In an effort to get more teams to care about the postseason, the MLB added the Wild Card Game in 2012, which created a second wild card spot. While that sounds fun on paper, it also comes with risk. There’s a chance that a 95-win team could be bounced due to one unlucky game against an 85-win opponent. In a one-game playoff, it’s possible that Mike Trout goes 0-4 as Austin Romine goes 3-4, and that’s it. There are no do-overs; one team’s season ends on one bad game.
The Yankees have made the playoffs five teams since the one-game playoff was instituted, and this year is only the second time that the Yankees were able to avoid playing in the one-game playoff. By winning the division for the first time since 2012, the Yankees can cruise into the ALDS and watch the two AL Wild Cards face off on their television sets.
There are still a lot of things to settle before the end of the season for the Yankees. They are fighting with the Astros for home-field advantage, which makes the playoff bracket hard to predict. Not only does the No. 1 seed get home-field advantage, they also get the weaker matchup – the winner of the AL wild card game. If the Yankees want the easiest path to the World Series, beating out Houston for the No. 1 seed is crucial.
Right now, Houston has the inside track on the top seed, which could mean the Yankees enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed. That’d mean a matchup against the Twins in the ALDS, which sounds incredibly stressful, but it still beats the uncertainty of the wild card game.
I don’t need to remind Yankees fans about the team’s history in wild card games. Although the team is 2-1 in them, the Yankees haven’t ever had a nice, easy game. Some of the highest blood pressure I’ve ever had as a Yankees fan has come during those three games.
In 2015, it was thoroughly disappointing to see a promising season end because the Yankees ran into the Cy Young award winner in Dallas Keuchel. Although the Yankees won the games in 2017 and 2018, it sure wasn’t easy. The 2017 game in particular is an all-time classic due to the heroics of Didi Gregorius and Chad Green, but it was an at times excruciating experience I hope I never have to live through again.
Perhaps most importantly, there are tangible strategic benefits to the Yankees skipping the Wild Card Game. Now, the Yankees can keep their rotation on schedule, which is huge for a team that already has a shaky starting pitching situation. In 2017, the Yankees had to start Sonny Gray in Game 1 of the ALDS and started CC Sabathia twice in five games because Luis Severino had already pitched. In 2018, the Yankees started J.A. Happ in Game 1 of the ALDS, again because the team had already used Severino.
This year, the rotation is more clear. While the order is still up for grabs, the Yankees will all but certainly use Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and Luis Severino in the first three games, and then some combination of Chad Green, J.A. Happ, Jordan Montgomery and other bullpen pieces (or available starters) in a potential Game Four. Had the Yankees had to play in a wild card game, they’d be really short on starting pitchers for the ALDS after burning one of their few reliable starters prior to the division series.
In addition to the scheduling benefits, the Yankees will be able to focus their game planning exclusively on their ALDS opponent. We don’t know now who the team will be facing, but it’ll be one of Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Cleveland or Oakland. As it becomes clear how the bracket shakes out, the Yankees can focus their scouting and preparation efforts on just one team, and not have to worry about facing two opponents in a span of three or four days.
It seems somewhat obvious, but it’s a tremendous thing that the Yankees are avoiding the Wild Card Game this year. We won’t have to worry about a season getting undone by one unlucky game, or the pitching/scheduling nightmares that come in the ALDS if the team even wins the one-game playoff.
The Yankees have been one of the best teams in baseball this year. They don’t deserve to have to play in a one-game playoff to advance in the playoffs, and now they’ve earned the right to not have to.