Masahiro Tanaka is a no-brainer to start the AL Wild Card game

It’s nearing the middle of September, and playoff baseball is right around the corner. As the Yankees head into the final stretch of the regular season, there are many decisions that need to be made for October. One of the biggest decisions is who will get the ball in the AL Wild Card Game, if the standings are to hold. Cases can be made for almost everyone in the current starting rotation, but perhaps most easily for Luis Severino and J.A. Happ. The dark horse candidate, however, is someone who has already started a Wild Card game, Masahiro Tanaka.
Photo Credit: NY Times

Tanaka is having a solid year for the Yanks, with a respectable 11 wins and 3.61 ERA on the season, and he needs to be given a fair chance. Tanaka struggled in the month of August, turning his 9-2 record into 9-5. But in his most recent start against the Seattle Mariners, a game that he allowed three hits and struck out 10 over eight shutout innings, Tanaka showed everyone a glimpse of last postseason, a three-game showing that saw him pitch extremely well against the best of the American League.

Over three starts in the 2017 Postseason, Tanaka posted a 2-1 record, with his only loss coming on the road against the eventual world champs, a game the Yankees scored one run in the ninth inning.

His stats from last postseason were:
vs. CLE (W): 7IP, 3H, 0ER, 1BB, 7K
@ HOU (L): 6IP, 4H, 2ER, 1BB, 3K (*Zero runs of support*) ​
vs. HOU (W): 7IP, 3H, 0ER, 1BB, 8K

The stats don’t lie, Tanaka showed dominance against some of the best teams in baseball last October, especially in the friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, the most likely site of this year’s Wild Card game. Utilizing his wipeout split-finger and possessing the ability to dial up his fastball, Tanaka could silence hitters in the Wild Card game if given the chance. In this year’s campaign, Tanaka’s season has been defined by hot streaks, success against playoff caliber teams, and the infamous base running incident that landed him on the DL.

When he gets hot, he’s an incredible pitcher. From April 23 to August 5, Tanaka suffered zero losses, posted a 3.12 ERA, and held hitters to a .209 BA. Granted, some of this time was spent on the disabled list, but in that time span he made 14 starts, four of which were against either Boston, Houston, or Cleveland. That is another important piece that must be looked at. Tanaka has not lost a game this season against that trio of teams, almost certainly this year’s AL Playoff field. While his individual stats weren't eye-popping, the team has continued to prove they can rally behind Tanaka.  Proven success against these teams is critical come October.
Photo Credit: USA Today Sports
The final, and possibly most important, piece to this puzzle is the fact that Tanaka didn’t face the Oakland Athletics this year. Given that they are the most likely Wild Card opponent, this could be vital. Seeing a pitcher for the first time is a whole lot different than seeing a pitcher for the second or third time in a single season, because of the adjustments the hitters could have made in between outings and even in individual at-bats. Happ and Severino both pitched in the Yanks’ previous West Coast trip, Severino, in particular, being hit hard in an 8-2 loss. Keeping Tanaka stashed away during this series could turn out to be the most important move of the year.

It is still too early in September to be naming a Wild Card starter, especially given the fact that the division race is not technically over. However, it is a topic that must be in the minds of Aaron Boone and Brian Cashman. The ability to pitch on the national stage and work out of trouble are the characteristics New York must be looking for in their postseason starter, things that Tanaka has been able to make look easy. He has definitely had hiccups, and he has had rough patches this season that everyone couldn’t stand to watch, but he also has had energy-filled, get up and cheer type moments. And, most importantly, he has proven to be able to perform when the lights shine the brightest.

Article by: Brian Smith 


  1. I like Tanaka, and you make a decent argument. How many no decisions has he had this year? Tanaka was our ace, but that changed. Based on his performance against the Mariners...a just over .500 team? Stats only work to a point. The big reveal is the "who". Who has he won against and who has he lost against. As much as I can understand support and getting behind our favorite players, I'm not sure Tanaka is the man for the job in this particular matchup. The wild card game will most likely be against the A's. Who on the pitching staff has the best record against the A's? Happ. He's got both the numbers, which you like, and when we dig deeper and look at the wild card matchup, or any team he's pitched against since joining the Yankees ... he hasn't lost in either case. Using Happ for the wild card game means that your argument for post season success with Tanaka can be immediately utilized in the ALDS when we get there. Severino is just slumpin' right now. Severino and Tanaka may both be weapons by the time the ALDS comes around, and at this point, Happ has the best chance of winning against the A's. Honestly, there is still time left and even though it's not much time, I think it's too early to make a wc pitching decision. What if the next 2 or 3 starts blow up in the faces of Tanaka and Happ, and Severino becomes completely dominant again? Would you base the decision on their past record or their current performance? Seems to me that it makes more sense to go with who has been hot and dominating, not by what they used to be able to do a month or a season ago, no?


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