The Yankees may not find out which team they’ll face in the ALCS until Thursday, but that doesn’t mean the Yankees haven’t begun mapping out its rotation for the next round.
With the sweep of the Twins complete, the Yankees are well positioned to line up its pitching staff however the organization sees fit. Game 1 isn’t until Saturday, so every starter will either be fully rested or on extra rest by then. Some order of James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and Luis Severino will be slated for Games 1 through 3. Let’s take a look at how they may decide to order that trio, and if there’s any reason to believe it’ll be different than what was done for the ALDS.
Saturday, 10/12 – Game 1: Nobody other than Paxton
The Yankees will either be at home to host Tampa Bay or on the road in Houston. Either way, I can’t envision a scenario in which James Paxton doesn’t get the nod here. He’ll be the most rested of the triumvirate and of course is currently the best of the bunch.
Whether it’s in Houston or the Bronx, Paxton should be pretty comfortable. At Yankee Stadium this season, Big Maple had a 3.35 ERA. Moreover, Paxton has handled the Rays pretty well this season. In two starts, the lefty allowed just four runs in 12 innings and struck out 18 batters. Those came in back-to-back starts on July 7th and 15th, the latter in the Bronx.
Even though he recorded a 4.81 mark on the road this year, he’s actually pitched fairly well at Houston throughout his career. Going back to 2017 (i.e. when the Astros became elite), Paxton has a 3.98 ERA and 3.26 FIP at Minute Maid Park in 31 2/3 innings pitched.
That’s still a pretty small sample, but it’s somewhat comforting that he’s pitched there a decent amount. All but four of those innings were during his AL West days with the Mariners, of course. In his one start in Houston this season, back on April 10th, he allowed five runs in four innings. Not great, obviously, but it’s just one start.
Paxton in Game 1 means he’d also start Game 5. Then, he’d presumably be available in relief for Game 7.
Sunday, 10/13 and Tuesday, 10/15 – Games 2 and 3: Tanaka vs. Severino
This decision is a little more intriguing. Sevy would be on five days rest while Tanaka would have had a full week off. Whoever pitches Game 2 would also be lined up for a potential Game 6, if necessary.
If we are to believe that the Yankees want to start Tanaka at home as much as possible, then this game really depends on the opponent. Should it be the Rays, Tanaka may get the ball. If the Astros, Severino may get the nod instead.
I wrote about Tanaka’s home/road splits before the ALDS and didn’t think they were a huge deal in spite of his bloated 6.05 road ERA. The Yankees didn’t admit that being a driving force in starting him at Yankee Stadium against the Twins, but it’s certainly plausible. And, for what it’s worth, Severino’s career road ERA (3.38) is a tad lower than his home ERA (3.55). Sevy’s FIP is much better on the road (3.08 vs. 3.63).
One more interesting tidbit – here’s how these two perform based on days of rest between starts during their careers:
|Player (ERA)||4 Days Rest||5 Days Rest||6+ Days Rest|
If Severino starts Game 2, it’d be on five days rest. Game 3 would be seven days. For Tanaka, it would be seven for Game 2 and nine for Game 3.
Let’s dig a little deeper depending on the matchup:
If it’s houston
Tanaka has pitched twice against Houston this year, both at home and away. He allowed only three runs in 12 innings, but didn’t miss many bats along the way (4 strikeouts). Back in the 2017 ALCS, Masahiro did very well in two starts vs. the Astros. He took the loss in Game 1 despite allowing two runs in six frames. Meanwhile, he won Game 5 with a masterful seven shutout frames. I’m not saying any of this is predictive, but I personally feel comfortable with Postseason Tanaka anywhere. Perhaps he’s better suited at Yankee Stadium, but I don’t mind which way the Yankees go.
Severino hasn’t faced the Astros since 2018. If it means anything, he dominated them in two May starts that year. One was a complete game shutout in Houston in which he struck out 10. The other was seven innings of two run ball and 11 strikeouts at Yankee Stadium. Going back a little further to the 2017 ALCS and we find two outings in which Severino struggled against Houston. Both of these outings, Games 2 and 6, were on the road. In neither did Severino pitch more than 4 2/3 frames. In sum, he allowed four runs in 8 2/3 innings that series, which certainly isn’t bad, but not his usual dominant self.
