It may not necessarily be a "must-win" game for the Yankees, but they face a pivotal Game 2 matchup with the Red Sox in the ALDS, and will have to do it without a key player in Aaron Hicks.
With manager Aaron Boone watching closely, Hicks participated in a running workout at Fenway Park to see if he was healthy enough to play. But, with Brett Gardner batting ninth and starting in center field tonight, it was clear that Hicks isn't ready to step back on the field.
The veteran outfielder received an MRI earlier Saturday, and to the Yankees' relief, it came back clean. Boone told reporters he can come off the bench tonight if needed, according to MLB.com's Bryan Hoch.
However, with Hicks' strong arm and versatile switch-hitting out of tonight's lineup, what does this mean for the Yankees?
Hicks was the Yankees' No. 3 hitter in the lineup but with his absence, it changes things up a bit. Luke Voit takes the third spot in the lineup, while Gleyber Torres moves up to the eight hole with Gardner rounding out the order.
Hicks is out for at least Game 2 against David Price and possibly Game 3 against Rick Porcello. While Hicks does not have great numbers against either, he still found ways to produce:
Hicks vs. Price (career): .212/.278/.455 2 HR, 3 RBI, 7 Ks
Hicks vs. Porcello (career): .125/.237/.313 2 HR, 4 RBI, 8 Ks
Gardner, on the other hand, has respectable numbers against both starts. He actually matches up better with Porcello, which should give the Yankees some comfort should Hicks need to sit out multiple games:
Gardner vs. Porcello (career): .286/.344/.482 2 HR, 5 doubles, 2 RBI, 9 Ks
Gardner vs. Price (career): .269/.350/.308 5 RBI 10 Ks
If the injury is not serious, Hicks will likely remain on the roster. While the Yankees may be shorthanded for a game or two, they really do not have any better options.
Removing Hicks from the ALDS roster would mean he is ineligible to return to the active roster until the World Series as well. If it is something they do not believe he can return form, Tyler Wade is the most likely player to replace Hicks. Wade's versatility gives the Yankees flexibility to use him as a fourth outfielder, extra infielder, or pinch-runner
Looking at the batter vs. pitcher statistics above, one might fall into the thought that the Yankees can withstand Hicks' absence for a couple of games. While Gardner might stand his own against Price, and Porcello if needed, he is not slotting straight into Hicks' spot in the batting order and that's a potential issue.
Hicks has become a solid No. 3 hitter. He sees a lot of pitches and he hits for extra bases from both sides of the plate. Gardner is missing that last component, one that is important to the overall functioning of the Yankees lineup.
Likewise, although Gardner can still run down balls in the outfield, his arm is far less formidable than Hicks. This might pose a problem for the Yanks considering the Red Sox extreme aggressiveness on the bases as Boston's players will surely take advantage of the difference in arm strength.
Finally, Gardner has been a diminished player for much of the season. He simply doesn't possess Hicks' abilities meaning someone else will need to step up to completely fill the remainder of the void that Gardner cannot.