If the Yankees are to win Game 1 of next week’s Wild Card Round series, they should start J.A. Happ in Game 2 and save Masahiro Tanaka for a potential winner take all game.
The New York Yankees are just eight days away from beginning their quest for a 28th World Series title with a best of three Wild Card series.
While the Yankees don’t yet know who their opponent for that best of three will be or where it will take place, they’re already in the process of shaping up their pitching rotation heading into next week.
While the obvious order seems to be Gerrit Cole in Game 1, Masahiro Tanaka in Game 2, and either J.A. Happ or Deivi Garcia in Game 3, the Yankees should plan to be flexible on who gets the ball in Game 2 following Cole.
If the Yankees were to win Game 1 with Cole on the mound, however, they should consider going with the veteran Happ in Game 2 and saving Tanaka for a potential win or go home Game 3. Where if New York drops Game 1, Tanaka should be on the mound Game 2.
Tanaka is among the best postseason pitchers in baseball. In eight postseason starts, Tanaka is 5-3 with a 1.76 ERA and 37 strikeouts over 46 innings. He also put together a strong 2020 season that has seen him post a 3-2 record with an ERA of 3.27. Thus, having him on the mound in a must-win game over a less reliable option is crucial.
While Happ may not be as trustworthy as Tanaka, he absolutely is capable of leading the Yankees to a Game 2 victory and pushing the Bombers into the ALDS without even sending Tanaka to the mound.
This season the 37-year old southpaw has put together a bounceback 2020 campaign after struggling last season as he’s 2-2 with a 3.25 ERA. In his most recent outing, Happ pitched eight shutout innings with nine strikeouts against a Red Sox team that, despite a 20-34 record, rank sixth in baseball in runs scored.
Happ has struggled in the postseason, however, as in 14 games and three starts he has posted a 5.04 ERA over 24 innings of work.
Thus, if the Yankees are in a must-win scenario, in Game 2, Tanaka should be on the mound, but if they were to win Game 1, there should be some consideration for saving their playoff ace for a win or go home Game 3.