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Previewing AL Wild Card Game

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Last night two teams who had to play, and lose, a tiebreaker faced off in the N.L. Wild Card Game. Tonight two teams which would, if they were in the National League, enjoy home field advantage throughout the playoffs are forced into a one-and-done scenario. Life ain’t fair and no one said it was. Just know that the 100-win Yankees and the 97-win Athletics are not your typical Wild Card teams.

And this will not be a typical game either. For the first time we’ll see an “opener” used in a postseason game as the A’s will begin the bottom of the first with a relief pitcher on the hill. The Yankees will use a starter but he will have the shortest of leashes.

The A’s and Yankees will be playing this one as if the world is going to end tomorrow. That’s not going to happen but, for one of them, the season will end tonight. As such it makes sense that they will pull out all the stops.

 

The “starting” pitchers:

The quotes are for Hendriks who, as we noted yesterday, will be the opener for the A’s and will pitch for only one inning most likely. Which, as we also noted yesterday, would be longer than Severino lasted in last year’s Wild Card game, in which he got shelled. All of which suggests that you should not get too hung up on starting pitching tonight, because, at most, we’ll see a “starting” pitcher go maybe four innings, and that’s if Severino is electric. The A’s are certain to go to a reliever early, although it could be a starting pitcher in relief. The Yankees will be taking an all-hands-on-deck approach as well.

 

The bullpens:

This is what this game will be all about, folks.

The A’s used an opener nine times in September, with Hendriks taking eight of those “starts,” going one inning seven times and one and two-thirds innings once. In each of them a guy who is usually a starting pitcher came in for the second inning, though it’s quite possible that Bob Melvin goes all-relievers here. Among those options tonight are Lou TrivinoShawn KelleyYusmeiro Petit and Ryan Buchter. Those guys will be expected to be the bridge to setup men Fernando Rodney and Jeurys Familia before the closer Blake Treinen ends the night, one way or another. It’s a good bullpen — it has had to be given how many injuries the A’s starters have experienced — but not quite as good as the Yankees’ relief corps.

As for that Yankees bullpen, it’ll be some combination of Zach Britton, Chad Green, Dellin Betances, David Robertson and Aroldis Chapman. Some of those guys have struggled at times this year and, especially in Yankee Stadium, one errant longball can change the complexion of the game, but it’s a near-historically good set of relievers with whom the Bombers will ride or die.

 

The lineups:

Contending with all of those relief arms are the number two (Yankees) and number four (A’s) run-scoring offenses in all of baseball this year. The longball is key, obviously. New York led the majors by hitting an all-time record 267 homers. The A’s were third in baseball with 227, 48 of which came off the bat of Khris Davis. The A’s are pretty right-handed heavy, and Severino deals with right-handed pitching pretty well, so that’ll be a plus for the Yankees. The A’s have actually hit right-handed hitting pretty well, however, so maybe that plus is negated? Again — and I feel like I say this 100 times when talking about the Wild Card games — those kinds of numbers really don’t matter in a single elimination scenario. As we saw last night from the Cubs, one cold-bat evening can end a season. For all of the heavy hitting on display here, this could be decided by a Brett Gardner bloop single or a .291-OBP-having Jonathan Lucroy drawing a bases-loaded walk.

The teams split their six regular-season meetings this year with the Yankees taking two of three in mid-May and the A’s taking two of three in early September. That doesn’t matter now. Nothing matters but the heat from the relievers and the timing of the pitching changes. We won’t predict the outcome because who really knows, but expect to see high velocity and high drama, with every pitch carrying with it a weight and an effort that only 21st century relief pitchers and bullpen strategy can provide.