Even though J.A. Happ has been stellar, he should not start for the New York Yankees in the American League Wild Card game.
Despite taking place in mid-September, Tuesday night’s game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium almost had an October feel to it. A clutch home run in the seventh, a tense top of the ninth inning and an epic pitchers duel served as the backdrop.
The Yankees, who went on to win the game 3-2, sent J.A. Happ out to start against the first place Sox and like he has all season, he dominated the competition. Happ went six innings, struck out six and allowed one unearned run en route to a no-decision.
Outings like this have been the norm since Happ came to the Yankees on July 26 and he has emerged as one of the front-runners to start for the team in the American League Wild Card game on Oct. 3.
However, Happ’s start against Boston shouldn’t have fans clamoring for him to start the Wild Card. Instead, the Yankees should save Happ for game one of the American League Divisional Series at Fenway Park.
Yes, this seems like a crazy idea. Saving a pitcher who has been nothing short of great for a game that may not even happen. If Happ was the only option for the Wild Card, then yes, it’d be insane. But the Yankees have Masahiro Tanaka for that game. Tanaka has proven to be clutch in big-time games and has excelled in the playoffs for the Yankees. In addition to this, the Yankees have arguably one of the best bullpens in baseball and could help secure a win after Tanaka’s night is done.
So what the Yankees should ultimately do is use Happ for that first game in Boston of the ALDS.
Game one is going to be a crucial game for the Yankees if they escape the Wild Card. After playing an elimination game (hopefully at Yankee Stadium), they’ll travel to a hostile environment to take on the best team in baseball. They’re going to want to get off on a good start and try to take home field advantage away from their greatest rival and Happ gives them the best chance to do that.
In his career, Happ has pitched at Fenway Park nine times, eight of which were starts. In those nine appearances, he has gone 4-2 with a 2.91 earned run average and has struck out 36. Additionally, he has only allowed four home runs to Red Sox batters in those games. This stat is huge considering how much of a hitter-friendly ballpark Fenway is and how today’s baseball is built around hitting the long ball.
Not only has Happ just succeeded in their stadium, but he has also owned the Red Sox throughout his major league career. Prior to Tuesday’s gem, Happ faced the Sox 19 total times, with only the one relief appearance, and posted a 7-4 record with a 2.98 ERA.
With the regular season winding down, the Yankees need to think big picture. While they have to focus on and win that dreaded Wild Card game, they can’t put all their eggs in that one basket.
They have to resist using Happ on Oct. 3 and have to keep him ready for Oct. 5. He simply gives the team their best chance at taking down the Red Sox in game one in Boston.