The Yankees are back in the playoffs. That's good news. They only need 1 more win or 1 more Astros loss to secure home field advantage in the AL Wild Card game, which is also good news. In addition to the decided advantage that will come with facing the Astros and Dallas Keuchel at Yankee Stadium, it also gives Joe a chance to rest a few guys over these final few regular season games in preparation for building his Wild Card game roster. I've hesitated to write this post until I knew they were actually going to be in the game, but now that we know I can proceed. The roster for the WC game goes back down to a standard 25-man, which the Yankees can load up however and with whoever they want because they will have the option of changing the roster again for the ALDS should they win. In a 1-game, winner-take-all scenario, typical roster balance can be thrown out the window and I anticipate the Yankees will use 15 position players and 10 pitchers for this game. Without too much organization, here's how I see that roster breaking down:
These are the 10 players we'll most likely see on Joe's lineup card to open the game next Tuesday. Maybe a righty infielder in place of Ackley against the lefty Keuchel, but that's about the only difference. Ackley has been swinging a hot bat all month against pitchers of both hands, and assuming he's going to remain healthy over the next few days I don't see Joe benching him now. This is the starting 10 that gives the Yankees the best chance to win.
We know we're going to see those 10 to start the game. We know we're going to be seeing these 3 at or near the end of the game if it's close, especially if the Yankees have the lead. Deldrew Millances is the best 1-2 reliever tandem in baseball and Noel might be one of the fastest baserunners, something that can be a huge weapon in the postseason. These guys are in.
I'm sure the Yankees are planning on getting a good start from Tanaka on Tuesday, but they have to be prepared for all scenarios, including something creeping up with his hammy again in the next couple of days or Tanaka coming out and throwing a bad game. Sabathia would be lined up to pitch this game on regular rest, so he's an obvious Plan B if Tanaka can't go, and I think we'll see Joe bring Nova and Severino as some insurance if he has to quick hook Tanaka early and soak up innings or do the same thing if the game goes deep into extras. Michael Pineda would be pitching on 1 day of rest here, so I think Joe keeps him off and goes with fresher arms.
You have to have a second catcher, you have to have your top middle relief arms, and you need some power off the bench. That's all covered here. No way these 4 guys don't make it. That gets us to 20.
Same as with the extra starters, Joe would prefer to have his starting lineup do most of the work and get out to a big lead. But if that doesn't happen, or if guys get hurt, or if he decides he wants to make a defensive substitution, this is the pool in which he'll most likely want to dip. Ryan can play all around the infield, Heathcott the same in the outfield, and Refsnyder could find a spot as a pinch hitting option for Ackley. I'm assuming that Stephen Drew is really done for the year and won't be available to play in this game. If that changes, he's in and Refs is out.
That leaves 2 open spots and some needs in the bullpen, and this is where things get tricky. It's no secret that the non-Wilson/Betances/Miller members of the 'pen have been terrible this month. There really is not one name left that inspires confidence if you think about Joe bringing him into a 1-game playoff situation.
He's going to want another lefty and his 2 "best" options are Chris Capuano and Chasen Shreve. We've seen Cap get some situational work over the last few days and we've seen Shreve struggle with his command and get shelled at times this month. Still, Shreve is tough on lefties because he's got better stuff than Cap, and Joe will be smart enough to limit him to just 1 or 2 guys in a matchup situation. I think Shreve gets the nod here thanks to his overall body of work.
That's 4 lefties out there, which should be plenty for 1 game. I think Joe would go for another righty reliever for the last spot so he doesn't have to burn through his Severino/Nova emergency length arms. It's not an inspiring group, but Caleb Cotham has quietly pitched to a 3.18 ERA/3.85 FIP in September with 6 strikeouts in 5.2 IP. You'd be in trouble if you had to use him in a big spot, but other options like Bryan Mitchell and Andrew Bailey have been really bad lately and Branden Pinder and Nick Rumbelow have seemingly fallen out of favor over the last week or 2. If I had to pick one guy out of that group that Joe seems to trust more right now, it's Cotham.
So there you have it. 15 position players, 10 pitchers (6 righties, 4 lefties). No Pineda, no Drew, no Teix, no Eovaldi. Those are going to be some big losses to overcome in later series, but in 1 game anything can happen. Based on what we've seen over the last 15-20 games, I think this is the best 25-man crew that Joe can put out there.