Despite all the time and effort and number-crunching devoted to the debate over the Yankees’ starting pitcher for Wednesday night’s wild-card game, it’s not that big of an issue.
You know what a real problem is? Having to play a Game No. 163, as the Dodgers, Rockies, Cubs and Brewers will do Monday, with the losers subjected to their own do-or-die cage match a little more than 24 hours later. That type of chaos is destabilizing. It messes with plans, chews up blueprints. Somebody’s season is going to get ruined by it.
Compared to that National League mayhem, the Yankees are cruising into these playoffs in near-perfect condition after a stress-free weekend in Boston, where their most difficult choices involved ordering the lobster roll or steak tips.
Much was made of general manager Brian Cashman hopping up to Fenway Park for some war-room strategizing in advance of Tuesday’s official workout day in the Bronx, but the beauty of the wild-card round is that it’s a nine-inning season. You have 25 players to win that one game. And the Yankees have plenty of ammo for such an assignment, even against a worthy adversary in the A’s.
So when Aaron Boone was asked Sunday about how much he may be factoring in the looming showdown with the Red Sox in the Division Series (Game 1 Friday at Fenway), the manager tried to deflect the attention back toward Oakland’s upcoming visit.
“Um, very little,” Boone said. “There’s no tomorrow Wednesday. So you pour everything you can into Wednesday in trying to win that game.”
The Yankees won’t admit publicly they’re peeking ahead to Boston, but it’s only natural. Of course Boone & Co. anticipate beating the A’s, and lining up a rotation in the most optimal fashion-- meaning two starts by J.A. Happ -- is critical for toppling the 108-win Red Sox.
As for Wednesday, the Yankees were able to have some crucial questions answered during the last month, making them feel considerably better about their chances this October.
Remember a week ago, when Didi Gregorius supposedly was done after tearing cartilage in his right wrist from that game-winning slide in the clincher? That panic was put to rest at Fenway, as Gregorius started the first two games, had a pair of hits and seems fine for Wednesday.
The same goes for Aaron Hicks, who had to sit with a hamstring issue from Tropicana Field’s turf but was fine while roaming Fenway’s grass. Gleyber Torres no longer is bothered by his brief hip tightness, and it also appears that Aaron Judge’s recovery from his fractured wrist has him performing at a higher level than maybe the Yankees had conservatively hoped for.
Judge is batting only .220 (9-for-41) since returning on Sept. 14 after a seven-week stay on the disabled list, but he went 6-for-21 during the final road trip and drilled his first homer -- a towering shot to centerfield in Friday’s win over the Red Sox -- to go with five RBIs. The home run was the most promising sign yet that this could be the real Judge, and with his intimidating bat in place, the Yankees’ ball-bashing machinery can operate at max levels.
Once the Yankees secured home-field advantage Friday, they claimed the single-season homer record for themselves, passing the ’97 Mariners when Torres went deep for No. 265 on the year. (They wound up with 267.) It’s incredible to think that the Yankees still were able to outmuscle the Mariners despite long absences by Judge, Gregorius and Torres -- three sluggers responsible for a combined 78 home runs this season. (Gary Sanchez also had a long absence, and even though he struggled at the plate, he still hit 18 home runs in only 89 games.) Cashman helped that along by trading for Luke Voit, who homered again in Sunday’s finale to give him 14 since Aug. 24.
All that, and we still haven’t mentioned the fearsome bullpen, perhaps the biggest reason Wednesday’s starter is so interchangeable. Now that Aroldis Chapman is back in the fold and the group got some rest this past week, their fourth-ranked ERA overall (3.37) and top K/9 ratio (11.38) reflects how much of a weapon it is. Boone knows he has to stick with a starter for only three or four innings before deploying the specialists, and any of the three starting candidates -- Happ, Masahiro Tanaka or Luis Severino -- should be able to handle that.
After a 100-win season, and making it to this point mostly healthy, the Yankees have earned a day to relax.