The Wild-Card Game Starting Pitcher Dilemma

Dallas Keuchel

The Yankees are going to the playoffs and the only thing left to do is secure home-field advantage for the one-game playoff. After winning three of four from the White Sox, the Yankees produced two ugly efforts against the Red Sox and their lead for the first wild card is dwindling. Once they secure home-field advantage, the last thing to do is figure out who they are going to face.

My hope is that the Astros, Angels and Twins will have to play right up until the final out of Game 162 on Sunday to determine who will head to Yankee Stadium for Tuesday, and as of right now, that scenario is playing out exactly as needed.

Wild Card Standings

With all three teams separated by 1.5 games in the standings and just one game in the loss column, the next five days is going to be everything Bud Selig and Major League Baseball dreamed of when they implemented this outrageous format for their postseason. I decided to not get greedy in asking for the teams to play right through Game 162 because had I gotten greedy, I would have asked for the teams to tie and produce an incredible tie-breaker scenario that could force a one-game playoff before the already scheduled one-game playoff. The reason the Yankees need these teams to go all out until Sunday afternoon is so they can’t line their best starting pitcher up for the one-game playoff and in some cases (Houston … cough … cough), it’s a huge disadvantage.

Not included in those standings is Texas, which is two games up in the AL West over Angels and 2.5 games up over the Astros. The Rangers are most likely going to win the West and avoid the one-game playoff, but there’s still a chance they could give the division away in the final days, so I have included the Rangers.

Whether the Yankees face an opponent’s ace or their No. 5 on Tuesday, it’s going to be an experience that will likely cause my heart rate and blood pressure to reach dangerous levels. I have already packed my One-Game Playoff Survival Kit to get me through the game and help me cope with the end of the finality of the season if it comes to that. But until then, I’m going to be scoreboard watching and trying to figure out which pitcher the Yankees will face. Here are the most likely candidates in order of who I would love the Yankees to face to who I’m petrified at even the thought of them.

1. Kyle Gibson
Where do I sign up for this? He’s the stereotypical right-handed Twins pitcher that has a record right around .500, an ERA right around 4.00 and is just plain average. In 10 1/3 innings against the Yankees this year, Gibson gave up 12 earned runs. Those aren’t average numbers, they’re horrible and they’re exactly what I’m looking for.

2. Mike Pelfrey
Pelfrey made throwing high-90s fastballs without striking anyone out a thing long before Nathan Eovaldi. The only Yankee with at least six at-bats against Pelfrey, who isn’t hitting at least .313 against him is Stephen Drew and that doesn’t matter since Drew isn’t going to be playing in the one-game playoff anyway. Here are some of the Yankees’ numbers against Big Pelf.

Brian McCann: 19-for-42 (.452)
Chris Young: 7-for-21 (.333)
A-Rod: 5-for-16 (.313)
Brett Gardner: 6-for-16 (.375)
Chase Headley: 4-for-12 (.333)
Brendan Ryan: 3-for-6 (.500)
Jacoby Ellsbury: 2-for-6 (.333)
Carlos Beltran: 1-for-3 (.333)

Some of those aren’t the greatest of sample sizes, but they’re enough to show that it’s Mike Pelfrey. The Yankees would be able to stack left-handed hitters in the lineup (like they would against righty) and the only right-handed hitter Pelfrey would see would be A-Rod. This is the Yankees’ ideal situation.

3. Tommy Milone
It’s another Twin. Even though Milone is a lefty, this is more about just facing the Twins. The Yankees beat them in four games in the 2003 ALDS. They beat them in four games in the 2004 ALDS. They swept them in the 2009 ALDS. They swept them in the 2010 ALDS. It doesn’t matter if it’s Milone pitching or Johan Santana or Francisco Liriano, my confidence is at an all-time high when the Yankees play the Twins in the ALDS.

4. Garrett Richards
Earlier this season, the Yankees rocked Richards for six runs in the first inning and he was out of the game after getting just two outs. In four career starts and one relief appearance against the Yankees, he’s 0-3 with a 6.55 ERA with all three of those losses and the four starts coming in Yankee Stadium. Give me, Garrett Richards.

5. Hector Santiago
The left-hander and first-time All-Star this season only faced the Yankees once this year and pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen in an 8-2 Yankees win. In his career against the Yankees, he’s 1-2 with a 6.30 ERA in six games and three starts with a 1.700 WHIP to go along with those ugly numbers. If it has to be a lefty, he might be the Yankees’ best option.

