Yanks target division title with rotation swap

Sep 20, 2017 - 1:37 AM NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees added some serious intrigue to the final days of the season by making a move Tuesday that would get any baseball fan's juices flowing.

With the Minnesota Twins currently grasping the final American League postseason position and in the third base dugout at Yankee Stadium, the game was a possible preview of the Oct. 3 AL wild-card game. However, shortly before the scheduled start, New York manager Joe Girardi announced that ace Luis Severino would pitch in Wednesday series finale against Minnesota instead of Friday at Toronto.

The move means the Yankees believe they can catch Boston and win the AL East.

What you need to understand is that Wednesday was going to be Severino's day to pitch anyway. Girardi had tinkered with the order of his starters days ago, naming Masahiro Tanaka to pitch Wednesday pushing Severino back two days.

The move was designed so that Severino would be lined up to pitch the winner-take-all wild card game. He is the person the Yankees want in that spot, as he is 8-2 with a 2.09 ERA in 12 starts since the All-Star break. Putting him back into Wednesday's game made a statement.

With Severino pitching Wednesday, his turn in the rotation would come up three more times in the regular season instead of twice. He would pitch the final day of the season if it could decide the division title.

"If he was to start on Friday, he could have (pitched) Friday and (the following) Wednesday, and we would not have been able to start him the following Sunday if it is needed," Girardi said. "Our goal is still to win the division.

"We have clinched nothing at this point, so it gives us the ability to start him three more times."

Entering play Tuesday, the Yankees were three games behind the Red Sox for the division title and held a relatively comfortable five-game lead on Minnesota for the top wild-card spot. However, there is a huge difference between winning the division and earning a wild card; division winners play a five-game series and duck the all-the-marbles game on Oct. 3.

The reason the Yankees feel they can close the gap may lie in the numbers. Boston had two games left on the road with a Baltimore club that has already beaten the Red Sox 10 times, then three games each with the Toronto Blue Jays and Cincinnati Reds. The Red Sox close with four at home against AL West champ Houston, a team that could be playing for the best record in the AL and home-field advantage throughout.

New York finishes the series with the Twins, then plays last-place Toronto six times and the Rays three times, with six of the games at home. Picking up three games is no lock, but it could be possible.

What if the Red Sox clinch the division before the final day of the season? Girardi said there was no reason he had to pitch Severino on the final day, and with the team currently using a six-man rotation, the right-hander could be saved for Oct. 3.

"We can adjust things because we have six starters and do what we feel is the right thing to do, but right now he will start (Wednesday)," Girardi said.

Severino actually prefers it this way. He said he would pitch in any game the Yankees need him and that if that turned out to be the wild-card game, he "would be honored." Still, he feels best pitching the series finale against Minnesota.

"If I had to choose, I'd choose (Wednesday)," said Severino, who is 13-6 with a 2.93 ERA. "I like to pitch (every) five days. ... When I rest a lot, my arm feels very good and I can't control my fastball. ... I overthrow."

Given how teams can be streaky, things could work out other way, too. If New York manages to lead Boston by a game entering the final day of the season, the Yankees could be looking at a tiebreaker game with the Red Sox for the division title. They could save Severino for that.

Girardi has been managing games in postseason mode for weeks now, as evidenced by the way no pitcher is given much latitude and relievers get warmed up earlier and earlier. It will stay that way.

The Yankees might have to end up satisfied with a wild card, but they want something else and are going for it.

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