Setting up the pitching staff seems to be the most important aspect of this exercise, though, certainly not the only important piece. For a deep Post Season run, pitching, offense and defense are all critical. Let's look at the pitching decisions the Yankees need to make and then we'll look at some of the different scenarios and how the Yankees might attack them.
First, the bullpen no brainers (5):
I am going here with a "best case" scenario. It is hopeful that the first two can contribute strongly and the playoffs require power pitching. Loaisiga looked great against Boston throwing 98 mph gas.
That leaves out Nestor Cortes Jr. Luis Cessa and Cory Gearrin. If either Severino or Betances cannot answer the bell, then add Cessa.
If all eight can be ready, you have an unbelievable bullpen of eight strong pitchers.
The Starters (4):
That leaves out CC Sabathia. While that sucks emotionally, it just feels like the guy is done. Of course, if Sabathia was to pitch and had a great game, the emotional factor could be huge. But what are the odds of that happening? Happ has one strong start in his favor and a decent history. It is not a great choice, but Happ, at least, is healthy.
With only four starters, I can see an "Opener" scenario with Severino and perhaps you do add Cessa to give the team thirteen pitchers.
If the Yankees win home field advantage, then Masahiro Tanaka and Domingo German need to start at home. If the Yankees do not have home field advantage (Astros), then Paxton needs to lead off the series because he has the pure "stuff" to succeed on the road.
Happ would get the fourth game and then go with the Opener scenario for Game Five and back to the beginning for Game Six and Seven (if needed).
Okay, we more or less have our thirteen pitchers. Now we need twelve position players. Here is where it gets dicey. If Giancarlo Stanton can get a few games in, then you almost are forced to include him. I am glad I am writing this after seeing Mike Tauchman's injury (which sucks). I rule out Aaron Hicks completely. See you next year, Aaron.
If you include Stanton, then you've clogged up the DH because do you really want Stanton in left? Perhaps it might help to build the known commodities and their positions to see what we have remaining:
- Third Base - DJ LeMahieu, Gio Urshela
- Shortstop - Didi Gregorius
- Second Base - Gleyber Torres
- Catcher - Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine
- Right Field - Aaron Judge
- Center Field - Brett Gardner
There are eight of your twelve. In my mind, you have to have Edwin Encarnacion. He either plays first or splits time at DH. That's nine. There are only three spots left.
Losing Mike Tauchman Sunday night to a calf injury changes things. I definitely would have penciled him in to start in Left. He, along with Judge and Gardner gave the Yankees superior outfield defense and Tauchman brought enough to the plate to keep him out there. I am pessimistic about this injury. According to Bryan Hoch, Tauchman had already been receiving treatment for his calf before this injury. His season may be done.
I still do not want Stanton in Left. Does that mean the Yankees go with Cameron Maybin? What other choice is there? Clint Frazier? That's a thought, but no. So Maybin is your tenth guy. He's also a good dugout guy and brings that dynamic. We only have two spots left. We have not settled first base yet, which seems strange.
Luke Voit has not been very productive lately. He has only played 24 games since the halfway point of the season and his OPS in those 24 games is only .741 with a paltry .373 slugging percentage. In my mind, he has forgotten what led to his success last year which was driving the ball the opposite way on outside pitches. His pull percentage is up a full seven percentage points this year. His hard contact rate has tumbled nine percentage points from last year. He has hit five homers since the end of May. It is really tough, but I would leave him off the Post Season roster.
But we have two spots! Here is probably a surprise. But I would add Tyler Wade. He can backup every position. And if you need a guy to run the bases for some of the big, slumbering runners on the team, you call on Wade. This gives you five guys on the infield. You start Encarnacion at first and replace him in the late innings with DJLM. You start DJLM at third and when he goes to first, you slide Urshela in there.
We now have three guys on the bench: Urshela, Wade and Romine. That pretty much matches what the Yankees have gone with all season. You can use the last spot for a pitcher. That could be either Cody Guerrin or CC Sabathia. Guerrin can mop up lopsided games and perhaps CC would be an opener and pitch three innings to start a game before bringing in Severino or Loaisiga. Okay, let it be Sabathia.
To sum this all up, let's look at a depth chart:
- Left Field - Maybin, Stanton with Wade if needed
- Center Field - Gardner, Maybin
- Right Field - Judge
- First base, Edwin Encarnacion, DJLM
- Second Base - Gleyber Torres, DJLM, Wade
- Shortstop - Gregorius, Torres, Wade
- Third base - DJLM, Urshela
- Catcher - Sanchez, Romine
- DH - Stanton, Encarnacion, Sanchez (Sanchez needs to bat every game).
Ottavino, Britton, Kahnle, Chapman, Green, Betances, Loaisiga
James Paxton, Tanaka, German, Happ
Severino, Sabathia, Cessa
The starting lineup for Game 1 should be:
The choices are difficult. But you want your best arms and your most dominant lineup in the playoffs with a few options for flexibility. That lineup looks scary, but would be scarier if that was Tauchman in the eighth hole and not Maybin. Apologies to Luke Voit, but this seems the best to me and the overall process has given me confidence that the Yankees are well placed to make a run at the title.