Keys to the Game: A.L. Wild Card 2021
The Yankees are no stranger to the winner-take-all, win-or-bust, American League Wild Card Game. In 2020, they were granted a reprieve from the pressure of a one-game playoff when MLB executively decided to hold a Wild Card series in each league. Otherwise, they are 2-1 in the one-game playoff format.
However, this situation is different for two looming and yet exciting reasons: the Yankees have never faced their storied rivals, the Boston Red Sox, in this game. Additionally, the game will be played in Fenway Park (though recent memory will tell you that the Yankees have experienced great success there).
No matter the opponent, the Yankees need to walk away with the W. They have experience on their side, but what individual factors can go down as their keys to the game?
The Yankees paid $324M for Gerrit Cole for moments exactly like this one. Cole, unfortunately, didn’t look like Cole in his last regular season start against the Toronto Blue Jays, allowing nine hits and five earned runs over 6.0 IP. His ERA in the month of September came in at 5.13, with 19 earned runs, 37 hits and nine walks over 33.1 IP. The good news is that he earned the W in his last start at Fenway Park. When Cole is given the ball tonight, he needs to look like the Cole who refused to come out of the game earlier in the season. And we all know he’s capable.
While I’ll get into the bullpen as a whole more in a bit, Luis Severino deserves to be singled out here. Out of any 2021 Yankee, the A.L. Wild Card game probably “sticks in his craw” more than anyone else. He’s pitched in it twice, and redeemed himself in 2018 after his unforgettable choke start in 2017. In addition to experience, Sevy has been spectacular out of the pen since his return. Sevy has logged four game appearances out of the pen, and in the process, has not allowed a single run. Additionally, he allowed just two hits and one walk. The fact that we could see both Cole and Sevy in this game is a plus for the Yankees.
|Photo credit: Newsbreak.com|
The bullpen has answered the bell down the stretch on the road to the postseason. From Jonathan Loaisiaga’s appearance against the Rays on Sunday, to Aroldis Chapman looking like himself again, to Chad Green finding himself in the circle of trust again, to Wandy Peralta surprising us all with his tenacity, the bullpen will need to remain in top form, especially if Cole needs to exit after six or less innings. The off day on Monday certainly works in the bullpen’s collective favor -- “all hands on deck” is called for, and is also possible as a result of the rest day.
Offense needs to wake up…
… and not rely solely on Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton to hit game-winning home runs (or small-ball singles as Judge did to end the game on Sunday). While Stanton and Judge have both carried the Yankees on their backs over the past month, they can’t do it alone. Everyone else needs to get on base and put the ball in play.
That being said…
… both Stanton and Judge can be instrumental to a win at Fenway. We already know that Stanton can hit home runs over the Green Monster. We already know that Judge has been clutch all season. Of course they can do it again, and they will want to do it again.
|Photo credit: Meczyki.net|
Pun sort of intended, but the lineup will have a few “wild card” spots. Of course, Kyle Higashioka will be behind the plate, which means Gary Sanchez is only available off the bench. Based on recent at-bats, that turn of events might not be bad at all. Sanchez is 0-for-7 in his last seven at-bats, with four strikeouts. In the infield, we might see a few folks off the bench -- what with DJ LeMahieu on the I.L., and the fact that Gio Urshela (while intending to play in the Wild Card game) might not last too long after his body-defying catch on Sunday against the Rays. Tyler Wade and Rougned Odor could be factors. Their bats might not possess the same power as other members of the Yankees’ lineup; however, Odor brings experience, heart and good chemistry with Anthony Rizzo on the defensive side (“Just throw the ball. I’ll catch it.”). Wade brings speed, and more speed. Even if we’d all rather see our DJ, Odor and Wade could end up as a positive for the Yankees, and could use their unique skills to help affect the game’s outcome.
Boone ball, with urgency
The final key comes down to the question of… how will Aaron Boone manage this game? I am a firm believer that the players need to play their best no matter the decisions of their manager, and if they lose, it’s usually their fault. That said, Boone has made questionable managerial decisions all season long. He’s left pitchers in too long when they should have come out of the game, and he’s pulled pitchers when they should have stayed in. He’s thrown in players off the bench unnecessarily (Sanchez comes to mind most recently). However, Sunday’s game against the Rays was described all day on Monday on WFAN as “a master class in managing,” and we can hope he enters this crucial game with the same urgency.
In a winner-take-all game, every key is important. There is no second chance. Urgency all-around is essential for a win.