On Wednesday night, the Yankees will host the Athletics in the American League Wild Card Game with a trip to the ALDS against Boston on the line. The winner-moves-on affair will be hotly contested between two extremely talented, yet different clubs.
Yankees regulars vs. Athletics regulars
The Yankees come at opposing pitchers with a strong right-handed leaning lineup. They pounded 267 home runs this season, but not a single player hit over 40 alone, and Aaron Judge played in just 111 games. Instead, the Yankees distributed their homers across 19 players, with 12 players reaching double digits (an MLB record). Each of their presumed starting nine managed at least 14 homers. And despite a much higher payroll than the A's, the Yanks maintain a young offensive core, with eight players no older than 28.
New York's defense is average overall with a strong presence up the middle (Didi Gregorius at shortstop, Gleyber Torres at second base and Aaron Hicks in center field) and Judge in right field.
The A's are no offensive slouch, scoring the fourth-most runs in the AL. Of Oakland's presumed starting nine, five players had at least 20 home runs, while MLB's home run leader, Khris Davis, belted 48 longballs. The A's will work to get on base, but the running game is not on the table (just 35 stolen bases this season, which was last in the AL).
Finally, Oakland plays solid defense, especially on the left side of the infield where Matt Chapman and Marcus Semien reside.
Yankees pitching staff vs. Athletics pitching staff
As shown in the graphic above, the Yankees and A's pitched to virtually the same overall ERA this season. Both clubs made starting pitcher decisions Tuesday afternoon, with Luis Severino to take the hill for the Yankees and Liam Hendriks serving as the "opener" for the Athletics.
Severino was lights out for the first half of the season, but took a major tumble after the All-Star break. He began to resemble himself as the season wound down, but the dominance was missing. This start will be a bit of a redemption chance for Severino, who was knocked out of last year's Wild Card Game in the first inning after getting just one out.
Hendriks as the opener is not a particular surprise, with traditional starters Mike Fiers and Edwin Jackson prone to fly balls, which do not mix well at Yankee Stadium. The A's have an extensive bullpen and one that has been particularly good this season, but asking them to run a bullpen game in the postseason without much experience doing so could be a tall ask. Seeing an opener will not be new for the Yankees, having faced the situation against the Rays often this season.
The Yankees might tout the better relief arms in total, but the Athletics sport this season's best closer in Blake Treinen.
Yankees bench vs. Athletics bench
Tight ballgames often come down to the players on the bench.
It is hard to imagine the Yankees making offensive changes other than to swap Brett Gardner for Andrew McCutchen (the presumed starting left fielder) if a strong matchup warrants it. New York's choice to go with 10 pitchers allowed them to add Kyle Higashioka as the third catcher. This means the Yankees could utilize Austin Romine as a late-inning defensive replacement for starting catcher Gary Sanchez, who has had a rough defensive season. Higashioka's presence allows for a pinch-hitter for Romine if necessary. Adeiny Hechavarria, Tyler Wade (for pinch-running purposes) and Neil Walker round out the bench.
Oakland has a talented bench that is used to splitting time. The handedness of the Yankees pitcher will dictate one of the outfield starting spots, with the other heading to the bench (Nick Martini or Mark Cahna) and the A's are set to carry five bench players including a catcher (Josh Phegley) and their own pinch-running option (Franklin Barreto or Dustin Fowler). Chad Pinder and Matt Joyce would likely round out the A's bench.
Aaron Boone vs. Bob Melvin
Boone is a rookie, while Melvin has seven-plus seasons as the A's skipper and 13-plus managerial seasons overall. Melvin has also managed in three postseasons, so there would seem to be a certain advantage for Oakland here.
Boone faced an uphill climb this season due to his complete inexperience as a manager and there were times when it showed. He has been criticized all season for his bullpen management and took some heat at various times because he is not overly emotional on the bench. That said, Boone's calm appeared to be welcomed by the players.
Melvin has the trust of his players and has demonstrated patience with the crew over the last three years of losing, turning the club from 75 wins in 2017 to 97 this season. Melvin has a fine arsenal to utilize on the bench and in the bullpen and seems adept at choosing when to make changes in-game.
The season series between the clubs was split, 3-3, with the Yankees winning two in New York back in May and the A's winning two in Oakland at the beginning of September. The Yankees were 23-17 in one-run games, while the A's went an impressive 31-14 in such affairs.
The Yankees maintain a slight offensive advantage and in the area of starting pitching. The bullpen situation is a dead heat because of the Yankees' longer depth and Oakland's better closer. The manager situation has to lean toward Melvin over Boone simply because he's familiar with the situation.
Finally, the Yankees maintain what has long been an advantage for them in the postseason -- Yankee Stadium. In a game in which the teams are very close in terms of talent, this could put the Yanks over the edge.
If the game unfolds without a slew of mental and physical errors, I expect a close game with the Yankees prevailing. Let's say 6-4.