Five keys to winning the American League Wild Card game for the New York Yankees

The Yankees will be playing in their second American League Wild Card game on Tuesday, since its implementation in 2012. The first go around for the Yankees in this new playoff play-in game went extremely poor as they were blanked at Yankees Stadium by the up and coming Houston Astros. While they won’t be facing a pitcher quite as good as 2015 Dallas Keuchel, the Yankees still have their work cut out for them against a Minnesota Twins team that has a core of young, explosive players and a solid starter in Ervin Santana on the bump. Winners of 91 games, the Yankees are too solid of a baseball team to be eliminated in a one game playoff. However, there is a strong possibility this could happen, so the Yankees need to have a game plan in order to avoid going home for good on Tuesday. Here are five keys for the Bombers to ensure that they punch a ticket to the ALDS for the first time since 2012.
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Due to the circumstances, early pressure is necessary.
The Twins come into Yankee Stadium as by far the most inexperienced team in terms of postseason baseball. Out of all their projected starters, only Joe Mauer, Jason Castro, and Ervin Santana have prior playoff experience and overall, they have less of a veteran presence than the Yankees. Coming into Yankee Stadium for their first ever playoff experience is very intimidating, and the Twins will likely be playing with underlying nerves in this matchup. The Yankees are considered heavy favorites to take this game, and it is crucial for them to make a statement early. Luis Severino needs to come out to the mound, light up the radar gun, and shutdown the Twins in the top of the first inning. Then the offense needs to take the baton and put early pressure on Ervin Santana.

Implement the running game
The Yankees finished with 90 stolen bases as a team, which put them at twelfth amongst all thirty Major League teams. With only two true stolen base threats in Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner, it seems foolish to try to implement an aspect of the game that isn’t commonly a part of the team’s game plan on the biggest stage in a single elimination game. However, in a one game playoff, getting that extra base could be the difference between going on to the division series or going home.

This strategy worked profoundly against the battery of Ervin Santana and Jason Castro when the Yankees played the Twins on September 18. Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury stole two bases apiece in this contest, and while neither of them ended up scoring, their ability to distract Santana and cause havoc on the base paths forced Santana to keep them in the back of his mind, which put pressure on what pitches Castro or backup catcher Chis Gimenez could call. Jason Castro only threw out 26% of runners who attempted to steal on him in 2017, which was third-worst amongst qualified catchers. Gimenez was not much better as he threw at a 30% clip.
Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal
Work at-bats to get to the Twins bullpen
The Twins success in 2017 was largely in part to a core of young, offensive players including Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Eduardo Escobar breaking out and having solid seasons with veterans like Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier anchoring the lineup. On the flipside, their pitching was below league average as they sported a collective 4.59 ERA and a .266 BAA, which was fifth to last in all of baseball. Ervin Santana is in a league of his own on the Twins’ staff and was a no-brainer decision to start the game. Unlike the Yankees who could back a poor Severino outing with their lethal bullpen, which will be mentioned in the next key, the Twins lack any lockdown pitchers in their bullpen and are relying on young kids to finish games. The lone exception is 37-year-old closer Matt Belisle, but he even put up pedestrian numbers this season.

What does this mean? It means the Yankees need to get to Santana early and get into the Twins inexperienced, below-average bullpen. Santana is notorious for throwing pitches outside the zone and getting hitters to chase, and the Yankees need to stay disciplined and work the count. Even if the Yankees can’t explode for four or five runs off of Santana early, each out needs to be productive, and the Yankees have to not let the nature of the game change their approach.

Ride Severino, but do not be afraid to utilize the bullpen
Similar to the Twins, the Yankees had an obvious choice for who they should start in the Wild Card game, but unlike the Twins, if Severino pitches poorly, the Yankees have six dominant options in Warren, Green, Kahnle, Betances, Robertson, and Chapman to pitch out of jams and stifle the Twins hitters in run scoring situations. BBB staff writer AJ Welch went into more detail about how theYankees should handle Severino, and he is dead on about how it would be foolish for the Yankees to not use all of their late-inning options as needed.
Photo Credit: NY Times
Luis Severino has proven he can go late into games and be a workhouse for the staff, and if he is flashing his potential dominance, Joe Girardi should stick with him. However, if his command is shaky and sharpness is down early, Girardi should not hesitate to turn the game over to his bullpen as early as the third or fourth inning.

Stay loose and have fun
October baseball has a different vibe and feeling than regular season baseball. As Aaron Judge said in a press conference today, tomorrow marks the true start of the regular season, and the Yankees appear to be playing with extra confidence and swagger, since the calendar flipped to September. Obviously, talent and execution is how baseball teams win games, but for this Yankees team there is more than just that. My Yankees bias aside, no other team has been as loose and entertaining as the Yankees have in the month of September. Whether it is embracing a Mets fan who gave the Yankees the royal thumbs down or Ronald Torreyes’ newest hit dugout interview show, the Yankees have a tight chemistry that has not been a part of this organization in recent seasons. Despite the intensity of the single elimination game, the Yankees cannot change their attitudes or spirits in the dugout and on the field.
Photo Credit: AP
On paper the Yankees are much more talented team than the Minnesota Twins, but in a one game playoff anything can happen. If they want to move on to the division series, the Yankees must develop a game plan and stick to it. This team is too skilled to have their season end tomorrow and they must do everything in their power to make sure they end up in Cleveland facing Corey Kluber on Thursday.

Article by: Ryan Thoms

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