Yankees vs. Athletics: Watch AL Wild Card Game 2018, things to know, prediction

For the third time in the last four years, the American League Wild Card Game will be played in Yankee Stadium. 

Wednesday night the New York Yankees (100-62) will host the Oakland Athletics (97-65) in the 2018 Wild Card Game, with the winner advancing to take on the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series. The loser, of course, goes home.

AL Wild Card Game: Athletics (97-65) at Yankees (100-62)

The Yankees and Athletics arrived at the Wild Card Game in different ways. The Yankees had a dominant first half and a good but not great second half. They stumbled to the finish a bit in August and September. The Athletics, meanwhile, started slow before going on a monster hot streak that saw them win 63 of their final 92 games.

A very good ballclub will go home Wednesday night, and as far as MLB is concerned, that's a feature, not a bug. The Wild Card Game provides the Game 7 atmosphere without the hassle of Games 1-6. Here are eight things to know going into Wednesday's game, which a prediction thrown in for good measure.

These are two of the best wild card teams ever

MLB: Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees
The Athletics and Yankees will meet in the 2018 AL Wild Card Game. USATSI

The Yankees won 100 games this year! The Athletics won 97! The A's won more games than every National League team this season, yet they're the second wild card team in the American League. Goodness.

Based on regular season record, the 2018 Yankees and 2018 Athletics are two of the best teams to play in the Wild Card Game since it was put in place in 2012. Here are the best clubs of the Wild Card Game era:

  1. 2018 Yankees: 100-62
  2. 2015 Pirates: 98-64
  3. 2018 Athletics: 97-65
  4. 2015 Cubs: 97-65
  5. 2018 Cubs: 96-68

Winning 100 games (or 97, even) and having to play a do-or-die Wild Card Game is a major bummer. But hey, if you don't like it, win more games. 

Both teams have experienced a Wild Card Game before

This will be the third Wild Card Game for the Yankees. They lost to Dallas Keuchel and the Astros in 2015 before beating the Twins in 2017. Nineteen of the 25 players on their 2017 Wild Card Game roster remain in the organization now, so these Yankees have been through the Wild Card Game experience.

As for the Athletics, they've played in the Wild Card Game once before, when they lost to the Royals in the wild 2014 game. Only one player from Oakland's 2014 Wild Card Game roster remains with the team: Jed Lowrie. Otherwise the entire roster has turned over. Both Jonathan Lucroy (2017 Rockies) and Jeurys Familia (2016 Mets) have Wild Card Game experience with other teams, however.

In terms of experience, the Yankees have a clear advantage over the Athletics going into the Wild Card Game. And I don't think that means anything at all. Talent and execution matters more experience. Inexperienced teams beat experienced teams in important games every single year. And besides, it's one game! Anything can happen.

The season series was dead even

The Yankees and Athletics played two three-game series during the regular season. The Yankees won two of three in Yankee Stadium in May and the A's won two of three in the Oakland Coliseum in September. The Athletics visited New York when the Yankees were in the middle of their best stretch of the season and the Yankees visited Oakland when the A's were in the middle of their best stretch of the season. Nice symmetry.

Here are the individual head-to-head results. The A's outscored the Yankees 33-28 in the six games:

If you choose to read into the season series, the September series is more meaningful than the May series. It's much more recent and also the rosters in that series are closer to the rosters we'll see in the Wild Card Game. Example: A's righties Kendall Graveman and Andrew Triggs started two of those games at Yankee Stadium in May and both are out injured now.

These teams hit a lot of home runs

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Oakland Athletics
Khris Davis and Matt Olson combined to hit 77 home runs in 2018. USATSI

The 2018 AL Wild Card Game might turn into a Home Run Derby. The Yankees led baseball with an MLB record 267 home runs this season. The Athletics finished third in baseball with 227 home runs. Furthermore, both clubs hit the ball in the air often. Here are the lowest ground ball rates in baseball this year:

1. Athletics: 39.7 percent
2. Twins: 40.0 percent
3. Dodgers: 40.3 percent
4. Indians: 40.3 percent
5. Reds: 40.9 percent
...
9. Yankees: 41.6 percent
...
MLB average: 43.2 percent

Hit the ball in the air at Yankee Stadium and good things happen. The Yankees had six players hit 20-plus home runs this season. The A's had five. Both teams have power up and down the lineup and that power should be on full display Wednesday night.

