The competition is set, and now the venue is set as well. The Yankees and Athletics will meet at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 3 in the 2018 American League Wild Card Game.
For everything that is now certain, following a Yankees win Friday clinching home-field advantage, there remains a litany of questions.
Who will start on the mound for New York? Better yet, who will get the ball for Oakland? How will the A’s and manager Bob Melvin construct their 25-man roster for a winner-take-all game? How does Melvin, who saw everything unfold in front of his eyes in his lone previous crack at the one-game Wild Card playoff in 2014, go about managing — particularly given his less-than-ideal starting rotation options?
The A’s, a team that wasn’t supposed to be in this game in the first place, have a lot to ponder over the next few days. But the Yankees, who were expected to be here, remain unsolved as well.
The biggest question is, in which direction will they go with the starter.
Unlike Oakland, the Yankees have a clear-cut, certified ace. But Luis Severino is scheduled to pitch in the regular season finale Sunday rendering him unavailable to start the Wild Card. Manager Aaron Boone could manipulate the rotation and have J.A. Happ take the ball, but in their current alignment Masahiro Tanaka would be New York’s guy.
While Tanaka did not face the A’s this season he boasts a career 3-2 record and 2.53 ERA against them in five starts. In one 2018 start, Happ held Oakland to one run over six innings, and is 4-1 with a 3.47 in 11 games all time against the A’s.
Of course, the last and still more-than-likely option would be to have Severino throw one inning Sunday — normal workload for a throw-between day — and still take the hill Wednesday. New York’s 24-year-old ace was hammered in his second start against the A’s this season, handed six runs in 2-2/3 innings by the revamped Oakland offense.
Boone has a difficult choice laid before him.
As uncertain as New York is regarding its starting pitcher the A’s would be delighted to be in its position.
Oakland has four starters, but none inspires confidence right now.
Edwin Jackson has allowed 11 eared runs in 23-2/3 innings (4.18 ERA) this month. Trevor Cahill has been worse, giving up eight earned in 11 innings (6.55), and Brett Anderson, though he did offer up a 6-2/3-inning scoreless effort, has been tagged for nine earnies in 12-1/3 September innings (6.57).
The seemingly obvious decision for Melvin would be to hand the ball to mid-season trade acquisition Mike Fiers, who is 5-2 in two months with the club, be he has hit upon rough times of late as well. Not to mention, he is susceptible to the home run, so challenging him with the league’s leading home run-hitting club in a ballpark built for the longball may not be the way to go.
Mengden has allowed one run in his last three relief-starter roles, spanning 13-2/3 innings (0.66 ERA). And Hendriks is unscored upon in seven first innings this season. While it is neither ideal or pretty, the combo could be the A’s best option to get through five innings with a lead — and that is the goal for a club with a strong, rebuilt bullpen.
The bullpen poses another issue altogether.
With the ability to reset their roster for the ALDS should the A’s survive the Wild Card the smart choice would, under most circumstances, be to construct a roster that includes no more than 10 pitchers to give Melvin extra wiggle room with the bench. But with his pitching staff’s recent struggles, Melvin may want as many arms as possible.
It is unlikely, however, that the A’s include more than two starters in their Wild Card roster, which means they could take nine relievers to New York and still have 14 bench players.
Building a bench will be as much a question as is building a bullpen.
Matt Joyce has produced nothing but professional at-bats since his return from the disabled list, so he is a virtual lock for one of the three or four remaining bench spots. So is Josh Phegley and Mark Canha.
While the 25th man is a riddle yet to be solved, the funnest riddle will be offered once Wednesday arrives.
In 2014, Melvin sent starter Jon Lester back to the mound in the eighth inning with a 7-3 lead. After three runs crossed to his record in that eighth the A’s eventually allowed the game to take on extra innings where they lost in 12.
It will be much easier for the skipper to pull Mengden, Jackson or Fiers than it was to hold Lester back, but how much of a leash does Melvin give his starter with the confidence he has in his bullpen. That is something that will be considered — would the A’s be willing to ask their assortment of late-inning arms to get 18 outs? 21?
There is still so much to be solved between new and Wednesday, and so much still between Wednesday and Thursday. But this is what Oakland signed up for in spring: the chance to put their two-time manager of the year and his cost-efficient roster up against the challenge of the postseason.