Anthony McCarron, SNY.tv | Twitter |
The Yankees are probably healthier than they've been all season and they're coming off a sweep of the Twins in the AL Division Series. But Aaron Boone and the rest of the Yankee brass still face questions heading into the next round.
The big one, of course, is Astros or Rays? We'll find out Thursday night when Tampa Bay and Houston meet in a deciding Game 5.
Once that's decided, they can work in more detail on the others. Here are three roster questions facing the Yankees as they prep for the best-of-seven AL Championship Series, which begins Saturday night in either Houston or the Bronx, depending on who wins in Houston Thursday:
Do they add CC Sabathia to the roster?
This seems like a yes, considering the way Boone was raving about Sabathia's throwing session Wednesday. It'll be interesting to see how he gets used. Boone said Wednesday Sabathia would be a reliever who could come in to face a lefty hitter or perhaps be asked for a whole inning, depending on the situation.
Perhaps he'd be an ideal choice if a Yankee starter gets hammered early. All that savvy and veteran cool could save the bullpen some innings, setting up the Yanks' famous reliever "lanes" for a more winnable game.
Who is not on the roster because Sabathia makes it? Maybe lefty Tyler Lyons. Or perhaps Luis Cessa, if the Yanks think Sabathia can gobble emergency frames.
How about Aaron Hicks?
The Yankee center fielder is healthy enough to be an option, but he hasn't played since August 3. In 59 games this season, he batted .235 with a .769 OPS and 12 home runs. Hicks is a dynamic player on offense and defense, but it's unclear whether he's fit enough to start. You want him facing Charlie Morton or Justin Verlander with no recent at-bats in the bank? And don't tell us about sim games. Eh. Still, if he's his old self, it's tempting to just put him in, to heck with messing with a lineup that scored 23 runs in three games against Minnesota and batted .324 with runners in scoring position.
If starting is too much, at least at first, Hicks might offer a solid bench option, either as a defensive replacement - shift Brett Gardner to left field and sub out Giancarlo Stanton late with a lead - or a switch-hitting pinch-hitter. But who's bumped off the roster? Utilityman/speedster Tyler Wade? Cameron Maybin was Stanton's defensive replacement in the division series and even homered. Luke Voit did not play against the Twins, so perhaps his spot is in jeopardy.
And if the Yanks start Hicks, that sets off a ripple effect that brings more questions - who goes to the bench? Do you use Edwin Encarnacion, who mashed in the division series, at first base and shift D.J. LeMahieu to third so Stanton can DH and Gardner starts in left? That could compromise the infield defense.
For starters or for openers?
Obviously, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino will start games, probably two apiece if the ALCS goes the distance. But how do the Yankees handle that one start they need covered, likely Game 4? Does J.A. Happ get the nod or do they use Chad Green as an opener and bullpen their way through the rest of the game?
Perhaps that depends on the reliever workload in the early games of the series and the Yankees did not get length from their starters in the division series - Paxton, Tanaka and Severino combined to throw 13.2 innings and Tanaka (five innings) was the "workhorse." Still, they combined for a 2.63 ERA against the Twins and the Yankees have been gameplanning for heavy reliever usage for awhile now, resting their prime relievers in the final month of the regular season.
Boone also said this week that the starters might have a chance to go deeper in games in the ALCS. Games 3, 4 and 5 will be played on consecutive days, which may require some more bullpen usage massage, especially given how diligent the Yankees were about not using relievers on three consecutive days during the regular season. Happ, who was 12-8 with a 4.91 ERA this year, threw a scoreless inning of relief against the Twins.