CC Sabathia should start the AL Wild Card game

This season has been one full of ups-and-downs so far and you can look no further than the starting rotation. Jordan Montgomery, looking to build upon his strong rookie campaign, had to have Tommy John Surgery back in the early stages of the season. Luis Severino was perhaps the best pitcher in the AL for the first few months of the season and was a legitimate option to start for the AL in the All-Star game. Now, he’s a shell of the guy he was in the first half and hasn’t been right for about two months now. Severino is still surely an option to start the AL Wild Card game for the Yanks, but he’s not one of the top ones as of now. Sonny Gray, expected to establish himself as the Yankees’ #2 starter when acquired last July, has fallen off mightily to the point that he’s now a long reliever in the bullpen. As for the top three, most realistic options to start the AL WC game, it comes down to Masahiro Tanaka, JA Happ, and ageless wonder CC Sabathia.

Photo Credit: AP

After being plagued by injuries and inconsistencies in the first half of the season, Tanaka has seemed to find his groove over the past few months. His July was quite tremendous (1.75 ERA in 25.2 IP) and although his August wasn’t quite as good due to a six-run outing against the Rangers, Tanaka has shut down opposing offenses through two starts in September. With that being said, despite the fact that he may offer the higher upside of these three, Tanaka’s known downfalls are too risky to send him out to the mound in a winner-take-all WC matchup. The long ball has always been his biggest problem and the Yankees’ likeliest opponent, the Oakland A’s, have been scorching hot in the second half of the season in large part due to their home run totals. Led by five guys with over 20 homers including current MLB HR leader Khris Davis with 41, the A’s have the third-most long balls in all of baseball, only trailing the Yankees and LA Dodgers. Tanaka has tended to look amazing one start and then get shelled in the next on multiple occasions throughout this MLB career. Therefore, I would not trust sending out Tanaka for the WC game.

Down to the last two options, it’s a toss-up on who should start and is all about personal preference. Yankee fans should be confident if either are sent out to the mound for the one-game playoff. Both veteran left-handers, JA Happ and CC Sabathia have enjoyed solid MLB campaigns in the latter stages of their career. A seemingly criticized move by Yankee fans at the time, JA Happ stayed in the AL East in July when he moved from Toronto to New York. Since the move, Happ has been excellent in pinstripes. With only one rough start thus far, he’s pitched to six quality starts in his eight chances. One of those that was not a QS he still went 5.1 innings against his former team in the Blue Jays and gave up just two runs. In turn, Happ has been good-to-great in seven of his eight outings for the Yankees. One should have no problem if Happ were sent out for the WC game, but Sabathia just seems to be a slightly better option for a variety of reasons.

Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Now flipping to Sabathia, he’s been pretty good once again this season. Sabathia hasn’t been quite as good as of late, but he still owns a 3.54 ERA and has kept his team in every game. His experience and success in the playoffs is what gives him the edge over Happ. In four starts in last season’s playoffs against two premier offenses in Houston and Cleveland, Sabathia was lights out for the Yanks and kept them in games in which the offense was nonexistent. Across two starts in the ALDS against the Indians, he pitched 9.2 innings and allowed eight hits and four earned runs while striking out 14. A 3.72 ERA seems to be uninspiring, but he did what was asked of him, particularly when he kept the lead in the loser-go-home Game 5 on the road. Sabathia stepped up his game a few notches when the Yanks got to the ALCS, as he shut down the best offense in baseball and the eventual World Series champions. His biggest problem in this series was his control, walking seven batters across two starts, but he still managed to allow just eight hits and one run across 9.1 innings (0.96 ERA). Sabathia’s overall 2.57 ERA for the postseason is what makes him so trustworthy, particularly when you need it most in an AL WC game.

Now after arguing Sabathia should start this game, in large part due to his 2017 playoff success, one can certainly make an intriguing argument for Tanaka, who was even better than Sabathia in the postseason and has been the Yanks best pitcher as of late. Happ’s consistent dominance since joining the Yanks also makes him a solid option. In the end, you’re virtually splitting hairs when it comes to trying to pick between these three pitchers and I just simply trust Sabathia the most of the three in this scenario.

Article by: Spencer Schultz


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