By: Noah Wright
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
It’s all come down to this. The Oakland Athletics vs The New York Yankees. A David Vs Goliath like matchup for The AL Wild Card. Whoever moves on, this game should be a great game to watch. The Yankees were basically guaranteed a playoff spot to start the season, while The A’s looked close to contending, but still at least another year away from actually competing. But here we are, in the final days of September and The A’s in the second Wild Card spot. With that being said, let’s analyze these team’s likely starters for the game, relief pitching, catcher, corner infield, middle infield, outfield, and DH, and see if we can determine a winner.
The Pitching Match-up
Mike Fiers (A’s) and Luis Severino (Yankees) will likely be the starting pitching matchup for The Wild Card game, and basically sums up each team. On one end, we have a young star who’s destined to be a great starting pitcher, and on the other end, we have a little known veteran who’s just coming through. But that little known veteran should be taken seriously. Fires was a deadline move for The A’s when they acquired him from The Tigers for 2 minor league players. Since coming over to Oakland, Fiers has a 3.09 ERA, and 1.008 WHIP in 43 and two thirds innings. Plus his peferials show that he’s been a decent pitcher. With The A’s, Fiers has a low 2.1 BB/9 rate, which isn’t too surprising since he is a control pitcher, but what is surprising is that he raised his K/9 in Detroit from 6.6 to 9.1 in Oakland. However he’s not a perfect pitcher. Fires has been bitten by the long ball before, and that didn’t change in Oakland, with a 2.1 HR/9 rate. This impart made his FIP rise to 4.96, and hard hit rate go up to 38%. The Yankees will likely counter with Luis Severino. Overall this year, Sevy has had a decent season, and currently holds a 3.38 ERA, 2.95 FIP, and 1.138 WHIP. Plus he’s struck out 10.3 Batters/9, and has only walked 2.1 per 9. But Severino, though a young star in the making, isn’t flawless. Severino struggled greatly between July and August, which raised his ERA from 1.98 entering July 7th, to 3.52 entering September 12th. It really depends on which Severino shows up to the game. If the July to early September Sevy shows up, The A’s are going to jump on him quickly, and that could be a game changer. If early season Severino shows up, then The Yankees are going to be given a very good chance to win, even if Fiers is dealing too. In that match-up, I see Severino being the better pitcher. Entering the postseason hot gives Sevy the edge here, and with Fiers being home run prone, but will likely pitch in Yankee Stadium against big hitters like Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Didi Gregorius, Gleyber Torres, and Miguel Andujar loosens some leverage that Fiers has. While a Fiers vs Sevy match-up is the most likely, let’s look at other possibilities. Masahiro Tanaka has probably been The Yankees’ best pitcher the last month or so, but has been an opposite Severino. While Luis started the year hot, and cooled off in late summer, Tanaka got to a slow start, and has been really good at the end of summer, so if The Yankees decide to go with Tanaka, we could be looking at a similar situation to if Severino were to start. Another thing The A’s could do is start an opener, but in a game like this, I think The A’s would be a little hesitant to try something new right now. The last thing I think The A’s could possibility do is start Trevor Cahill. Cahill has been one of The A’s better starters after signing a minor league deal and with the homerun ball likely to be a factor in this game, this could be the guy The A’s go with since he has the lowest HR/9 rate among their starters that have pitched at least 100 innings (102.2), and sits at .6 right now.
