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AL Wild Card Game Preview: A’s, Yankees are ready to bring the fireworks

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Call me crazy, but this game might actually be more fun than Tuesday’s instant classic in Chicago.

Minnesota Twins v Oakland Athletics Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Tuesday’s NL Wild Card Game was incredible. Colorado’s last gasp 2-1 win had it all: great pitching performances, incredible defense, tense drama, and even a little bit of weirdness from multiple angles.

But there’s a chance that Wednesday’s AL Wild Card matchup is even better. For one, the two teams facing off are better. The Oakland A’s and New York Yankees went a combined 197-127 in the regular season, the best ever combined record of two Wild Card participants. They would have won their respective divisions in almost any of the past 20 seasons, and would probably be considered heavy favorites if either played in the National League.

This game also won’t suffer from the one thing hampering Tuesday’s matchup: the lack of a designated hitter spot. Baseball purists may scoff at this idea — or the idea of a Wild Card game in general — but the one stain on Tuesday’s 13-inning classic was that two of the best players involved weren’t on the field for the last five innings. Sure, Anthony Rizzo was only lifted for a pinch runner because of the game situation, but Charlie Blackmon was a clear victim of the pitcher spot in the lineup, and the Rockies are probably a bit lucky that this didn’t cost them the game.

There also might be more offense. For as good as the starting pitchers were on Tuesday, the Cubs and Rockies combined for 17 hits in 14 innings. Something tells me this won’t be the case when the A’s and Yankees take the field on Wednesday.

Oakland Athletics (97-65) at New York Yankees (100-62)

Time/Place: 8:00 p.m., Yankee Stadium
SB Nation sites: Athletics Nation and Pinstripe Alley
Media: TBS
Pitching Matchup: RHP Liam Hendriks (0-1, 4.13 ERA) vs. RHP Luis Severino (19-8, 3.39 ERA)

AL Wild Card Pitching Matchup

Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Pitcher IP K% BB% FIP fWAR
Hendriks 24.1 21.2 9.6 4.33 0.1
Severino 191.1 28.2 5.9 2.95 5.7

Twelve months ago, Luis Severino only retired one of the six batters he faced in the AL Wild Card Game. He was hit hard in the top of the first inning, and the Yankees fell into a 3-0 hole before leadoff hitter Brett Gardner even stepped to the plate for the first time.

Then we realized the Minnesota Twins weren’t all that good and the Yankees cruised their way to an 8-4 victory.

While his performance didn’t cost his team, Severino has a chance at redemption on Wednesday. He was in the thick of the Cy Young race for most of the 2018 season, but a rough stretch right after the All-Star break cost him a chance at any hardware. He righted the ship toward the end of the season, however, posting a 3.89 ERA with 47 strikeouts in his final 37 innings.

But the lone misstep during that stretch run? A shellacking at the hands of these A’s in Oakland. Severino gave up six runs (five earned) on six hits in just 2 23 innings.

The A’s, meanwhile, are going full bullpen. Former Tiger Mike Fiers isn’t even on the A’s Wild Card Game roster, as skipper Bob Melvin has chosen to instead carry 11 relievers. First up will be Liam Hendriks, who only logged 24 major league innings this year. He was sharp in September, though, limiting opponents to just two runs on eight hits in 13 innings. Many of those appearances came as an opener, though the A’s only went 4-3 in those games (to no fault of Hendriks’).

But other than a bit of experience in the role, Hendriks doesn’t seem like the best choice as opener. He is actually slightly worse against right-handed hitters throughout his career, and has been much worse against righty batters in 2018. Aaron Boone could potentially stack the top of his lineup with a few righties, including Andrew McCutchen, Aaron Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton, or break up the righties and lefties down the order. While Hendriks has been better against left-handed batters this season, guys like Brett Gardner and Neil Walker aren’t exactly the danger men here.

Key matchup: Bob Melvin vs. lineup construction

We know what the Yankees are at this point. Their lineup is mostly settled, though there are some players who can be juggled around, and we know where their bread is buttered. If they can take Oakland’s pitchers deep, they probably win this game. They go as their sluggers go.

The A’s, meanwhile, are going to tinker a little more. Sure, they will still use Matt Chapman, Jed Lowrie, Khris Davis, and Matt Olson in the middle of their lineup (likely in that order), but there are plenty of other ways manager Bob Melvin could approach this game. They might not get as radical as this intrepid reader at Athletics Nation...

I’ll keep this short, since I know you’re busy. But the only reasonable lineup against a RH starter for the Yankees (Severino or Tanaka) involves batting Matt Joyce in the top third of the lineup, in the catcher’s position.

...but we might see a bit more maneuvering from Melvin as we progress through this game. He is carrying 14 hitters on his roster, for one, giving him plenty of pieces to work with. The chess match between him and Aaron Boone — who has never managed a playoff game, remember — could potentially be even more interesting than what Bud Black and Joe Maddon served us on Tuesday.

Prediction

The Yankees mash their way to an easy Wild Card victory.