The Yankees are likely on their way to playing in the wild card game, and creating a roster for the winner-take-all contest is at the forefront of their front office duties. The Yankees will have to cover all the bases in a game that now has the potential to be played on the road against the surging Athletics.
Here are five questions the Yankees will have to answer when creating its wild card roster...
Who is the starting pitcher?
At the All-Star break, the answer was definitively Luis Severino. Since then, the Yankees' ace has mostly been a shell of himself, and while he pitched well Wednesday night, he might not have the time to re-earn the wild card start.
The Yankees will have to decide which pitcher will fare best against the Athletics and that decision has to be between J.A. Happ and Masahiro Tanaka. Happ is not flashy, but he has been incredibly consistent since coming to New York. Meanwhile, Tanaka has been excellent in the second half, and looks like a pitcher that could dominate a club on any given night.
Which pitchers will occupy the bullpen?
In last season's wild card game, the Yankees carried 10 pitchers, with two starters among them, thus carrying eight relievers. It is likely the Yankees will go the same route, which would probably leave Lance Lynn or CC Sabathia as the second starter at the ready.
As for the relievers, if Aroldis Chapman is healthy, he'll be supported by Dellin Betances, Zach Britton, Chad Green and David Robertson in high-leverage situations.
That leaves three spots with righty Jonathan Holder a near certainty. Would the Yankees be willing to carry Lynn as a reliever? He's clearly a better option than Luis Cessa, A.J. Cole and Tommy Kahnle, and virtually any other righty among the current relief crew. Plus, he will not be serving as a starter in a potential division series.
The Yankees will also have to decide if they want another left-hander in the pen. Will it be Stephen Tarpley, who has been up with the club since the beginning of September, or will Justus Sheffield be added to the roster? Or will that give Sabathia an edge for the spot?
Who plays left field?
No one really knows what to expect from Aaron Judge if/when he returns to the lineup. He might not have more than 10 games under his belt before the wild card game, meaning he could still be suffering from rust the plate. Moreover, the wrist injury could sap some power from his swing in beginning of his return. That said, if he's healthy, he's in right field and Aaron Hicks will man center field.
That leaves the Yankees with a decision in left field. They will have to determine if Brett Gardner or Andrew McCutchen (with an outside shot of selecting Giancarlo Stanton) will man left field assuming Judge is in right. Chances are the Yankees will use Stanton as the designated hitter, so the choice between Gardner and McCutchen could come down to the handedness of the pitcher on the mound for the Athletics to start the game.
Who will catch?
The Yankees need Gary Sanchez's bat in the lineup, but if he's considered a detriment to the club defensively behind the plate, New York might want to utilize Austin Romine to handle the pitching staff.
This narrative becomes muddled when looking at Romine's defense, which isn't exactly superb and the backup has been cold at the plate of late. Despite Sanchez's down season offensively, the Yankees will likely slot him as their catcher with Romine ready for backup duties.
Who rides the pine?
The bench will be six deep if the Yankees go with 10 pitchers in the wild card game again this season. We know they'll have Romine and whoever is not starting in left field as described above. That leaves four spots for what I estimate to be five players - Greg Bird, Adeiny Hechavarria, Ronald Torreyes, Tyler Wade and Neil Walker.
Walker's switch-hitting abilities, veteran experience, and overall versatility (capable of playing in the infield and at the corner outfield positions) most assuredly provides him a roster spot. Although Bird is having an off year, the Yanks would likely want him to be at the ready to back up Luke Voit or as a left-handed hitting option for a pinch-hitting spot. Based on recent playing time, Hechavarria is clearly ahead of Torreyes and Wade, which leaves the battle for the final bench spot between the latter two players.
Torreyes, while lovable, has been significantly reduced in the depth and Wade is a more versatile player (he can play the corner outfield spots) with more speed. The stolen base potential Wade possesses could be key in a close game.