6. Jered Weaver
From 2010-2012, Weaver finished in the Top 5 in Cy Young voting all three years and won 20 games in 2012. Despite having a high-80s fastball, Weaver’s herky-jerky motion and control made him one of the league’s top pitchers, but I never saw him that way against the Yankees.

In 15 career regular-season starts against the Yankees, Weaver is 7-5 with a 5.83 ERA. (A-Rod is 12-for-32 with six home runs against him.) Weaver started Game 3 of the 2009 ALDS and allowed three earned runs on five hits, including three home runs, in five innings. He pitched 1 1/3 shutout innings in two relief appearances in Games 5 (1 IP) and 6 (0.1 IP).

There’s a chance he could turn back the clock and find his former self for one big game, but I’m willing to take that chance.

7. Yovani Gallardo
Gallardo just doesn’t scare me. He’s a good career with 101 wins and a 3.66 ERA, but he it wouldn’t be the worst thing if the Yankees saw him. He throws a lot of pitches and likely wouldn’t be around long in the game and there’s always the possibility of him getting wild and giving out free passes. He’s not my first choice, but he’s not my last choice, and I would be fine with the Yankees having to face him.

8. Derek Holland
The Yankees saw Holland in the 2010 ALCS when he threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen for the Rangers. Since then, he became a front-end starter for the Rangers before getting hurt and missing most of last season and this season. For a hard-throwing lefty, Holland hasn’t been as good against the Yankees in the regular season as he was in the 2010 postseason with a 1-6 record and 6.59 ERA in 10 games and nine starts. It feels weird to not be scared of Holland in a situation like this, but I’m not.

9. Ervin Santana
The last time the Yankees saw Santana in the playoffs, he was a reliever for the Angels in the 2009 ALCS and held the Yankees to one run over 5 2/3 innings in four appearances. Before that, the Yankees saw him as a 22-year-old rookie out of the bullpen starting in the second inning in Game 5 of the 2005 ALDS.

After Bartolo Colon walked Robinson Cano to lead off the second inning of Game 5 of the 2005 ALDS, Mike Scioscia called on Santana to come in to relieve Colon. Cano was then caught stealing second for the first out of the inning since Cano always thought he was much faster than he was. Santana walked Bernie Williams and Jorge Posada and then Bubba Crosby singled to score Williams. A Derek Jeter sacrifice fly scored Jorge Posada and the Yankees had a 2-0 lead in the deciding game of the series.

I thought the Yankees would continue to build on their lead and chase Santana, but instead those two runs would be all they would get until the seventh inning. Starting with a strikeout of Alex Rodriguez to end the second, Santana gave up just three hits, all singles, until Derek Jeter homered to lead off the seventh. Kelvim Escobar and Francisco Rodriguez shut the door and ended the Yankees’ season and Santana got the win to send the Angels to the ALCS.

Here’s Santana’s career postseason line against the Yankees: 11.0 IP, 10 H, 6 R, 4 ER, 6 BB, 7 K, 1 HR, 3.27 ERA, 1.455 WHIP.

They aren’t impressive numbers, but seeing Santana take the mound will bring back unwanted flashbacks of Oct. 10, 2005.

10. Scott Kazmir
Kazmir has a 3.19 career ERA against the Yankees, but in the Bronx, he hasn’t been as good. At the old Yankee Stadium, he had a 5.04 ERA in 25 innings, and at the new Yankee Stadium, he has a 5.59 ERA in 19 1/3 innings.

The Yankees saw him in the 2009 ALCS when he started Game 4 and gave up four earned runs on six hits and four walks in four innings. They saw him again in the eighth inning of Game 6 out of the bullpen for two outs and five batters.

His history against the Yankees in the Bronx hasn’t been good and his left-handed power is scary against a lefty-heavy lineup, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing if Kazmir started the one-game playoff.

11. Lance McCullers
McCullers is just a 21-year-old rookie, who has never seen the Yankees, which certainly plays into his favor given their history against pitchers they have never seen before. But he is a righty, so that helps the Yankees.