At the beginning of the season, I put The Yankees at the #1 spot for best bullpen, and The A’s very low among my rankings. While I do still think The Yankees deserve a #1 spot on my list, The A’s have made many strides to improve their bullpen. Plus with the breakout of Blake Treinen, The A’s have a top 3 bullpen in The AL. Let’s start by looking at The A’s pen. Closer Blake Treinen has been one of the best closers in The MLB and for a good reason. Right now, Blake holds an ERA below 1, as he has nearly all season (.85) while his FIP sits at 1.86, and WHIP at .848. His K/9 is very high too at 11.4, while his BB/9 is at 2.5, and HR/9 is a low .2. Behind him, new acquiries Jeurys Familia, Shawn Kelly, and Fernando Rodney hold it for Treinen. Plus Yusmeiro Petit gives The A’s a utility pitcher option who can pitch multiple innings, or close it down if need be. Lou Trivino, and lefty Ryan Butcher have also provided quality innings of work for Oakland. Like I stated earlier, The Yankees have one of the best bullpens in the game as well. Their biggest bullpen weapon easily is the hard throwing Aroldis Chapman. The Cuban Missile (when healthy) is a top closer in the game, and is no different this year. In 47 innings, Chapman has given The Yanks a 2.11 ERA, 1.89 FIP, and 1.043 WHIP. Plus with only .2 HR/9 given up this season, and a 16.1 K/9, he’s definitely one of best, but if Oakland hitters are patient, they can get to him. Chapman’s one weakness is his control, as he’s given up 5.2 BB/9 this season. The Yankees have a mirid of set-up guys that would be closers on a lot of other teams. Delivering the 9th to Chapman will be one of 3 guys, Jonathan Holder, Dellin Betances, or David Robertson, all of whom have an ERA of 3.03 or lower, and a FIP lower than 3. The Yanks have a utility pitcher in the pen as well with Chad Green, who, like Petit can close games, start them, or set it up for the closer. In the end, it’s hard to decide who has the better bullpen, and these kind of games usually become bullpen games, sometimes early on. But in the end, I think The Yankees have the better bullpen. New York, while has about the same amount of depth in the pen as The A’s, it’s better quality. Rodney, Kelly, and Familia have all done decent with The A’s this season, but the trio of Betances, Robertson and Holder is better.
At the beginning of the year, it would be weird to think that there would be anyone better The Yankees could use behind the plate that wasn’t Gary Sanchez. But in September, it’s a real question to examine. In 2018, Sanchez has been bitten by the injury plague, and has only came to the plate 341 times. Plus even when he’s been healthy, he hasn’t been productive. This season has given Sanchez a .186/.297/.402 line with 16 home runs, 47 RBI’s, and worth 87 wRC+. While Sanchez has never been a gold glove level catcher,he’s given up 14 passed balls in a limited amount of time, compared to 16 passed balls in nearly 300 more innings behind the plate. He’s alsos struggled to keep runners still, catching a below league average 26% caught stealing. However, The Yankees have used a solid second option in Austin Romine, who’s batted .248/.302/.430 with 10 home runs, 39 RBI’s, and worth 96 wRC+ in 253 plate appearances. While Romine may not be super impressive offensively, his defense much out-does Sanchez’s, who’s been worth 7 DRS compared to 4, and .8 defensive WAR compared to .4. Plus Romine has caught 29% of runners trying to take a base on him. On The West Coast, The A’s have been using the catching tandem of Jonathan Lucroy and Josh Phegley for most of the season. But neither have been all that impressive. Both are batting below .250, both have an OPS below .625, and both don’t have super impressive defense. Phegley has probably been the better defender behind the plate, as he’s been worth .3 defensive WAR, 1 DRS, and has thrown out 39% of runners trying to take an extra base off of him. On the other end, Jonathan Lucroy’s defense has slowly been degrading, now at -9 DRS, -.1 defensive WAR, but still has caught 29% of runners, which is league average. When comparing each team’s options behind the plate, it’s hard to decide who has the better catcher for one game. But I think I have to go with The Yankees. Even if they use Gary Sanchez, there’s much better power potential, and if they use Romine, they get much better defense, and not too bad offense.
