October 30, 2020

Who’s a lock, who’s on the bubble? Estevan Florial on as pinch-runner?

For better or worse, the slumping-again Yankees will play a best-of-three Wild Card Series next week in which the higher seed will be home for every game.

The who and the where will be determined before the regular season ends Sunday.

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We do know this:

The Yanks, who were 4-1 losers to the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday night in Buffalo, probably will be playing the AL Central runner-up, which still could be the Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins or Cleveland Indians.

We also know this:

The Yankees’ chances of gaining home-field advantage have been badly damaged during a current 1-4 stretch that has followed a 10-game winning streak.

If the regular season had ended Thursday, the Yanks would be the No. 5 seed playing on the road against the No. 4 seed White Sox.

Regardless of the opponent, the Yanks have some other unfinished business to address before Wednesday’s Game 1:

The playoff roster.

The roster limit has been 28 since early August and it’ll stay at 28 for the postseason.

For the Yankees, their first dilemma for building their Wild Card Series roster will be deciding how many pitchers to keep. The Yanks have been going with 14 pitchers and 14 position players, and they could stay the same for the first round of the playoffs or perhaps go with one more or one fewer arm.

The case for fewer arms is this: The Yanks only will need three starters tops in Wild Card Series and it’s unlikely that their lesser bullpen pieces will see action unless a game or two really get out of hand.

The case for 14 or 15 is this: There are no days off in the series and the regular-season extra-inning rule – runner on second to start all half innings – won’t be used in the playoffs.

The way we see it, the Yankees have 24 Wild Card Series locks if everyone healthy stays healthy through the weekend:

STARTING PITCHERS (4)

RHP Gerrit Cole, Masahiro Tanaka, LHP J.A. Happ and RHP Deivi Garcia.

RELIEVERS (7)

LHP Zack Britton. RHP Luis Cessa, LHP Aroldis Chapman. RHP Chad Green, RHP Jonathan Holder, RHP Jonathan Loaisiga and Adam Ottavino.

INFIELDERS (5)

1B Luke Voit, 2B DJ LeMahieu, SS Gleyber Torres, 3B Gio Urshela and INF Tyler Wade.

OUTFIELDERS (5)

RF Aaron Judge, CF Aaron Hicks, LF Clint Frazier, LF Brett Gardner and OF Mike Tauchman.

CATCHERS (2)

Gary Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka.

DESIGNATED HITTER (1)

Giancarlo Stanton.

That needs four spots open.

Here’s how we see them shaking out:

JORDAN MONTGOMERY, LHP

2020 stats: 2-3, 5.11 ERA, 10 starts, 44 IP, 48 hits, 27 runs, 25 ER, 7 HR, 9 BB, 47 K.

The skinny: Montgomery won’t start in the Wild Card Series and he’s never pitched in relief, but he probably sealed a long relief roster spot with his decent start against the Blue Jays on Thursday (5.1 IP, 6 hits, 3 runs, 3 ER, 0 BB, 8 K).

Prediction: On Wild Card Series roster.

NICK NELSON, RHP

2020 stats: 1-0, 5.09 ERA, 10 games, 17.2 IP, 18 hits, 12 runs, 10 ER, 3 HR, 9 BB, 15 K.

The skinny: Nelson’s walks are a concern, but he’s pitched better than his stats. If you give him a mulligan on his worst outing – 1.2 IP, 7 runs, 6 ER on Aug. 5 in Philadelphia – he’s allowed four runs in 16 innings for a 2.25 ERA. He’s safe.

Prediction: On Wild Card Series roster.

MICHAEL KING, RHP

2020 stats: 1-2, 7.76 ERA, 9 games 4 starts, 26.2 IP, 30 hits, 23 runs, 23 ER, 5 HR, 11 BB, 26 K.

The skinny: The Yanks like King’s arm a lot, but he’s had just two good outings and was optioned back to the alternate site after his poor start on Monday in Buffalo (2.2 IP, 5 hits, 5 runs). He’s a long shot for postseason action.

Prediction: Left off roster.

TYLER LYONS, LHP

2020 stats: 0-0, 21.50, 1 game, 1.2 IP, 3 hits, 4 runs, 4 ER, 1 BB, 0 K.

