Off Day Dreaming: Yankees Set Postseason Rotation

The Yankees' postseason rotation is set following the return of their ace

It’s the last week of the regular season. The last week! There are only five regular-season games remaining for the 2019 Yankees and then next Friday night they will open the postseason at Yankee Stadium.

Here are 10 thoughts on the Yankees on this off day as usual.

1. The Yankees announced the upcoming end-of-the-season rotation and it goes James Paxton followed by Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka, which means that will be the order of starters in the ALDS. I recently wrote in the last edition of the Yankees’ Postseason Power Rankings that I wanted it to go Severino then Paxton then Tanaka, but I’m fine with the way they set it up.

It does worry me that everyone seems to have forgotten the Paxton we saw in March, April, May, June and July and seems to think the one we have seen in August and September is guaranteed to show up in Game 1. Those same people are likely the ones who think Severino can’t be trusted in Game 1 because he has only pitched nine innings this season, which to me, makes him more trustworthy. It’s essentially the end of spring training or the beginning of the season for Severino, and he’s not tired from a season’s worth of work. Look at how dominant he has been early in the season the last couple years and that’s the Severino we’re getting now. But with this setup, Severino is either going to have a chance to put the Yankees up 2-0 in the ALDS or avoid them going down 0-2 before leaving New York. Joe Torre always said he wanted his best pitcher in Game 2 and that’s why Andy Pettitte — the winningest pitcher in postseason history — would pitch that game. The Yankees have their best pitcher going in Game 2.

2. After the first edition of the Yankees’ Postseason Power Rankings, James Paxton went out and got rocked by the Red Sox (4 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, 4 HR) and his ERA rose to 4.72 on the season. But since getting embarrassed in Boston, Paxton hasn’t lost, winning 10 straight for an undefeated August and September after the Yankees lost all five of his July starts.

Over this nine-game winning streak, opposing hitters are batting .167/.241/.273 against Paxton as he’s beaten the Red Sox twice, Indians and Dodgers along with the pesky offenses of the Rangers and Blue Jays twice. He’s looked like the pitcher I thought the Yankees traded for and not the pitcher who gave them four-plus months of mediocrity to begin the season.

In the first edition of the rankings, after he struggled through the first four months of the season, I wrote: He has two months to change my mind, and he has a lot to do in those two months to change it. Well, he’s changed it.

Earlier this season, YES showed an interview of Paxton talking about how he wants to be a Yankee and wants to pitch where he’s expected to win. He will now get that chance at the end of next week in Game 1 of the ALDS.

3. I really missed Severino this season and his return has made me realize how much I love everything about him. I love his demeanor and pace, his velocity and control, his command and attack of the strike zone. He throws a pitch the ball, gets the ball back and is immediately ready to throw the next pitch. He doesn’t waste time and puts each batter on defense for the entire at-bat. He’s a refreshing presence on the mound, and as close to a guaranteed win as you can get every five days for the Yankees.

In two starts this season, Severino has been dominant (9 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 13 K) and I would have trusted him starting a postseason game without these two performances, but now I trust him more than anyone.

Severino’s 2017 wild-card game disaster came in his first postseason start after throwing a career-high 193 1/3 innings. He bounced back to pitch well in that ALDS and ALCS and again in the 2018 wild-card game before the 2018 ALDS Game 3 disaster, in which he was late to warmup for reasons we will never know. But Severino has yet to really deliver that memorable postseason performance, and it’s likely because in both postseasons he has been a part of, he was coming off six months of career-high work. This time he will be the most rested and freshest starter of the entire postseason field, and has the chance to be the Yankees’ difference-maker in potential series against the Astros and Dodgers.

4. I like Tanaka getting the ball in Game 3. He won’t be scared into melting down on the road and he won’t let the crowd or non-Yankee Stadium mound affect him. He’s proven himself on the road in October with strong starts against the eventual champions in each of the last two seasons. In the hostile postseason environments of Houston (6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 K) and Boston (5 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 4 K, 1 HR), Tanaka delivered, and I trust him in Game 3 of the ALDS to either finish a potential sweep of the series, swing the series in the Yankees’ favor or save the season (like he did in Game 3 of the 2017 ALDS).

