Earlier this week, we looked at the fringes of the Yankees’ potential playoff roster. The team has some hard decisions to make in the next week regarding who should take the final spots on the roster that suits up in October. On the flip side, we know that a large chunk of the Yankees’ playoff unit is set in stone. Yet that doesn’t mean that we know exactly the Yankees will deploy all of their players when the stakes are the highest.
To answer some big questions about the Yankees’ roster locks, I turned to our staff here, as we continue our playoff preview.
If the ALDS goes five games, which starter do you want to take the ball twice?
Tyler: James Paxton lines up to take the ball in Game Five, if necessary. I guess he’s the Yankees’ choice. I’m intrigued, however, by Luis Severino. The right-hander looked sharp in his first two starts back, including a 21.43% whiff rate on his fastball. He can overpower batters and has a fresh arm. It’s hard not to get tempted into using Severino twice...
Freeni: I really like what Severino has done in his return from injury, but Paxton has been the best pitcher on the staff for about two months now. We should all be confident with him on the mound.
Caitlin: Definitely James Paxton. He has rounded into form at just the right time.
How long of a leash should Aaron Boone give to Masahiro Tanaka?
Caitlin: I wouldn’t let him go more than twice through the order, unless he hasn’t gotten into any trouble. The third time through this year, opponents have hit .309/.347/.596 against him. If he’s in vintage postseason Tanaka form, take it batter by batter at that point.
Tyler: I think everyone agrees Tanaka should not turn over a lineup a third time. Caitlin has the numbers, and they’re not pretty. He basically turns everyone into Xander Bogaerts at that point. So the threshold for Tanaka in the postseason appears to be 18 batters. I might even err on the conservative side and say 12-15 batters depending on the quality of his stuff and the freshness of the bullpen.
Freeni: It all depends on how many breaking pitches he has working. If the splitter and slider, I think he can work deep into games. But if Tanaka’s missing one of his best weapons, five or six innings is a fine target for him. If it looks like he struggling with both pitches, Boone should keep Tanaka’s outings very short.
Who would you rather cover multiple innings, possibly in Game Four: CC Sabathia or J.A. Happ?
Tyler: I ranked my preferences for Game Four:
- Avoid Game Four
- Seriously, avoid Game Four
- Can we please avoid Game Four?
I don’t like the idea of either Happ or Sabathia getting high-leverage work, and every inning in the postseason is a high-leverage inning. Sabathia gives up too much hard contact, so I’d rather see him in a specialist role. I guess if you need a bulk innings person, go with Happ and hope he minimizes the damage.
Freeni: Happ is all about his fastball, and finding that pitch has been a struggle for Happ most of this season. He’s found more success with it recently, though, and he’s put together his best stretch of play. With Sabathia’s inconsistency and his knee issues, I would rather see him come out of the bullpen in short appearances.
Caitlin: I hate everything about this question. Between the two, J.A. Happ has pitched better lately. For sentimental reasons, I almost think CC Sabathia might be able to leave everything left in the tank—which isn’t much—out on the mound. Maybe flip a coin and hope for the best.
When does Gio Urshela play? Is he a defensive replacement? Does he enter the lineup and send Didi Gregorius to the bench against a tough lefty?
Tyler: Urshela has five games or so to show he can snap out of his slump. I don’t think he’s suddenly bad or forgot how to play baseball, because he demonstrated legitimate improvements this season. He’s a fine defender at third, and if his bat is anywhere close to pre-injury form, he needs to start.
Gregorius, on the other hand, never got going at the plate this season. That leaves me inclined to send him to the bench, regardless of platoon splits. His 87 wRC+ against southpaws is just one point worse than his mark against right-handers. “I’ve sucked, if you want the honest truth,” Gregorius told Randy Miller. “I’m not where I want to be.” Sir Didi is forever cool with me, but he isn’t putting the Yankees in the best position to succeed.
Freeni: If everyone’s healthy, I see Urshela just coming in either in the case of an injury or late in games to tighten up the defense. For example, at the end of a game, Voit/Encarnacion could sit, DJ LeMahieu could switch to first, and Urshela could play third.
Caitlin: Urshela hasn’t been playing well lately and was 0-for-17 going into Tuesday’s game. I’d rather ride the hot bats, so I think he’s a defensive sub unless he can really get going over the next few days.
Should Cameron Maybin see the field outside of an emergency?
Tyler: I don’t think so. Contrary to popular belief, Giancarlo Stanton can play the outfield capably. He’s also such a game-changing bat that I don’t like the idea of pulling him for a defensive replacement. You’d hate to deprive yourself of a Stanton at-bat to send Maybin up to the plate, and I say that as a big fan of Killa Cam.
Freeni: With Judge, Gardner, and Stanton slated to take the outfield, I don’t see Maybin playing much at all.
Caitlin: Probably not. Maybe if Brett Gardner starts slumping and needs a day off, but only then.