NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — So who will it be?
It doesn’t appear that Aaron Boone knows yet.
The single most important decision of the season is looming: Who will start for the Yankees (100-62) on Wednesday night in the win-or-go-home wild card game against the visiting Oakland Athletics (97-65).
Boone certainly grasps the enormity of the game. It’s clear whoever he chooses to take the ball won’t be around long if he doesn’t have his “A” game.
The winner travels to Boston on Friday for Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
“There is no tomorrow Wednesday. You pour [in] everything you can and try to win that game,” Boone said following Sunday’s regular season-ending loss in Boston. “I guess there is always a big picture involved and we are in this thing to win the whole thing, but first things first and pouring everything we have into winning Wednesday and making that decision on what gives us the best chance to win.”
The leading candidates are Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka and trade deadline acquisition J.A. Happ. A reasonable argument can be made for any of the three, but there are also reasons to avoid each one.
Severino (19-8, 3.39 ERA) has been considered the ace all season, but hasn’t pitched like one in the second half. Following a five-inning performance in an 8-5 victory at Toronto on July 7, his record was 14-2 and his ERA was 2.12. He was on the short list of contenders for the AL Cy Young Award.
But then he either hit a wall or was figured out because he went 5-6 with a 5.69 ERA over his final 13 starts. If there is a silver lining, the 24-year-old right-hander allowed just four earned runs over his final three starts, spanning 17 2-3 innings.
Severino started the wild card game against the Minnesota Twins last October and recorded just one out. He allowed four hits, including two home runs, and three earned runs, but the Yankees picked him up on their way to an 8-4 victory.
Tanaka (12-6, 3.75) has all the veteran savvy one needs to pitch in what will be a charged environment on Wednesday in the Bronx, but he, too, has run hot and cold in the second half.
Prior to ending the regular season with a pair of clunkers, Tanaka pitched to a 1.80 ERA in six starts. The 29-year-old right-hander was the Yankees’ best pitcher in the playoffs last season, going 2-1 with a 0.90 ERA as the Bombers got to Game 7 of the ALCS before falling to the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros.
Happ (17-6, 3.65) has been by far the Yankees’ best pitcher since he was acquired from Toronto on July 26, going 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA in 11 starts.
The issue with the veteran left-hander, however, is his sparkling history against the Red Sox. Happ is 8-4 with a 2.98 ERA in 20 career appearances against Boston. If the Yankees win Wednesday and avoid using Happ they’ll be able to pitch him in Games 1 and 5 of the ALDS.
Then again, you have to be in it to win it. If the Yankees lay an egg against the A’s, Happ’s prowess against the Red Sox won’t mean anything.
“Whatever way we go, we feel like it is capable of really working out positive,” Boone said. “I lean on everyone and take in all the information and make the best decision. I view it that we are working from a position of strength.”
In 11 career games, including nine starts, against the A’s, Happ is 4-1 with a 3.47 ERA. Severino is 1-1 with a 5.23 ERA in four career starts against Oakland, while Tanaka is 3-2 with a 2.53 ERA in five career games.
The A’s haven’t announced their starter for Wednesday, either, but are believed to be ready to start a reliever and see where things go.