The one-game wild-card game often gets referred to as a cage match where teams will do anything to win.
Luis Severino will start the wild-card game for the second straight season for the Yankees, while Oakland will use Liam Hendriks to begin the game and employ the opener strategy similar to what the Tampa Bay Rays used for portions of their season.
While both teams share similar records — the Yankees were 100-62 and the Athletics were 97-65 — their starting pitching was different.
New York’s starting pitchers were 65-42 with a 4.05 ERA while working 861 2/3 innings. Oakland’s starters were 52-48 with a 4.17 ERA and their 824 1/3 innings were the lowest in franchise history in a non-strike season and the third-fewest in the American League.
Severino’s contribution was going 19-8 with a 3.39 ERA, though his second half was different than his first half. Before the All-Star break, Severino was 14-2 with a 2.31 ERA in 20 starts, and after the break he was 5-6 with a 5.57 ERA in his last 12 starts.
He allowed one run and five hits over six innings while getting a win in the Yankees’ 6-2 victory over Oakland on May 13. But one of those rough second-half starts occurred in Oakland on Sept. 5 when he allowed six runs in 2 2/3 innings of an 8-2 loss. Severino rebounded decently to go 2-1 with a 2.04 ERA over his final three starts.
It was that body of work along with his overall numbers that led the Yankees to pick Severino over Masahiro Tanaka and J.A. Happ.
“Really excited to give him the ball tomorrow,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Tuesday afternoon. “I feel like after some bumps in the road, certainly the second half of the season, he’s turned a corner and really started to throw the ball better. I think he’s ready for this.”
Severino will be starting the wild-card game for the second straight season. Last year against the Minnesota Twins, he recorded just one out and allowed three runs, forcing the Yankees to get 26 outs from their bullpen in an 8-4 win.
Severino is 1-1 with a 5.63 ERA in four postseason starts and seemed to think last year’s rough time against the Twins was due to being too excited.
“Maybe too excited trying to do too much,” Severino said. “But the good thing was that we won that game and we’ll move on and do a better job. But, yes, I think that was the main thing, I was too excited.”
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Should Severino struggle, the Yankees are planning on carrying 10 pitchers, including Happ and Tanaka.
Hendriks will likely get the first inning and possibly the second before other pitchers appear for Oakland. The A’s used the opener technique nine times in September and went 4-5 with a 1.86 ERA in those games.
Hendriks did it eight times and was 0-1 with a 2.08 ERA in that role. One of those times for the Australia native was against the Yankees on Sept. 4 in Oakland’s 5-1 loss when he threw 11 pitches in the opening inning, giving up no runs and no hits.
“Part of this was starting Liam, bringing a starter in after that, had mixed results as far as it went,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “Some games were good, some not. Sometimes we tried to extend Liam and tried to get him through a second inning; that didn’t work.
“So, there’s been some trial and error with this. But I think the reason that we started looking at this is because we’ve had so many injuries in our rotation, and we’re just trying to do the best possible thing that we think for a particular day.”
It is the first time an “opener” has been used in a playoff game, and Hendriks is doing it after being designated for assignment on June 25. Hendriks posted a 7.36 ERA in 13 appearances before getting designated, but he pitched well in Triple-A Nashville and notched a 1.38 ERA in 12 appearances after returning to the majors.
“I’m just happy to be a part of it. I’m just happy to be on the team, to be honest,” Hendriks said. “Obviously, it was a trying year regardless of everything else. But it’s one of those things where I’ve had to adapt, I’ve had to overcome some things this year, and I think it’s made me better. It’s definitely humbled me, it’s definitely brought me back down to earth, and it’s definitely brought out that little animosity about everything, just trying to go out there and prove that I can do this.”
Once Hendriks is finished the A’s will have 10 other pitchers, including veteran starter Edwin Jackson along with relievers Fernando Rodney, Jeurys Familia, Shawn Kelley and closer Blake Treinen, who was 9-2 with 38 saves and an 0.78 ERA.
The lineups both pitching staffs will be facing are fairly similar.
Giancarlo Stanton, who is in the postseason for the first time, hit 38 homers on a team that led the majors by hitting an all-time record 267 homers. Khris Davis led the majors with 48 homers as Oakland finished third in homers at 227.
Unlike the Yankees, Oakland didn’t start quickly. While the Yankees were 45-21 through June 15, the A’s were 34-36 and finished the season 63-29 to end up seven games ahead for the second wild-card spot.
“It’s been fantastic,” Melvin said. “I think more so because of the group of guys. It’s just been such a fun group. We had similar results in 2012, where we weren’t expected to do a whole lot. We ended up having a great second half, great last month.”
The teams split their six regular-season meetings with the Yankees taking two of three May 11-13 and Oakland taking two of three Sept. 3-5.