My verdict: Give me Severino in Game 2. Frankly, Houston is a tough match up no matter what, but I’ll go with Severino’s road success in this case. I’m also a little hesitant to give Severino too much rest. I feel like he’ll have too much energy and be wild if given a week off. By starting him Game 2, it’ll be on five days rest which is his best split per above.
Tanaka’s pretty steady regardless of rest, but he’s at his best on longer layoffs. I’ll take that in his favor and I also don’t mind him getting the ball at Yankee Stadium in Game 3 in this scenario. I know I’ve said I’m indifferent on his home/road splits, but I don’t think pitching at home hurts one bit.
if it’s tampa bay
As for the Rays, Tanaka has had plenty of success against them both home and away. At the Trop, Tanaka pitched 13 1/3 frames this season in two starts and permitted 5 runs while punching out 12. At home against Tampa Bay, Masa twirled 15 shutout frames, including a complete game two-hit shutout on June 17th.
Tampa Bay hasn’t seen Severino since 2018. Aside from one bad outing, Sevy had the Rays’ number that year. Here are the starts:
- 4/4/18 (Home): 7 1/3 innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 7 strikeouts, 1 walk, 0 homers
- 6/16/18 (Home): 8 innings, 3 hits,0 runs, 9 strikeouts, 2 walks
- 7/23/18 (Away): 5 innings, 11 hits, 7 runs, 8 strikeouts, 0 walks, 2 homers
- 9/25/18 (Away): 5 innings, 4 hits, 2 runs, 7 strikeouts, 3 walks, 0 homers
My verdict: I’ll go with Tanaka in Games 2 and 6 (if necessary). Really, I’d be happy either way, but I’ll give a slight edge to Masahiro just because of recent success against Tampa Bay. That means I want to start him in the series as early as possible while also allowing him two home starts. Again, I know that I said I didn’t really care about his road woes, but if it helps sway the decision a little bit, so be it.
Severino in Games 3 (away) and 7 (home) are cool for me too. Yeah, the extra rest isn’t ideal in my view, but I also like his track record on the road. I’m comfortable with him at any ballpark, but considering this one may not even go 7, I’d happy that his one certain start in this case would be in Florida.
Wednesday, 10/16 – Game 4: Happ or the bullpen?
JA Happ pitched an inning of relief in Game 1 of the ALDS, but hasn’t had a long outing since Sept. 25th which happened to be against the Rays in Tampa Bay. Happ’s actually handled the Rays pretty well this season. In 15 1/3 innings across three outings, he allowed only four runs and struck out 14 batters. More impressively, he didn’t allow a single dinger. Two of those outings were on the road.
If it’s Houston, eek. Happ got torched at Yankee Stadium on June 23rd when the Astros tagged him for eight runs in four innings. The southpaw gave up 11 hits and three homers in that outing. Considering Houston’s offensive firepower and Happ’s penchant for the longball, he’s really a poor matchup against them.
Now, what about opening with Chad Green? Here are his numbers against both potential ALCS opponents:
- vs. Houston: 2 games, 2 2/3 innings, 3 hits, 3 runs, 0 homers, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts
- vs. Tampa Bay: 8 games, 10 innings, 10 hits, 5 runs, 3 homers, 3 walks, 13 strikeouts
It’s worth noting that one of his games against the Astros was where all the damage was done. And, to no surprise, it was in April before Green worked out his issues in the minors. More importantly, there’s just no way we can glean anything from a couple of short outings against Houston.
Extremely small sample alert, but Green didn’t allow a run against the Rays in his last four appearances against them (5 2/3 innings). That includes his perfect two inning outing at the Trop on Sept. 24th, when he struck out five of the six batters he faced.
My verdict: If the Yankees take on the Rays, I’m fine with pitching Happ on the road as long as the Yankees aren’t at a 2-1 or 3-0 deficit (which would be embarrassing in the first place). Not only has Happ done well against Tampa Bay this season, but the Rays also have a lackluster offense. So, let him pitch against the Rays as long as the Yankees have the series advantage. Otherwise, a bullpen game or Paxton on short rest may be necessary.
Should Houston be the ALCS opponent, I’d steer clear of Happ altogether. He’s just a terrible option against them. I’d only consider starting him if the Yankees were up 3-0 in the series. Otherwise, I think an opener or bullpen game is in order as long as the relievers aren’t already exhausted from the first three games.