McCullers has struck out 123 in 120 innings this season, and in 21 starts, he’s only allowed more than three earned runs once. Another reason to not to want to face McCullers is that he’s allowed just nine home runs all season and the Yankees live and die with the home run. This matchup reminds me too much of Jaret Wright against the Yankees in Game 5 of the 1997 ALDS.

12. Collin McHugh
McHugh is a right-hander, so that makes me more willing to want him on the mound. However, he hasn’t been a typical right-hander against the Yankees.

June 28: 8 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 8 K.

Aug. 26: 6.1 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, 1 HR.

Those are some impressive numbers, mainly the strikeout numbers, and for a team that strikes out a lot to begin with, this isn’t a matchup I would feel comfortable with.

13. Phil Hughes
Remember last season when in his first season not with the Yankees Phil Hughes was making history with his walk totals and leading the league in fewest walks per nine and most strikeouts per walks. Well, Phil Hughes sucks again just like he did on the Yankees. Hughes has given up 183 hits in 154 1/3 innings, leads the league in home runs allowed with 29 and has pitched to a 4.43 ERA. So why is he this high on the list? Because I spent a lot of time writing and talking about Phil Hughes from 2007-2013 and a lot of that wasn’t exactly shining a great light on Hughes.

This spot in the rankings isn’t about talent for Hughes. It’s about all of those postseason wins for the Yankees over the Twins coupled with Hughes’ tumultuous time with the Yankees. The Yankees overcame the Angels in 2009 like the Red Sox overcame the Yankees in 2004. If the Twins are going to overcome the Yankees, why wouldn’t it be in a one-game playoff with Hughes on the mound? If he were to pitch this game and win it would be the worst kind of disaster imaginable and the darkest moment for the Yankees since losing Games 6 and 7 at home in the 2004 ALCS.

14. Colby Lewis
Colby Motherf-cking Lewis. That’s how I refer to him in my apartment. Lewis has defined mediocrity in his career, except when it comes to pitching against the Yankees. In 2008 and 2009, he was pitching in Japan. In 2010, he was beating the Yankees in Game 2 of the 2010 ALCS (5.2 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 6 K, 1 HR) and Game 6 of the 2010 ALCS (8 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 7 K).

Lewis has already pitched against the Yankees with their season on the line and he ended it with that dominant Game 6 performance. He has spent his career going up and down from the majors to the minors to Japan and back. He has nothing to lose and absolutely no pressure if given the ball for this game. He’s not a star and he’s not a high-priced arm, who is paid to win a game like this. He’s just a 36-year-old who led the league in losses (14) last year waiting for the chance to end another Yankees season.

15. Cole Hamels
The second-biggest pitching acquisition at the trade deadline after David Price, Hamels has seen the Yankees in the playoffs before when he pitched the pivotal Game 3 of the 2009 World Series and got embarrassed. Hamels blew a 3-0 lead at home, gave up a two-run home run to A-Rod and a game-tying RBI single to Andy Pettitte(!) and lasted just 4 2/3 innings, giving up five earned runs. Hamels had been pretty bad all season and had talked about just wanting the season to end a year after he was NLCS MVP and World Series MVP for the Phillies. Now he is out of Philadelphia and in Texas for the next three years and possibly four as part of almost a second career.

Hamels is a hero in Philadelphia and was already one there when he fell apart against the Yankees in the 2009 World Series because he delivered the city their first World Series win since 1980. Now he can deliver Rangers fans their first World Series ever. That’s a pretty good carrot and stick to chase.

16. Dallas Keuchel
He’s Cliff Lee 2.0. If the Yankees see him on next Tuesday, it’s about as close to a guaranteed loss as you can get in this unpredictable game. The Yankees have enough trouble hitting left-handed pitching as is, but when you mix in the fact that they can’t take their walks and have to swing at quality strikes in the zone, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Keuchel has pitched twice against the Yankees this season and here are his lines:

June 25: 9 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 12 K.

Aug. 25: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 9 K.

If you can’t do simple math, that’s no runs and 10 baserunners over 16 innings and 21 strikeouts.

Last year, Keuchel wasn’t as good as he is this year and even then he pitched once against the Yankees: 8 IP, 7 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 5 K.

If you want to relive Game 1 or Game 5 of the 2009 World Series or Game 3 of the 2010 ALCS then you should want the Yankees to see Keuchel in the wild-card game. If you’re a Yankees fan, he’s the last thing you want to see.