The skinny: Lyons was passed over for call-ups a bunch of the times before finally getting a promotion this week, then he didn’t help his chances of earning a Wild Card roster spot by stinking it up Tuesday night in his season debut. However, the Yanks haven’t forgotten that Lyons was on their playoff rosters last season (Wild Card Game and ALDS) and retired all five batters that he faced over two outings with four strikeouts. He’ll probably get one more shot to show something this weekend.

Prediction: Left off roster.

CLARKE SCHMIDT, RHP

2020 stats: 0-0, 7.71 ERA, 2 games, 2.1 IP, 3 hits, 2 runs, 2 ER, 0 HR, 3 BB, 3 K.

The skinny: Schmidt reportedly will be called up to make his first big-league start in Sunday’s season finale. This outing surely would be a postseason-roster audition for Schmidt if the Yankees go with 14 pitchers for the first round.

Prediction: On Wild Card Series roster.

MIKE FORD, 1B

2020 stats: .135 average, 74 AB, 5 runs, 10 hits, 4 doubles, 0 triples, 2 HR, 11 RBI, 7 BB, 16 K, .496 OPS, 29 games.

The skinny: Ford was farmed out on Sept. 14 after going 0-for-19 with two walks in his last nine games. He’s unlikely to see postseason action because his plate appearances throughout the year weren’t nearly as good as they were during his standout rookie campaign in 2019. Too bad for Ford, because the Yanks could use a left-handed power bat on their bench in the playoffs.

Prediction: Left off roster.

THAIRO ESTRADA, INF

2020 stats: .231 average, 48 AB, 8 runs, 8 hits, 0 doubles, 0 triples, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 BB, 19 K, .460 OPS, 26 games.

The skinny: Like Ford, Estrada regressed from his rookie season. He was 4-for-34 in his last 20 games before his last demotion to the alternate site. Estrada, however, still could be strongly considered for a playoff roster spot because the Yanks currently have just one reserve infield option (Wade).

Prediction: Left off roster.

MIGUEL ANDUJAR, 3B

2020 stats: .242 average, 62 AB, 5 runs, 15 hits, 2 doubles, 1 triples, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 3 BB, 9 K, .632 OPS, 21 games.

The skinny: Andujar didn’t deserve his last demotion to the alternate site and he’s probably worthy of a postseason roster spot on a 28-man roster, but he’ll probably be passed over. Why? He has no shot of starting a Wild Card Series game unless Stanton gets hurt again and Aaron Boone opts not to play Brett Gardner in left field and move Clint Frazier from left to DH. That’s unlikely. Also, Andujar’s only shot of ever getting a pinch-hit at-bat probably would be for Higashioka when he starts. In that situation, Boone wouldn’t burn Andujar instead of Sanchez, another right-handed power bat who would be going into the game anyway as a replacement at catcher. Also, keep in mind that Andujar has been much, much better when he gets regular at-bats and that won’t happen in the playoffs.

Prediction: Left off roster.

ERIK KRATZ, C

2020 stats: .321 average, 28 AB, 2 runs, 9 hits, 2 doubles, 0 triples, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 2 BB, 6 K, .760 OPS, 16 games.

The skinny: The Yanks carried only two catchers for their best-of-five Division Series last season, so they’ll probably stick with two for the Wild Card Series even though they value the 40-year-old Kratz’s catching, hitting and leadership.

Prediction: Left off roster.

ESTEVAN FLORIAL, OF

2020 stats: .333 average, 3 AB, 0 runs, 1 hit, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 0 SB, 0 CS, 0 BB, 2 K, .667 OPS, 1 game.

The skinny: The 22-year-old prospect has just one game and two days of MLB experience, but his speed could make him more valuable to the Yankees in a short postseason series than an extra reliever or position player who likely would sit the bench. This wouldn’t be unprecedented for the Yankees, who carried Wade on their postseason roster in past seasons mostly for pinch-running duties. Why keep Florial when Wade is already on the roster? Wade probably will be the Yanks’ only extra infielder. By keeping Florial, you could pinch-run him for a catcher at some point and still save Wade to pinch-run in the late innings for Voit and then play Wade at second and move DJ LeMahieu from second to first.

Prediction: On Wild Card Series roster.

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