Major League Baseball engineered the wild card game to punish its participants, to create a disadvantage for the victor and as many spoils as possible for division winners who earned the right to avoid a one-game knockout.
And it’s clear the New York Yankees’ conquest of the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night will leave a mark as they aim to advance past the next round.
Awaiting them in the American League Division Series are the deep and dangerous Cleveland Indians, who emerged as the real winners even as the Yankees outlasted the Twins 8-4 on Tuesday night in the Bronx.
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Recap: Yankees defeat Twins in AL wild card
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Predictions: Indians overwhelming choice to win pennant, World Series
The script couldn’t have gone much better for the Indians, who will start Trevor Bauer in Game 1 on Thursday night in Cleveland, followed by Cy Young Award favorite Corey Kluber in Game 2; he’ll be available for a second start should the series stretch to a fifth game.
The Yankees? Well, they certainly earned the right to spray champagne after surviving Round 1. But here’s why one day off won’t be sufficient to cure any hangover:
No relief: Chad Green and David Robertson were gallant out of the bullpen Tuesday, chewing up 5⅓ innings after Luis Severino’s one-out-and-done pratfall. They combined to give up one run, tipping the game’s balance until the Yankees ran away with it.
It was a performance that will surely inspire more “bullpen revolution” narratives and compel the most analytic among us to consider that maybe teams ought to employ such aggressive relief pitching by choice, and not out of desperation.
Alas, the bill for this duo’s gallant relief work comes due on Thursday.
Green threw 41 pitches, hardly an obscene amount for a right-hander who as recently as last year was a starting pitcher. It’s a total he equaled or exceeded eight times in 2017.
Trouble is, the Yankees will have just one day off before Game 1. And when Green threw 41-plus pitches this season, he always got at least two and up to four days of rest. Most often, it was three.
Green also wasn’t as effective in his first appearances after those eight outings, posting a 3.38 ERA; his ERA for the season was 1.83.
Robertson, meanwhile, is in truly uncharted waters. His 52 pitches were a career high, with his previous high of 48 coming in 2008.
This season, he only threw 31 or more pitches on five occasions. He received an average of more than three days’ rest after those appearances. You’d have to think he’d be unavailable for Game 1, which would be a significant loss for the Yankees.
Even two days’ rest for Game 2 seems like pushing it. At this point, however, the Yankees don’t have much choice.
Starts and fits: The bullpen blowout was necessary, of course, because Severino had a nightmare outing. The good news is, the Yankees survived it.
The bad news is, what do they do with the guy now?
The Yankees’ best strategy – for player and staff – is probably willful ignorance. Wipe that start away, do your best to pretend it didn’t happen and trot Severino out again, maybe in Game 3, back at home. Maybe he takes advantage of the mulligan and rediscovers the form that produced a whopping 11 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.04 WHIP, third in the AL.
Deep down, however, the Yankees have to wonder how much they can trust the 23-year-old after he failed in such a big spot. Joe Girardi acknowledged after the wild card win that the state of the bullpen will affect ALDS roster composition.
Do they dump Severino for another reliever? Stash him in the bullpen? It figures to be some combo of CC Sabathia and Sonny Gray in Games 1-2, a combo whose inconsistency and/or lack of length does not inspire significant confidence.
The Yankees may find themselves piecing the outs together night after night, a strategy that usually delivers diminishing returns.
What not to do: Naturally, the Indians already have reams of scouting reports and hours of video on the Yankees. Still, there’s nothing like real-time examples to drive home certain points.
Such as: Don’t give Aaron Judge anything to hit. Don’t give Didi Gregorius anything to hit.
The Indians knew that already. But now it’s even more likely those fellows won’t see anything straight over the next several games. The Yankees have enough thunder in their lineup to beat you in any number of ways.
They’ll just have to do it against a pitching staff that gave up, by far, the fewest runs in the American League.
The Yankees do have history on their side: Wild card winners are 5-5 in subsequent Division Series, a testament that continuity and momentum matter to some degree.
Everything else, however, tilts in favor of the Indians.
Gallery: Yankees top Twins to win the AL wild card
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