This is where The A’s excel, their corners. Let’s first start looking at first base for each team. Oakland clearly has the better first baseman here with Matt Olson. He’s been extremely valuable to the team both offensively, and defensively. Olson’s offensive output has been pretty above average, as he’s batted .246/.332/.452 with 27 home runs, 77 RBI’s, and worth 116 wRC+. His wOBA has also been good, sitting at .338. The first base Matt has been one of the best in The MLB defensively, as he currently is worth .6 defensive WAR, 9 DRS, and holds a 1.4 UZR. The Yankees on the other hand haven’t had a proven option at first all year. Greg Bird was injured for part of the year, and in a slump when healthy; only batting .195/.285/.383 in 305 plate appearances. They’ve also utilized a more utility option now that second baseman, Neil Walker, but neither he has been super impressive, with just a .220/.307/.346 batting line in 374 plate appearances. The Yankees best option at first has to be Luke Voit. Voit, since coming to The Yanks, has been a diamond in the rough for the team. He’s currently has 10 home runs in only 30 games, which equates to a .320/.394/.646 batting line (109 plate appearances). Even with Voit’s hot streak, I still have to go with The A’s here. They have the more proven option in Matt Olson, which gives them an edge in my book. Across the diamond, The A’s probably have a top 3 third baseman in Matt Chapman. Chappy has always been known for his defense; and still has with very impressive numbers to say the least (27 DRS, 12.1 UZR, and worth 3.3 WAR defensively); but his bat has developed into one that pitchers should worry about when he comes to the plate. He’s currently batting .283/.361/.519 with 23 home runs, 66 RBI’s, and worth 142 wRC+. Chap’s WOBA also is a healthy .375. His baserunning ability, for a big guy, has been above average as well, with a 4.9 UBR rating. However The Yankees don’t have a slouch at third base. After starting the year with Brandon Drury as the primary third baseman, The Yankees eventually started to utilize Miguel Andujar at the hot corner because of Drury’s injury and performance. But he’s proven himself worthy to stay in the line-up. Miguel is fairly similar to Chapman in terms of offensive ability. He’s batted for a .295/.329/.520 line in 566 plate appearances. Along with that, he’s blasted 25 home runs, and has driven in 84 runs, which leads all rookies. Andujar’s worth is also seen in sabermetrics like wRC+, where he’s been given a 126, and wOBA, at .358. However that’s where comparisons end for Andujar and Chapman. While The NY rookie has been worthwhile offensively, it’s his defense that hurts his game, majorly. At third base, he’s been ranked as a well below average defender with -23 DRS, -16.2 UZR, and worth -2 WAR defensively. That’s where I would give Oakland the edge. Chapman can match Andujar in every offensive category, and Chap may even be better overall offensively, but Chapman is having a better defensive season than Nolan Arenado, while Andujar is considered one of the worst defensive third basemen in baseball right now. Overall on the infield corners, The A’s have the superior duo of Olson/Chapman than The Yankees duo of Voit/Andujar.
The Yankees had a solid mix of Neil Walker and Didi Gregorius up the middle entering the season, but it’s gotten even stronger since. Gregorius is putting up numbers similar to what people expected with a .268/.336/.496 batting line in 552 plate appearances. But he’s further made his presence known as one of the best offensive shortstops with 26 home runs (a career high), .227 ISO, wRC+ at 121, and getting on base at a career high rate (.336 OBP, .336 wOBA). While Gregorious may have a really good bat, it’s his defense that also stands out. He currently has -2 DRS, 3.8 UZR, and worth .7 defensive WAR at the middle infield position. On the other side of second base is The Yankees other Rookie Of The Year candidate, Gleyber Torres. The former #1 MLB Prospect has blossomed into what The Yankees were expecting, and maybe even more than anticipated. Torres rookie season has given The Yankees a .277/.344/.489 batting line in 449 plate appearances with a .354 wOBA. While that’s what they expected, it’s the 23 home runs, 123 wRC+, and .212 ISO that comes out as exceeding expectations since Torres was never a true power hitter in the minors. The second baseman is, while not super impressive, about average at his position. This season, he’s been worth 0 DRS, -5.6 UZR, and .4 defensive WAR at second. The A’s are likely going to counter with their middle infield combo of Jed Lowrie and Marcus Semien. Lowrie, the better of the two, had a fast start to the season. It even led to him getting a nod to The All Star Game as a 2B reserve. However it’s been a rough second half for the veteran second baseman as he holds just a .240/.353/.375 since then. Though overall, Jed carries a .269/.356/.450 batting line in 641 plate appearances. His home run total of 21, RBI total of 94, wRC+ worth of 124, and wOBA of .350 are all career highs. Lowrie is also a slightly above average second baseman with 1 DRS, 6.2 UZR, and worth .6 WAR defensively. On short, The A’s have deployed Marcus Semien. Semien, I would describe, is an overall average offensive player, and above average defensive player. He’s currently batting .258/.324/.382 in 668 plate appearances with double digits in home runs and stolen bases for the 4th straight season (12/14). His most useful asset this year is his defense. While Semien has struggled with the leather at short in the past two years, he’s rebounded to have 8 DRS, a 7.8 UZR, and worth 1.9 WAR defensively. Between The A’s and Yankees, The A’s have the better defense up the middle, but The Yankees have the better offensive players there as well. However, it’s not like either Gleyber or Didi have struggled with their infield defense this year. So with that, I’m giving The Yankees the edge here.