5. It seems like the Yankees are going to give the ball to J.A. Happ in Game 4 of the ALDS rather than go with an opener and I really hope they don’t. If Paxton is getting the ball in Game 1 because of what he did this season then there’s no way Happ should get the ball for a postseason game because of what he did this season. I don’t think Happ or CC Sabathia should be starting a playoff game based on their regular-season performances and not counting their postseason starts in the 2018 ALDS which were as bad as possible. Let Chad Green open Game 4 and piece together the remaining 21-24 outs. Don’t let Happ ruin a postseason game in the first inning.

6. I’m scared of three things in the postseason. One of them is the offense disappearing with an abundance of strikeouts, which is what happened in Games 6 and 7 of the 2017 ALCS and Games 3 and 4 of the 2018 ALDS. That can’t be planned for or prevented and all you can do is pray a slump doesn’t occur at the worst possible time in a short. The other two can be planned for or prevented …

7. Didi Gregorius has no business batting third or fourth and Brett Gardner has no business batting anywhere other than ninth in the postseason. I don’t care that they bat left-handed and that they could be used to break up the right-handed bats. They will be the two weakest bats in the postseason lineup and they belong at the bottom of the order.

The Yankees constructed a right-handed heavy lineup, and they have to live with that. There’s no reason to bat either of them ahead of anyone on the Yankees, especially when the lineup is in some order made up of DJ LeMahieu, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, Gleyber Torres, Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Voit, Edwin Encarnacion and Gio Urshela. Gregorius eighth and Gardner ninth. Don’t build your lineup for some late-innings relief strategy which might not and most likely won’t happen.

8. The other thing which can be prevented is Aaron Boone’s managing. It’s great that the team has won 100-plus games in the first two seasons as manager, but none of it will matter this season like it didn’t last season if he manages this October like he did last October.

There’s no point of needing only 12 outs from your starting pitcher if your manager isn’t going to pull the starting pitcher at the right time and utilize the bullpen in the order it’s meant to be utilized. Boone ruined the ALDS last season when he left Severino in too long in Game 3 and Sabathia in Game 4. He then doubled-down on his egregious decisions to leave both starters in too long with the relievers he brought in to follow them.

I’m most scared of the Astros’ deep lineup and starting pitching and it will be the Yankees’ biggest obstacle to winning a championship this season. But after that, I’m scared of Boone managing the Yankees out of the playoffs. Until he shows he’s learned from his mistakes and is a capable postseason manager, it’s hard to think otherwise.

9. It seems like Yankees fans suddenly started caring about home-field advantage in the postseason after the Yankees clinched the division. They should have been worried about it all along. The division has never been a problem. I wrote back on July 1 that the Yankees clinched the division, following the two games in London. Even if it took them another two-and-a-half months to make it official, they were always going to win the division. Home-field has been the bigger issue these last two-plus months, and now it’s no longer an issue since the Astros are going to win it.

The Astros have a 1 1/2-game lead over the Yankees for home-field because of the head-to-head tiebreaker, and with only five games left to play for the Yankees, even if they won them all, they still might not win it. And it’s going to be hard to win them all since they said the Goof Troop of 40-man relievers would be doing the pitching in the two-game series in Tampa this week.

So if the Yankees and Astros meet in the ALCS, the first two games of the series will be in Houston as the Astros will get four of the seven games at home. The Yankees will have to figure out a way to beat Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole or Zack Greinke on the road, and also take care of business at home. Yankees fans will want to root as hard as they are for the Yankees in the postseason for the wild-card winner to win the other ALDS matchup.

10. My expected record for the Yankees in September is 15-10. They are currently 13-7, which means they have to finish at least 2-3 to meet expectations.

The Yankees have 102 wins and only need to win one of their remaining games to match the 2009 Yankees’ 103-59 record. But if the postseason doesn’t end with a win like it did for the 2009 Yankees, it won’t matter.


My book The Next Yankees Era: My Transition from the Core Four to the Baby Bombers is available!