The postseason is right around the corner, and if the season ended today, the Yankees would be one of the wild card teams playing one game against the Rangers.* The Yankees have yet to experience the sudden-death playoff since the new format was introduced, but in the event that they do win the wild card, they will need to think carefully about which pitcher would start that game. There are still a few weeks left in the regular season, and the Yankees only trail the Blue Jays by one-and-a-half games, so it's entirely possible that they win the division and avoid the wild card game completely. With a four-and-a-half game lead for the first wild card spot, and an 11-game lead over the Rays in the division, it looks like the Yankees will make it to the postseason one way or another. Which Yankee pitcher should start the potential first game of the postseason?
The last time the Yankees played in the postseason (2012), CC Sabathia started the first game of the ALDS against the Orioles and picked up the win, allowing just two earned runs. Since that time, his velocity has dropped, and he's been diagnosed with a degenerative knee condition. Sabathia is no longer the ace in the rotation, and even lost the honors of being the Opening Day starter this year. While he struggled in the rotation this season, the Yankees refused to move him to the bullpen, but it's very doubtful that they would turn to Sabathia to win a one-game playoff. His last few starts before hitting the disabled list had been an improvement, and he had a good outing against the Orioles, but he is not the Yankees' best option. While starting the first game of the ALDS doesn't have quite the same level of importance attached to it as the Wild Card game does, there's a very good chance that the Yankees wouldn't win in three games, meaning that whoever started game one could start a potential game four or game five, and who knows if Sabathia's knee would hold up over such a short turn around. Not to mention the fact that he isn't the best pitcher and it would be better to limit his appearances.
It may be a small sample size, but Luis Severino has looked fantastic in the six starts that he has made since being called up to replace Michael Pineda in the rotation. If the Yankees were putting together a three-man rotation, there would be a strong argument for giving Severino a start ahead of Sabathia. It's unlikely that he would win the start in a one-game playoff or start the first game in the ALDS since Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have seniority over him.
Nathan Eovaldi was placed on the disabled list earlier in the week, which came as somewhat of a surprise. He is dealing with right elbow inflammation and has received a platelet-rich plasma injection. For the time being, the Yankees expect him to miss the rest of the regular season. If things go according to plan, it sounds like he might be able to pitch in the postseason, but it would be too much of a gamble to to rely on Eovaldi in one-game playoff. The injury was unfortunately timed considering that he's been one of the best starters since the All-Star break.
It's been an up and down season for Pineda who got off to a red-hot start when the year began. He notched a career-high 16 strikeouts against the Orioles in May, but he came back down to Earth after that. Then he landed on the disabled list with a forearm strain. Pineda has made three starts since coming off the DL, and allowed five runs to score against the Astros and four runs to score against the Orioles. Provided that they both stay healthy, either Pineda or Masahiro Tanaka should be starting game one in the playoffs. If he can find his 16-strikeout stuff between now and the end of the season, then Pineda might be the best option.
Masahiro Tanaka has already said that he would like to start in a potential Wild Card game, and it seems like the Yankees would probably want him to do that too. He has not pitched quite as well as he did last season, but he spent some time on the disabled list. Since the All-Star break, Tanaka is sporting a 1.00 WHIP and opponents are batting .217 against him. He pitched a gem in his last outing against the Orioles, striking out 10 batters, walking one, and allowing just one run to score. Tanaka kicked off the season as the Opening Day starter, and he very well could kick off the postseason for the Yankees.
Ivan Nova is not having the best of seasons, but in his defense he did return mid-season from Tommy John surgery. He's allowed three or more runs in each of his last six starts, and it's safe to say that he won't be starting a critical postseason game for the Yankees this season unless something goes terribly wrong.
Who do you think should start a potential Wild Card game or the first game of the ALDS?
*I am by no means conceding the division.