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American League Wild Card Betting Preview: Yankees vs. Athletics

Tonight, the New York Yankees are favored as they turn to their ace, while the Oakland A's go with a bullpen game approach. Who has the upper hand?

The one-game wild card playoff has it supporters and detractors, to be sure.

After playing a 162-game marathon of a season, the fate of two teams comes down to just one game? How is that fair? Well, for the teams that fail to win the division and instead land one of the two wild card spots, it isn't fair. That's the point. Baseball wants teams to focus on winning the division, and this format certainly helps accomplish that goal.

Still, as the New York Yankees prepare to host the Oakland Athletics in tonight's AL Wild Card game, it's clear one of these two teams is going to get the shaft. The Yankees won 100 games this year, and yet their 2018 season could be over after just one postseason game. The A's won 97 and share that same fate. It is a crying shame that one of these teams will be playing golf by the end of the week, but that is the penalty for falling short in the division.

Oddsmakers have pegged the Yankees as the favorites (-170) to move on, which makes sense. They are one of three teams (Boston and Houston are the others) to win 100 games this season, and they have home field advantage. But there are other reasons to favor New York tonight, although Oakland (+150) should not be discounted either.

Yankees Starter vs. A's Bats

New York hands the ball to their ace, Luis Severino, who did not fare well at all as the starter in last year's Wild Card game against the Minnesota Twins. In that outing, he recorded just one out and gave up three runs in the first inning, putting the team in an immediate 3-0 hole. Fortunately for him and the team, they battled back to win 8-4. But Severino has also been inconsistent this season, looking phenomenal at times (2.31 ERA in the first half) but very rickety as well (5.57 ERA in the second half). Overall, he has 3.39 ERA and 2.95 FIP, with a strikeout rate of 28.2% and a walk rate of 5.9% on the season.

Severino has not fared well against Oakland in 2018, albeit in an admittedly small sample size. In two starts, he has a 6.23 ERA and has lasted just 8.2 innings. He pitched against Oakland on September 5 and went 2.2 innings, giving up 5 earned runs (6 total) and 6 hits with 3 strikeouts and a walk. But after a rough second half, he seems to have recovered over his last three outings, with a 2.04 ERA in 17.2 innings of work and an 18:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

And his ability to throw hard could present matchup problems for Oakland's hitters.

As for the Oakland lineup, they have been the best in baseball in the second half, with a team wOBA of .345 that tops the Majors. They are number one in runs scored and isolated power over that stretch, and are third in home runs (100) behind the Yankees and Dodgers (106).

Matt Chapman leads the team with a 6.5 fWAR and a .369 wOBA, with 24 bombs and 100 runs scored. Meanwhile, Khris Davis hit at least 40 bombs for the third year in a row (48) to go along with 123 RBI and a .365 wOBA, and three other players -- Stephen Piscotty, Jed Lowrie and Matt Olson -- all hit at least 23 dingers as well.

A's Starter vs. Yankees Bats

Oakland's starting rotation is its huge weakness, evidenced by manager Bob Melvin's decision to use "The Opener" in this do-or-die Wild Card matchup. The team will open the game with relief pitcher Liam Hendriks, who was DFA'd by the A's a couple months ago. This will be Hendriks' ninth start in this role, but it's likely he will be asked to pitch more than the first inning, as the team will go with matchups as they try to bridge the gap to their terrific closer, Blake Treinen.

Hendriks pitched a perfect inning against the Yankees back on September 4, but in 24 innings of work this year, he has a 4.13 ERA and a 4.33 FIP, with a strikeout rate of 21.2% and a walk rate of 9.6%. Not terribly impressive.

As for the Yankees' offense, they've had the eighth-best wOBA in the Majors in the second half (.329), have cranked the most home runs (106), and own the third-best ISO. They're hoping Aaron Judge gets back on track in time for tonight's game, too. After playing in only 112 games this season due to a chip fracture in his wrist, he still had a team-high .391 wOBA, coming on a slash line of .278/.392/.528 and 27 bombs. But in 51 plate appearances since returning from the DL, he's slashed only .220/.333/.341 with just one home run.

New York does have reinforcements. Aaron Hicks put up a wOBA of .360 with 27 blasts this season, Didi Gregorius was a revelation, with 27 homers and a .350 wOBA, and despite failing to put up the kinds of numbers he did last season, Giancarlo Stanton still had an effective year, leading the team with 38 home runs. Rookie of the Year candidate Miguel Andujar was also impressive, with 27 home runs and a .361 wOBA, as was Gleyber Torres, who hit 24 homers with a .349 wOBA.

That's a lot of firepower.


Obviously, the bullpens are going to be a huge part of Oakland's strategy tonight. The goal is to get to Treinen, who emerged as perhaps the best closer in the American League this season. In 68 games, he put up an insane ERA of 0.78 and saw his strikeout rate jump from his career average of 23.8% to 31.8% this year. The team will try to get one inning out of Hendricks, then rely on the likes of Lou Trivino, Shawn Kelley, Yusmeiro Petit and Ryan Buchter to get them to the later innings. That would bridge the team to their more effective setup men Fernando Rodney and Jeurys Familia.

Oakland's bullpen finished with the fifth-best fWAR in the league this season (5.7), with a 3.37 ERA that was third-best in baseball, which is especially impressive given the state of the Oakland starting rotation this year. The A's won 45 games, second-most in MLB history by a bullpen, to the Tampa Bay Rays' 55 victories this season (a team that used a similar bullpen game approach more than any other this season).

However, the New York relief corps is no joke either, as they finished with the best fWAR in baseball (9.7), the fourth-best ERA (3.38), and the third-best FIP (3.33), striking out a league-best 30.2% of opposing hitters this year. With Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Chad Green and David Robertson back there, New York has a tremendous advantage over just about every other team in baseball.

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