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Who Gets the Ball for the Yankees in a One-Game Playoff?

By Danny Radical

By Joseph Souza

After the disastrous series against the Boston Red Sox last weekend in which the team was utterly dominated by their AL East rival, a division title now looks to be out-of-reach for the Yankees. While the Yanks have come out of that series strong by sweeping the lowly Chicago White Sox and taking the first game of their series against the Texas Rangers, they remain 8 games behind the seemingly infallible Red Sox.

With the team looking down the barrel of the dreaded one-game playoff, it’s time to discuss who Aaron Boone should select as his starter for that game. A month ago this was a benign question; the answer was Luis Severino and anyone who opined otherwise was most likely just a C.C Sabathia fanboy. However, Severino struggled through most of July, throwing only 1 quality start (on July 1st against Boston) and over the next four starts against the Blue Jays, Indians, Rays, and Royals his ERA jumped from 1.98 to 2.94.

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The stretch of tough outings continued through his first start in August when Severino once against faced the Red Sox. This time around he struggled with his control, throwing 115 pitches over 5 2/3 innings while walking three, striking out only two, and giving up 4 earned runs to bring his season ERA over 3 for the first time since April 10th. Even his most recent outing started off shaky, as he was knocked around a bit in the 1st inning by a less-than-stellar White Sox lineup before settling in and shutting them down over the next six. Severino’s season statistics are still very good, but it’s certainly understandable if Boone and Yankees fans’ confidence in their 24-year-old ace has diminished a bit over the past month.

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Let’s evaluate the rest of the starting pitching staff. With the additions of J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn at the trade deadline, the Yankees were (FINALLY!) awarded the luxury of taking Sonny Gray out of the rotation. Both of the new additions are solid mid-level (3rd/4th in the rotation) starting pitchers, with the 35-year-old Happ in the midst of his first career All-Star season; however, it’s unlikely that either would get the ball before Severino or mainstays Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka.

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Sabathia is viewed by many within the organization and fan base as “old reliable.” This makes him an intriguing option, but it’s doubtful that Boone shares the same nostalgic love affair that fans do, and frankly, that’s a good thing. Yes, Sabathia been there before plenty of times and Yankees fans surely have fond memories of his performance during the 2009 World Series run, but the reality is that the 2018 version of Sabathia is good for maybe 5 innings of quality pitching. This makes him a huge risk. If he is off at all Boone will end up going to the bullpen early. Do Yankees fans really want to see A.J. Cole or *GULP* Sonny freakin’ Gray on the mound in an elimination game?

That leaves Tanaka, who is the only guy that could really challenge Severino for the ball down the stretch. After having a rough start to the season, Tanaka has been consistently solid since May. Moreover, he has actually pitched exceptionally well of late, having given up a total of six earned runs over five starts since coming off the disabled list on July 10th. The one hiccup was against; you guessed it, the Red Sox on August 5th when he didn’t make it past the 5th inning due to a high pitch count. Even so, Tanaka still struck out nine and surrendered only one run – a solo homerun off the bat of MVP-candidate Mookie Betts.

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Tanaka was also lights out in the playoffs last year. In Game 3 of the ALDS last year, with the Yankees down 2-0 in the series, Tanaka came out and tossed seven innings of shutout baseball in front of a raucous crowd in the Bronx.

Tanaka’s performance in the ALCS was perhaps even more impressive. In Game 1 in Houston, he went toe-to-toe with Yankee killer Dallas Keuchel. He yielded only two runs over six strong innings to the Astros, but the Yankees’ bats were silenced by Keuchel, spoiling Tanaka’s strong outing.

In Game 5, Tanaka came back with a vengeance. He easily out-dueled this time around Keuchel this time around, going seven shutout innings and striking out eight. The Yankees rewarded him with some run support this time around thankfully, giving Tanaka his second career postseason victory.

What do you guys think? The argument for Tanaka is strong, but should Boone go the more traditional and stick with his ace Severino? Sound off and let us know!