The Yankees seem destined for a Wild Card spot, but they could be in some trouble if they are forced to face Justin Verlander and the Houston Astros.
Most of us have resigned ourselves to the notion that the Yankees will not win the division. No big deal though, the Athletics and Mariners aren’t that great. The Yankees can probably hold their lineups in check and wear down any of their starting pitchers in a one game playoff.
The Astros are tied with the A’s
What if I told you the Yankees would face Justin Verlander in the wild card game?
With Saturday’s loss to the Athletics, the defending champion Houston Astros are tied for the division lead with those pesky A’s. Houston’s recent problems can be directly attributed to numerous and consequential health issues. Jose Altuve is out, Carlos Correa missed time, George Springer missed time, Jake Marisnick is out, Chris Devenski is out, Lance McCullers is out.
This is bad news for the Yankees.
Potential Wild Card Opposing Pitchers
One of these things is not like the others.
Sure Manaea has a no-hitter this year, but he’s a lefty, inexperienced, and doesn’t strike out a ton of batters. Edwin Jackson? There’s a reason he’s played on a dozen other teams. Cahill is very good at home, not on the road, and either way I’m not worried about him if I’m the Yankees.
Ultimately, the A’s have a great bullpen, but their starters are not intimidating at all. Yankees batters should get to them early and often.
Seattle really only has one option: James Paxton. Felix Hernandez is the M’s other option and he’s just not what he used to be.
Paxton absolutely can be dominant, and I don’t think the Yankees would have a walk in the park facing the big lefty. Still though, I’d rather the Yankees face Paxton than what’s in store with the Astros.
Which brings us to the worst possible scenario for the Yankees.
Justin Verlander is the unquestioned ace of the Astros staff, and he has been dealing like an ace all year long.
Verlander is 11-8 with 217 strikeouts, a 2.52 ERA, and .91 WHIP in 164.1 innings pitched. He is having a career renaissance (thanks in no small part to his supermodel wife) and trails only Chris Sale and teammate Gerrit Cole in A.L. fWAR.
Undoubtedly the Astros would choose the battle-tested Verlander in a one game playoff, even if Cole is slightly ahead of Verlander by some measures.
Yankees fans are still having nightmares of the 2017 ALCS in which Verlander threw a complete game in Game Two and seven scoreless innings in Game Sox.
How to Beat Verlander
Well, the numbers tell us that Verlander is having his best season ever, so it will not be easy.
If he has one weakness, it’s his proclivity to give up the long ball. At 1.26 hr/9, he’s giving up more home runs than he ever has. But how can he be having his best season?
Verlander is also striking more batters than ever at 11.88 k/9, and he’s walking a minuscule 1.53 batters per nine innings. Sure, he’s giving up home runs, but there’s rarely anyone on base when he does give it up.
Teams that try to be patient with Verlander end up striking out a ton. Teams that try to get to him early in the count still end up striking out a lot, but also keep his pitch count down.
With runners on base, he elevates his game, holding opponents to a .164 batting average. Pretty much the only time batters have gotten to Verlander has been after 3-0 counts where, in 16 PAs, batters are 4/10 with six walks.
So, the best option is to hope Verlander is off his game.
— C.J. Esposito (@CJ_Esposito) August 19, 2018
Yes, let us pray.