American League Wild Card Preview + Prediction
Seriously, is there a better single event in professional sports (that isn’t a championship game/series) than the Wild Card game in professional baseball. Last night the Colorado Rockies and Chicago Cubs squared off in the National League Wild Card game, and the Rockies won 2-1 in 13 innings.
I wasn’t even really rooting for either team, I mean I picked the Rockies to win because I haven’t forgiven the Cubs for the 2016 NLDS but I didn’t really care who advances, but I was living and dying with each pitch and each out. Not only was the game incredibly stressful and action packed, it felt like old-school baseball. No one hit homers, I mean the game-winning run scored on three back-to-back two-out singles by the Rockies.
That’s the kind of baseball I live for. I understand that the game has changed to a more all-or-nothing approach, but last night was perfect. The only thing that would have made it better for me is if the Rockies let Kyle Freeland keep going instead of pulling him for Adam Ottavino. I loved every second of last night’s game, and I remembered why I truly love playoff baseball.
However, last nights game was just the appetizer. Tonight the Oakland A’s and New York Yankees square off in the Bronx for the American League’s version of the Wild Card game. These two teams were juggernauts this year, and they combined to go 197-127. The Yankees have one of the largest payrolls in the league while the A’s have one of the lowest, and while that may make this matchup seem like a classic David vs. Goliath situation, let me assure you that this is not like that. These two teams are two Goliaths, there is no David, and these two juggernauts will duke it out in perhaps the best possible location.
They are squaring of fin Yankee Stadium, a place that was home to last year’s Wild Card insanity between the Twins and Yankees. Yankee Stadium is one of the best hitters’ ballparks in the league, and that is perfect for these two teams.
This iteration of the New York Yankees is the most powerful team in the history of Major League Baseball. They hit a combined 267 homers, that’s three more than the 1997 Seattle Mariners. The lineup is stacked full of 20+ home run hitters, and that is the scariest part of facing them. The Oakland A’s were no slouch, power-wise, hitting 227 home runs, which was the third-best in the MLB.
If you are playing a one-game winner-take-all game in Yankee Stadium with two teams that hit a combed 494 home runs, you are bound to walk away from that game after experiencing an absolute fireworks show.
This game should be the epitome of modern-day baseball, whereas the National League Wild Card game felt more old-school.
The other side of that modern-day baseball is strikeouts, and both these pitching staffs are more than capable of making hitters look like toddlers trying to hit a pinata that’s hanging 12 feet in the air.
The Yankees do have the edge in strikeouts, by a large margin. They struck out 1,634 opposing hitters (second-most in the Majors), and the A’s only struck out 1,237 hitters (26th-most in the Majors). That’s the one big advantage the Yankees have over the A’s, pitching-wise. They were nearly identical in terms of ERA (3.81 for the A’s and 3.78 for the Yanks) and batting average against (.236 for the A’s and .237 for the Yanks).
So, all-in-all, the A’s and Yankees are pretty evenly matched from a pitching standpoint, but for a Wild Card game you have to look into the specific matchup. The Yankees are sending Luis Severino to the bump and the A’s are starting Liam Hendriks, and those are two vastly different approaches to the game.
Severino is the ace of the Yankees, and he went 19-9 with a 3.39 ERA in 191.1 innings with 220 Ks. He started the Wild Card game last year too, but he only recorded one out before the Yankees just bullpenned to a win. The A’s are bullpenning from the beginning, and they are betting on the fact that they have the most closers in the league, so they are used to the high-leverage situations that a winner-take-all game has.
The Yankees are betting on Severino doing the exact opposite of what he did last year, but I am just not sure how effective he will be in trying to do so. He’s a fastball pitcher and the A’s are loaded with power hitters who can punish you at any given moment. I expect Khris Davis to have a big game, continuing his hot streak that he was on to end the season (a season in which he hit 48 homers). The A’s have pitchers who rely on power as well, but their power pitches have moment that induce more ground balls than a pitcher like Severino generates.
I think the Oakland A’s strategy of bullpenning for this game will ultimately prove to be a better choice than starting one of their starters, who are mostly journeymen and not bonafide aces.
To be honest here, I have no idea how this game is going to play out. Last night showed me that I should just toss all my expectations out the window because these games are still as unpredictable as ever. That being said, I still have to give you my prediction for the game.
I think the Oakland A’s will win this game 5-3. I think Severino will last significantly longer than 0.1 innings, but the A’s will still do enough damage to get to the back end of their bullpen with a decent lead. I expect this game to end with Blake Treinen standing alone on the mound after throwing a perfect ninth inning to end the New York Yankees’ historic season.