The Yankees have just four games left to play in the regular season before the playoffs begin next week. Their Wild Card Round opponent has not been set yet as seeded is still very close in this final stretch of games.
For those that don’t know, the three winners of each division in the two leagues will make up the 1-3 seeds. In the American League, that's the Tampa Bay Rays, Minnesota Twins, and Oakland Athletics at the moment. After that, the fourth seed is the last team that gets home-field advantage -- currently the Chicago White Sox -- before the 5-8 seeds round out the rest of the bracket.
The Yankees are the sixth seed right now in the AL after their loss to the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night, but that can change for better or worse in these next four games. However, we can deduce who their opponent is going to be based off the current standings. And you can bet the Yankees are strategizing based off of that as well.
So, as the Bombers look to improve their standing and aim for that fourth seed, let’s rank what team the Yankees want to face in the best-of-three Wild Card Round from best matchup to worst:
1) Minnesota Twins
The Yankees have had the Twins’ number in the last couple of times they’ve met in the postseason, especially last year in the ALDS. The Twins couldn’t handle the Yankees’ firepower at the plate, even though they had their own solid lineup, and it was a series sweep with two games at Yankee Stadium and one at Target Field.
Minnesota did add Josh Donaldson to the mix this season, but he hasn’t really done too much with a .225 average and six homers. He does have good complements in the lineup like Nelson Cruz, Miguel Sano, and others. However, the Yankees were able to stymie their bats in the postseason just a year ago.
In a season where the Yankees haven’t played any of the three teams that are likely to be their first opponents on the road to the World Series, the one that they have seen most recently in the Twins would be the best matchup to start with. Plus, if the Yankees can get home-field advantage by grabbing that fourth seed, it would be even better.
2. Oakland A’s
The main reason we have the A’s over the White Sox in terms of rank is because of the starting rotation. Sean Manaea is the A’s ace, but he hasn’t had the best of seasons with a 4.50 ERA over 10 starts. And his only postseason start came last season in the AL Wild Card Game against the Rays, where he allowed four runs in just two innings before getting pulled.
Rounding out the rotation is soon-to-be-23-year-old Jesus Luzardo, who came after Manaea in that Wild Card Game and threw three scoreless innings, and Chris Bassitt, who has no playoff experience.
The A’s lineup has many solid, young pieces like Matt Chapman, Marcus Siemien, Matt Olson and Mark Canha. But pitching is what’s going to determine who gets the edge in the best-of-three set. None of these pitchers match up well with Gerrit Cole, and though the bullpen is pretty solid – Joakim Soria, Jake Diekman, Yusmeiro Petit – climbing out of a deficit early because the playoff-experienced Yankees lineup got to the starter early (at least that would be the plan) wouldn’t bode well for Oakland.
Playing at Oakland Coliseum, though, is a challenge in itself and the Yankees would have to do that. These A’s know how to work the ballpark and they’re 20-8 at home this season compared to 14-13 on the road thus far.
3. Chicago White Sox
This young team has proven to be a force that will be competing for a World Series for years to come. They have just been raking all season long, owning an AL-leading +69 run differential (285 runs for vs. 216 runs against) with power bats led by Jose Abreu and Eloy Jimenez running up the scoreboard on a daily basis.
Lineup-wise both of these teams matchup well. The power of Abreu, Jimenez and Robert goes along with Judge, Stanton and Voit. And then there’s the top two for-average hitters in arguably all of baseball: DJ LeMahieu and Tim Anderson. LeMahieu has Anderson beat this time around in the average department by .014 points heading into Thursday, and both can hit for power, too.
When you take a look at the rotation, Cole would likely face Lucas Giolito in Game 1 of the Wild Card Round. But Giolito has been slipping lately, giving up three runs in each of his last three starts. To make up for it, though, you have Dallas Keuchel as the No. 2 that would matchup with Masahiro Tanaka. Keuchel knows that matchup well, flashing back to the 2016 Wild Card Game between the Yankees and Astros in the Bronx. Keuchel won that matchup, and with a 2.04 ERA so far this season, he’s primed to be a real challenge again.
Much like the Yankees, the White Sox have proven that they can make you pay even if runners aren’t on the base paths. That’s just an added incentive to score runs. They waste no time putting pressure on teams, and give the Yankees the hardest matchup because they have heavy hitters of their own that are looking to make a name for themselves in the playoffs.