Eyes turn to Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium for wildcard showdowns

The postseason officially starts on Tuesday night. Okay, some might think the wildcard games are playoffs, but we can at least agree it’s a postseason matchup, right?

The National League took centre stage on Monday and it does again on Tuesday. It’s Wrigley Field again, it’s the Cubs again. Instead of the Brewers, though, it’ll be the Rockies trying to shock Joe Maddon’s team.

The American League has been sat there quietly twiddling its collective thumbs since Sunday. The A’s and Yankees have been as good as locked in for the wildcard game for months. The waiting is nearly over.

Eyes on Wrigley

The Rockies, other than a couple of homers off Kenley Jansen, had no offence on Monday. Their line-up is the weakest of any playoff team. Trevor Story and Nolan Arenado have been immense, and David Dahl finished strongly, but there are holes.

Charlie Blackmon’s OPS was almost 200 points lower on the road, Carlos Gonzalez’s OPS was nearly 300 points lower and DJ LeMahieu’s on-base percentage was below .300 away from Coors Field. That’s before we mention the struggles of Ian Desmond.

One upside, though, is that they face Jon Lester on Tuesday. Story and LeMahieu are much more effective against lefties, and Blackmon is still a very good contact hitter.

Colorado had their best season ever on the road. Their pitching has been immense, and Kyle Freeland played a huge part in that. Freeland led the team with 8.2 bWAR and he excelled at limiting hard contact, registering in the top 6% of the league.

Pressure on Freeland

How Chicago approach Freeland will be interesting. Javier Baez will swing like crazy as normal, but the walk could play a big part for the rest of the team. Freeland’s walk rate of 3.1 per nine innings is one of few weaknesses in his game. Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rizzo will make the Rockies starter work for every out.

Baez had an OPS of .933 against lefties in the regular season and Rizzo has been red hot in the second half. They are likely to be the two difference makers at Wrigley considering Ben Zobrist‘s power shortage against left-handers and Kris Bryant‘s struggles with his shoulder injury.

Lester has been up and down this season. The three-time World Series winner has the best postseason pedigree of any pitcher in the playoffs, but he’s given up more than his fair share of hard contact, which has led to an xSLG of .475. He’s finished the season strongly, but will be on a short leash like any starter in an elimination game.

It might come down to a battle of the bullpens. Neither team has a Josh Hader or Andrew Miller-type, but Colorado exceeded at stranding inherited runners, with a league high 37% to Chicago’s 29%. Maybe that will be the difference on Tuesday.

Power plays power

The New York Yankees hit more home runs than any other team in history this season. The Oakland Athletics were second in the American League for homers. The Bay Area ball club hit 40 (yes, FORTY) fewer than the 27-time world champions. It’s not unreasonable to expect this to be all about the long ball, but that far from guarantees a Yankee win.

As of Tuesday afternoon (UK time), neither team had named their starter. Oakland might be considering using Liam Hendriks as an opener due to their depleted rotation, while Aaron Boone could hand the ball to any one of his starters. CC Sabathia, who gave away five runs in four postseason starts last season, might be asked to get a few outs. With all likelihood, Boone will turn to his deep bullpen before the fourth inning is done.

These two teams boast two of the best bullpens in baseball. New York have the names like Aroldis Chapman, Zach Britton and Dellin Betances, but Oakland, led by Blake Treinen, got results. Yusmeiro Petit gave his team innings, Lou Trivino struck out a tonne of hitters and the veteran pair of Fernando Rodney and Jeurys Familia helped out after arriving part way through the season.

David and Goliath at Yankee Stadium

Obviously the Yankees line-up looks scarier on paper.

The power of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton will make any pitcher go weak at the knees before you even consider everyone else. Judge, though, along with Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius, has been troubled by injury. This is not the same line-up we saw in the summer months obliterating team after team. It’s still terrifying, of course, but they are not coming into the postseason in full flow.

That said, Andrew McCutchen (who has been superb since arriving from San Francisco), Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar are all more than capable of stepping up and delivering. Depth, both at the plate and in the bullpen, is what makes this Yankees team so good.

Oakland are not blessed with Rookie of the Year candidates at the bottom of the line-up. They do, however, have a guy who hit the most home runs in baseball and three other hitters with an OPS over .800. That’s excluding Matt Olson, who had over 60 extra-base hits in 2018.

This, from a financial perspective at least, is David and Goliath. Oakland are the plucky underdogs heading to Yankee Stadium riding high. The Yankees are a team of stars, who are expected to win. On the park, though, this is no mismatch.

Oakland won just three fewer regular season games than their Wednesday opponents, they have the bullpen and the hitters to go toe-to-toe with the Yankees.

About Sam Cox 75 Articles
Sam is a widely published freelance writer, covering basketball, baseball and a range of other sports. He's still trying to decide if he prefers a rundown shot block or a smooth double play. Twitter: @SamRCox_