split shortstop duties, with Gleyber Torres serving as the primary shortstop for the first half of the season, and Didi Gregorius for the second half. No matter who the team plays at the position, however, the advantage here goes to Jorge Polanco of the Twins. The 25-year-old had a breakout season that saw him amass 5.7 rWAR. Despite his prolific production at the plate, Torres was only worth 3.9 rWAR this season, and Gregorius has struggled.
Polanco has fallen off in the month of September, posting only a .706 OPS; then again, Torres hasn’t been much better, with a .759 figure, and Gregorius has been much worse, at a .627 OPS.
At first glance, third base looks to be in a dead heat, as Gio Urshela posted a 133 OPS+, and Miguel Sano a 138. However, recent performance does play a factor here, and Urshela had been hitting a bit of a rough patch before spraining his ankle at the end of the season, with only a .655 OPS in the month of September. Sano, on the other hand, has been on a tear, with eight home runs and a .395 OBP down the stretch.
Things get even more complicated should Urshela not be ready for Game One, although reports indicate that’s unlikely. In such a scenario, LeMahieu would probably get the start at third; while such a move would certainly put the Yankees at the advantage at the position, it would come at the cost of the rest of the infield.
If drafting a team out of all the possible players in MLB, you would almost certainly select Giancarlo Stanton as your left fielder ahead of Eddie Rosario.
However, although the power-hitting left fielder appears to have hit his stride, it remains to be seen how the four days off will affect him. Should he be ready to go, the Yankees gain one of the best bats in the game and a fearsome addition to their already fearsome lineup. On the other hand, the quiet consistency of Rosario (106 OPS+ in 137 games), has the higher floor at this time, but a limited ceiling.
Brett Gardner and Max Kepler played similar roles for the Yankees this year: corner outfielders pressed into service as center fielders due to injury who put up career highs in home runs and OPS+. The differences, lie in their recent play: Gardner has been on fire in September, with 20 home runs and a .966 OPS, while Kepler has been limited to only one pinch-running appearance since September 14.
Since right fielder Kepler has been manning center field lately, Marwin Gonzalez and former Yankees prospect Jake Cave have been filling in in right. Cave has played well as a part-time player for the Twins, with a .964 OPS in the second half. So long as he is healthy, though, Gonzalez will get the playing time, despite his .628 OPS in September.
It makes no difference, as Aaron Judge is on a different level both offensively and defensively, and he has been firing on all cylinders since the middle of August.
If he is healthy, Edwin Encarnacion is likely to get most of his at-bats as the DH. He is a veritable offensive force, having hit 13 home runs in only 44 games in pinstripes. If he’s not healthy, you might see Mike Ford, Gary Sanchez, and Giancarlo Stanton slotting into the DH spot, giving some looks in the field to Austin Romine and Cameron Maybin in the process.
Regardless, Nelson Cruz has somehow continued his reign as one of the most consistent hitters themselves in baseball, having hit at least 37 home runs and posted an OPS+ of at least 135 in every year since 2014. For this reason, he gets the nod.