It’s easy to say that The Yankees have a top 3 outfield in all of baseball, but it’s true. Starting in left field is Brett Gardner. Gardy has never been a major contributor with the bat, but he’s still sitting around average this season with a .237/.323/.366 batting line in 579 plate appearances, and worth 90 wRC+. Plus he provides value on the base paths, and with the home run with 15 stolen bases, a 5.2 UBR rating, and 12 home runs. But where Gardner does come into play is his defense. The 2016 gold glove winner has continued to flash the leather into his age 34 season. In left field, Gardner has been worth 11 DRS, and 2 DRS in 237 innings in center field. Overall, he has a 6.5 outfield UZR, and worth 1.4 defensive WAR. In center field, The Yanks have gotten good production from a healthy Aaron Hicks. After years of inconsistent health, Hicks has finally stayed healthy for an entire year, and has produced a .245/.365/.452 line in 556 plate appearances. Along with that, he’s reached a career high 24 home runs, and 72 RBI’s. While Hicks is usually a premier defender in center, his numbers are a bit down this year, with -2 DRS, 2.5 UZR, and worth just .3 WAR defensively. We all know who mans right field for The Yankees: Aaron Judge. Sure he’s missed about a month of playing time but when he was healthy, Judge produced similar to 2017. This season, Judge has hit .279/.391/.534 with 26 home runs, and 61 RBI’s. wRC+ also posts him at 150. Judge, mostly known for his bat, has been good with the glove for a second straight year. In right field, Judge has been worth 11 DRS, 7.8 UZR, and .8 defensive WAR. The Yankees further added onto their team by adding on Andrew McCutchen who can play all 3 outfield positions. In my opinion, this is The Yankees best asset. Sure, The A’s have gotten productive seasons out of Stephen Piscotty, Chad Pinder, and Mark Canha, but compared to what The Yankees have, it’s not even close.
This is going to be a close one, but I think The A’s have the better designated hitter going into this game in the form of Khris Davis. But that’s not to rag on Giancarlo Stanton. He’s been very productive, batting .262/.338/.497 with 35 home runs, 93 RBI’s, and worth 123 wRC+. However, Khris Davis is similar to Stanton in categories like average, and OBP (.251/.329), but he’s been much better of a power hitter than Stanton. Davis has 43 home runs, 116 RBI’s, and a .542 slugging %. Davis also out ranks Stanton in wRC+ at 134, and ISO at .291.
This is going to be a very fun game to watch, regardless of who you root for. It’s the underdog vs the champion type game we’ve seen in movies, TV, and real life sports. It’s hard to root against the little guy, but I think The Yankees take this game. What’s going to come through for them is their offense, defense and bullpen. Sure they might not have the greatest infield, but when you have an outfield trio that bring the speed, power and defense that The Yankees outfield does, it’s also hard to see why The Yankees wouldn’t take it. Their bullpen has been one of the most reliable in baseball as well, so they shouldn’t have problems closing it down when it’s a close game. Plus with the depth their bullpen has, they don’t need Severino to pitch 7 scoreless, or 7 one run innings of work, so that should lift some of the reliance off of Luis’ shoulders. However it’s the playoffs. We’ve seen crazier things happen in October before, and with The As likely entering October hot, they could emerge as victors in this game as well.