October baseball is finally here, Yankees fans. After a long summer, the real season begins tonight for the Bombers, as they host the Minnesota Twins in the ALDS. We’ve been analyzing the series all week, but why stop now?
Here’s what you need to know before tonight’s first pitch:
Game One: James Paxton vs. Jose Berrios
Even if it’s the only confirmed pitching matchup in this series so far, we sure are set for a treat in Game One. Everyone’s talking about how much offensive firepower these two teams have, but the spotlight may shine on the pitchers in Game One.
Paxton has been phenomenal for the Yankees in the second half, successfully completing a post-All-Star break bounceback few could have predicted. While we didn’t think that Paxton was truly the inconsistent hurler we saw in the first half, his 10-2 record, 3.63 ERA and 1.13 WHIP after the break have made him the right choice for Game One.
As for Berrios, he’s one of the most underrated and best pitchers in the American League. He just completed his first 200-inning season and struck out 195 batters. The two-time All-Star has pitched to a 40-27 record with a 3.80 ERA and 1.20 WHIP over his last three seasons while striking out a batter per inning.
Neither pitcher has extensive postseason experience – this will be Paxton’s first postseason start and Berrios’s second, after he took the loss in the 2017 AL Wild Card Game against the Yankees. Still, the first game could end up surprisingly tilted towards the pitchers if they pitch to their ace capability.
Game Two: Masahiro Tanaka vs. TBD
There aren’t any logical or statistical reasons to quantify it, but something changes in Masahiro Tanaka when the calendar turns to October. In five career playoff starts, he’s 3-2 with a 1.50 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and .162 batting average against. After a somewhat inconsistent regular season, the Yankees still shouldn’t have any issues going with Tanaka in Game Two.
Although the team has talked about using Chad Green as an opener with Tanaka, Aaron Boone announced Tanaka as the formal Game Two starter, and may opt to save Green for a potential Game Four situation.
The Twins’ starter is still TBD, but I’d be surprised if it isn’t Jake Odorizzi. It feels like he’s been around forever, but Odorizzi is still just 29 and is coming off his best season in the bigs, going 15-7 with a 3.51 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 30 starts for the Twins this year. This will be the first postseason action of his career, but he has faced the Yankees plenty often in the regular season – he has gone 7-9 against them in 17 starts with a 4.71 ERA.
Game Three: Luis Severino vs. TBD
It didn’t seem likely at points this season, but Luis Severino is back, and he is going to make a postseason start for the Yankees this year. After three successful tune-up starts where he allowed just two runs over 12 innings, Severino will look to flip the script on his postseason history – he’s gone just 1-2 with a 6.26 ERA in six postseason starts and has only completed five innings once.
Meanwhile, Mr. TBD gets another start for the Twins! This time though, it’s hard to be sure who Rocco Baldelli will choose. Martin Perez isn’t an inspiring option, Kyle Gibson could work out of the bullpen, and Randy Dobnak is a total wild card after throwing just 28.1 MLB innings. Instead, the Twins could look to piggyback two of these guys and take their chances.
Games Four and Five (If Necessary): TBD vs. TBD
Obviously, neither manager has planned this far out in advance, but we can speculate. J.A. Happ would likely pitch a significant chunk of a Game Four for the Yankees, especially with the news that CC Sabathia is out for this series with a shoulder injury. After that, it’ll just be whoever is available. If this series progresses past three games, the Yankees are likely to turn to a formula of “pitchers” rather than strictly starters and relievers. However the Yankees feel they can get 27 outs easiest, they’ll do it.
The Yankees don’t have much pitching depth, but they have more than the Twins, who currently only have one concrete starter lined up. New York also has a deeper and stronger bullpen than Minnesota, which could help them withstand the Twins’ offensive onslaught. It won’t be easy, but if everything goes at least somewhat according to plan, the Yankees can escape with a series victory and advance to the ALCS.