The Yankees come in ALDS Game 1 on Saturday with five days of rest and few questions. Still, as with the end of the regular season, there are roster decisions to be made.
In the Division Series, the Yankees had the following players on the bench: Austin Romine, Luke Voit, Cameron Maybin and Tyler Wade. Of those four, only Maybin saw playing time as a defensive replacement/caddy for Giancarlo Stanton.
Austin Romine is guaranteed his spot as the backup catcher. Beyond that, there are three questions to be answered with the bench:
- Should Mike Ford replace Luke Voit?
- Should the Yankees go with an extra pitcher?
- What about Aaron Hicks.
We addressed the Ford vs. Voit conundrum before the ALDS, but it’s worth rehashing. Voit had the better track record, Ford the hotter and healthier finish to the season. Aaron Boone mentioned that they kept Voit in part to matchup with Twins closer Taylor Rogers, though that occasion never arose.
While Ford’s lefty bat could pay off against the righty-heavy Astros’ staff. However, the Yankees have a potent enough lineup that there isn’t a clear spot to pinch hit. Voit, for what it’s worth, took Gerrit Cole deep in April.
Yet, should the Yankees even keep Voit or Ford on the roster? They need a backup infielder, so one of Voit, Ford and Wade is needed, but not necessarily two of them. The Yankees could sacrifice one of their spots for an extra pitcher.
Or, they could lose their spot to Aaron Hicks. Not only has Hicks declared himself ready, but the Yankees are seriously considering him. He took it upon himself to start throwing in an effort to prove himself to the Yankees, and that gumption appears to have paid off.
Hicks could replace any of Maybin, Voit or Wade for the ALCS roster. He can switch-hit, play any of the outfield positions and provide a better defensive replacement for Stanton than Maybin. That is, of course, if he’s truly ready to go, but that’s not information we’re privy to.
If Hicks is rostered, Maybin could still stay as a pinch runner and extra bat, though Wade would appear to be a superior basestealer and can play the infield. However, of the bench players, Maybin is the only one to bat this postseason and went deep in Game 3.
The starting nine appears all but set. For the first time this season, the Yankees kept the same starting lineup together for three straight days and it paid off with 23 runs over three games against the Twins.
You can certainly quibble with the lineup order — Brett Gardner in the No. 3 spot drew plenty of ire — but it’s worked. The Astros come at the Yankees with a series of right-handed pitchers outside of Wade Miley, who is likely a mop-up reliever in the ALCS. Therefore, there’s little reason to change the lineup.
Again, Hicks could change the calculus as he would have been part of the Yankees’ Death Star lineup just a couple of months ago. It’s hard, though, to go from simulated games after two months off the shelf to facing the best rotation in baseball. The Yankees would have a hard time replacing Gardner, Stanton or Edwin Encarnación with him.
Again, this isn’t the most difficult question as we know the key players. James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino will start in some order for the first three games against Houston, while J.A. Happ will likely toss bulk innings or start Game 4 in an all-hands-on-deck situation.
Will Yankees change up the order of their rotation? Tanaka’s home/road splits are well-documented and he would start both Game 2 and 6 on the road if Boone does not alter his staff. Otherwise, the Yankees could flip him with Severino to keep him at home, though he’d still start a potential Game 7 on the road.
Despite a rocky Game 1 start, Paxton remains the Yankees’ best option for Game 1. He struggled in his first start against the Astros this season in Houston, but he was also reportedly tipping pitches. Big Maple rebounded with five one-run innings in the Bronx. The Astros’ lineup is righty-heavy, yet Paxton can handle both sides of the plate.
The main query with the bullpen is two-fold; Is CC Sabathia healthy enough to return, and would he replace a pitcher or hitter?
Sabathia went through a bullpen session Wednesday. In his workout day presser Thursday, Boone said Sabathia felt good before he went out to stretch and play catch, though he hadn’t completed his routine by the press conference. If the left-hander bounces back well, he presumably has a role on the roster.
Who’s spot does he take? He could take one of the bench bats’ spots, or he could replace Tyler Lyons, Jonathan Loaisiga or Luis Cessa. Though Cessa didn’t pitch in the Division Series, Sabathia would be more likely to replace the other two as Cessa gives emergency length to the pen. Lyons is another lefty and might be superfluous with CC back.
If CC is on the roster, he could both give limited length (one time through the order) and would also be another option to team with Tommy Kahnle to attack Michael Brantley and Yordan Álvarez, the Astros’ two best left-handed hitters.
If I had to make a guess, I’d say the Yankees keep their same starting lineup while adding both Hicks and Sabathia to the roster and taking off Maybin and Lyons. That’s not necessarily fair to either of the latter duo who performed well last round, but Hicks and Sabathia bring both more talent and intangibles that could help the Bombers.