Neither team has announced their starting pitcher yet

The starting pitcher announcements should happen during Tuesday's workout day. With Sean Manaea hurt, there has been speculation the A's would start Mike Fiers in the Wild Card Game, though all indications are they will bullpen it.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone has said the Yankees are picking between J.A. Happ, Luis Severino, and Masahiro Tanaka for the Wild Card Game. All of them have good cases. Happ lines up to start Wednesday on normal rest. Tanaka would be on two extra days of rest and Severino would be on three extra days of rest.

My hunch is the Yankees will start Severino and have wanted to start Severino all along. He struggled quite a bit in the second half, though his last two regular season starts were much more Severino-like, and he has been the team's best starter the last two years. There's something to be said for giving the ball to your most talented pitcher. In the words of former Cy Young winner and current broadcaster David Cone, when you have a Ferrari, you don't leave it in the garage.

Sanchez will start for the Yankees

Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez just completed a brutal season. A brutal, brutal season. He hit .186/.291/.406 (86 OPS+) with 18 home runs in 89 games -- that is the second lowest batting average in franchise history among players with at least 300 plate appearances -- and he led baseball with 18 passed balls despite missing two months with groin injuries.

In fact, during a game in Oakland in September, Severino and Sanchez had some communication and cross-up issues that led to two passed balls and two wild pitches in the first inning alone. It was ugly.

Sanchez's rough season has led to speculation backup catcher Austin Romine, who posted a 90 OPS+ and is the superior pitch-blocker, could start the Wild Card Game behind the plate. The potential for a costly passed ball is very real with Sanchez behind the plate. The Yankees aren't having any of it though. They're going with Sanchez in the Wild Card Game. Here's what GM Brian Cashman told reporters, including Greg Joyce of the New York Post, a week ago:

"We're doubling down and tripling down on Gary Sanchez because we know the ceiling that is there and the capabilities this player has on both sides of the ball," general manager Brian Cashman said before the Yankees' 10-8 win over the Orioles. "We have a short time frame to get a number of players finding their groove. He's one of them." 

...

"You don't see (a player come in to work on an off-day) very often, but that shows again his interest level and commitment to try to unlock what he typically does best, which is hit the ball hard," Cashman said. "Gary has had a rough stretch. We do believe that maybe the best is yet to come."  

Sanchez did go 4 for 12 (.333) with a double, two homers, four walks, and three strikeouts in his final four regular season games, so he is maybe possibly kinda sorta getting hot. Even if not, the Yankees are planning to stick him behind the plate in the Wild Card Game. It's more likely he completes the game without a passed ball than with, and he can still change a game with one swing.

It's going to come down to the bullpens

No matter who the Yankees start Wednesday, that pitcher will have a short leash. The Yankees are going to fire up their bullpen at the first sign of trouble. The same applies to the Athletics should they give the ball to Fiers. Both teams have to figure out a way to get 27 outs. I would be surprised if either starting pitcher records 15 of those 27 outs.

The Athletics will go into the Wild Card Game with a clear bullpen pecking order. It looks something like this:

Treinen threw two full innings on 10 occasions during the regular season, including three innings once. He recorded at least four outs 19 times. I am certain a multi-inning save will be on the table Wednesday. We can go back to the Ferrari simile here. Treinen is a Ferrari. You don't leave him in the garage in the Wild Card Game. A four-to-six out save is surely possible.

The 25-year-old Wendelken allowed one run in 16 2/3 innings this season, including zero runs in eight scoreless innings in September. He's struck out 14 in those 16 2/3 innings. Wendelken is a relative newcomer to the bullpen and there's a good chance he'll be asked to get some big outs in the middle of the Wild Card Game.

MLB: Texas Rangers at New York Yankees
Zach Britton, not Aroldis Chapman, has been closing for the Yankees lately. USATSI

As for the Yankees, their bullpen is in a state of flux right now because Aroldis Chapman returned from the disabled list less than two weeks ago. He had a knee issue. The Yankees have been easing him back into things in the middle innings and Boone has indicated that could continue to be the case in the postseason. Here is New York's current bullpen setup:

New York's bullpen struck out 30.2 percent of batters faced this season, which was not only the highest rate in baseball, it was the highest rate in baseball history. They broke the record held by the ... 2017 Yankees. The Yankees this year became the first team in history with four relievers with 90-plus strikeouts (Betances, Chapman, Green, Robertson).

Unlikely the Athletics, who have a veteran left-on-left matchup guy in Buchter, the Yankees do not have a true lefty specialist. They haven't really needed one because their right-handed relievers are so dominant, but, these last few weeks, Tarpley has pitched himself into the Wild Card roster consideration. The rookie southpaw closed out his regular season with eight scoreless innings and lefties went 1 for 15 (.067) with eight strikeouts again him. If Tarpley's on the roster, consider him the Matt Olson specialist.

Both the Yankees and Athletics are built around their bullpen. Oakland will apparently skip a starter all together and rely on their bullpen in the Wild Card Game. The Yankees are going to try to squeeze some outs from a starter before turning things over to the relief crew. In all likelihood, the Wild Card Game will be decided with a battle of the bullpens.

Who's hot? Who's cold?

The Yankees won nine of their final 13 games and scored 88 runs in the process, so the offense has been clicking the last two weeks. Here are New York's hottest hitters over the last 14 days:

PlayerPA AVG/OBP/SLG HR RBI

Aaron Hicks

39

.324/.410/.706

3

10

Andrew McCutchen

53

.286/.434/.429

1

3

Giancarlo Stanton

51

.273/.373/.614

4

11

Luke Voit

47

.419/.468/.977

7

16

Voit came over from the Cardinals in a minor trade at the deadline and he has played out of his mind with the Yankees. He hit .333/.405/.689 with 14 home runs in 39 games with New York and has displaced Greg Bird as the starting first baseman. McCutchen came over prior to the August 31 postseason-eligibility trade deadline and has taken over as the left fielder and leadoff hitter, and he's been fantastic. The Yankees had a deep lineup to start with. Voit and McCutchen have made it even more formidable.

On the other side of the coin, Aaron Judge has struggled since returning from his fractured wrist two weeks ago, hitting .220/.330/.341 in 51 plate appearances. His average exit velocity has dipped from 95.8 mph before the injury to 86.0 mph since the injury. That's not too surprising. Wrist injuries tend to sap strength even after the player is declared healthy, and Judge didn't have a proper rehab assignment. The minor league season had ended, so he jumped right back into MLB games and the rust has been evident at times.

The Athletics went 7-7 in their final 14 regular season games but did score 96 runs in those 14 games. That includes a 22-run game against the Angels and a 16-run game against the Mariners. Here are Oakland's hottest hitters over the last two weeks:

PlayerPA AVG/OBP/SLG HR RBI

Khris Davis

42

.220/.304/.625

5

8

Nick Martini

41

.333/.415/.500

1

5

Stephen Piscotty

42

.313/.452/.656

3

12

Piscotty's hot streak dates back much further than the last two weeks. He's been hot basically the entire second half. Piscotty is hitting .285/.348/.554 with 14 doubles and 12 home runs in 51 games since August 1. Davis hasn't posting an impressive batting average or on-base percentage these last two weeks, but gosh, the man is a terror at the plate. So much power and a beautiful swing. Davis hit .247 this year and finished eighth in win probability added. The seven guys ahead of him all hit at least .286. When Khrush connects, he makes it count.

As for the A's cold player, it's Matt Chapman. He has a .227/.277/.341 batting line in 47 plate appearances these last two weeks. His overall production is MVP caliber. No doubt. Chapman has been slumping a bit the last two weeks though. It happens, even to great players, and it doesn't mean he won't snap out of it Wednesday night. I sure wouldn't feel comfortable see him at the plate in a big spot if I were an opposing fan.

Prediction time!

Might as well close this out with a prediction, right? My official 2018 AL Wild Card Game prediction: Yankees win 3-2. I'm predicting a low scoring game with zero home runs because that seems like a very baseball thing to happen between the two most home run happy teams in the American League. Voit comes up with The Big Hit™ and the A's have issues making contact against New York's bullpen. Britton, not Chapman, gets the save. You are encouraged to bookmark this prediction for future mocking purposes.

CBS Sports Writer

Mike Axisa joined CBS Sports in 2013. He has been a member of the BBWAA since 2015 and has previously written about both fantasy baseball and real life baseball for MLBTradeRumors.com, FanGraphs.com, RotoAuthority.com,... Full Bio

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