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Wild Card Notebook

   10-04-2017
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Guts & Glory

David Robertson had pitched in 585 regular season games and another 20 in the postseason over a 10-year career with the Yankees, White Sox and, now, the Yankees again after coming back in a trade along with Tommy Kahnle to add even more depth to an already-deep bullpen. Not in any of those previous games had the slender right-hander pitched more than 2 1/3 innings (which he did once, against Tampa this past September), but when it's the postseason, especially an elimination game like the wild card, manager Joe Girardi called on him early and stuck with him. The 32-year-old Alabaman struck out five of the 14 batters he faced over 3 1/3 innings to bridge the game to Kahnle and Aroldis Chapman and earn the victory. “It was fun. I had a good time. Threw a few pitches that I wish I could take back, that were base hits, but I had a great time. I enjoyed it, mainly because I didn't give up a ton of runs and lose the game. But I wish I could have finished the last inning I was in, but I'm happy with what I was able to do.” The resiliency he demonstrated in shutting down the Twins for three innings might even make Girardi more comfortable stretching Robertson out or bringing him in for an early, high-leverage situation, so reporters naturally asked whether he would be able to bounce back. “I'll have to see how I feel,” Robertson said. “To be honest with you, I haven't thrown that much -- well, hell, I haven't done it ever, so we'll see how I feel tomorrow.”

Click here to relive last night's Wild Card.


National League Wild Card Game
Colorado Rockies vs. Arizona Diamondbacks 
Oct. 4, 2017

 

Batting first

The first batter of the NL postseason will fittingly be the Rockies' Charlie Blackmon. A cerebral, soft spoken center fielder from Texas with a mad beard, Blackmon had a career year to help lead the Rockies to their NL wild card showdown with the D-Backs on Wednesday night. The 30-year-old veteran of seven MLB seasons won his first batting title (.331) and led the NL in runs, hits, triples and total bases. With his two-run home run in the second inning against the Dodgers on Friday night he also broke Darin Erstad's 17-year-old record of 100 RBIs as a leadoff hitter. And only Alfonso Soriano, who hit 39 home runs from the leadoff spot for the 2006 Nationals and 38 for the 2002 Yankees, has ever hit more than Blackmon's 37 bombs this season. “We were just asking for a chance,” Blackmon said after the Rockies clinched the final wild card spot. “We just sneaked in under the wire, but I wouldn't have it any other way, to be honest. We took a lot of steps forward as a team this year and that's why we're where we are.” Nolan Arenado, himself an MVP candidate who tied Blackmon with 37 home runs and led the club with 43 doubles and 130 RBIs, told the Denver Post, “Charlie is one of the hardest workers I've ever seen” and noted that Blackmon couldn't be pulled from his routine even upon finding out before their game on Saturday that they had clinched a spot. “He's so funny,” Arenado said. “We're like, ‘Dude, we're in already, it's all good bro, we did this.' But that's Charlie. He's an intense guy. That's probably why he got two hits and I struck out ugly in my first at-bat.”

Merry Pranksters

The D-backs' bullpen may have been 25th in MLB in strikeouts, but as a group they were tied for eighth in batting average against (.239), fifth in ERA (3.78) and possibly first in enjoying themselves. After all, this is the bullpen that challenged the Cubs' bullpen to a dance-off during a 2 ½-hour rain delay in early August. This is probably exactly what you should expect from a group coached by fun-loving former closer Mike Fetters, who pitched 16 seasons and got 100 big-league saves without striking out a huge percentage of the batters he faced. Sports Illustrated reported this summer that 25-year-old Archie Bradley, a third-year stud who led the Arizona bullpen with a 1.73 ERA, 79 strikeouts and 73 innings, loves the prank where an unsuspecting teammate is drenched with a cup of water by traps set over doors. Bradley, who signed out of high school rather than pitch for the University of Oklahoma when Arizona used the 11th overall selection on him in 2011, was stretched by the D-Backs in the last week of the season in case he needs to come in for more than an inning, going 38 and 37 pitches in his last two outings and getting four and five outs. The results weren't great (he gave up a home run against Kansas City on Sunday) but he didn't seem concerned. “For me it's just a reminder that I'm not invincible,” Bradley told the Arizona Republic. “Guys can hit pitches. Guys are going to hit pitches out of the park. And, so, with the type of games we're playing and the type of situations I'm going to be pitching in, I'm just going to have to make better pitches.”

He's Back

Greg Holland's last postseason appearance was in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series against the Giants at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City where he  pitched a scoreless ninth inning, his third appearance in the series without giving up a run, and held the game at 3-2, but the Royals couldn't come back in the bottom half of the inning. His Royals fared better in the 2015 World Series when they beat the Mets, but Holland was just a spectator, weeks off Sept. 29 surgery to repair a significant tear of the ulnar collateral ligament. He missed all of 2016, but after signing with the Rockies the now 31-year-old right-hander and his devastating slider returned in spectacular fashion in 2017, leading the National League in saves (41) and making his third All-Star Game appearance. The 5-foot-10 from Asheville, N.C., had a bit of slump in August, but he seemed to be back on track in September when he was 5-for-5 in save opportunities, allowing two runs and four hits while striking out 12 batters over 9.2 innings. "I don't try to think about struggles too much," Holland said as he prepared for the NL Wild Card Game. "I don't try to think about success too much. If you're putting in the preparation and the time before the game, it'll take care of itself. It takes all the doubt out of it. You can be confident. I've struggled and I've succeeded."

For the 20th time this season … an NL West showdown in the desert

For the third time in 12 Wild Card games, two division foes will matchup in a survive-and-advance game, after facing each other 19 times during the regular season. This season, Arizona bested the Rockies in the season series, 11-8, but the two teams spilt the 10 games at Chase Field. Jon Gray and the Colorado Rockies (87-75 in regular season) will face off against Zack Greinke and the Diamondbacks (93-69 in regular season) on Wednesday. Gray, a right-hander from Oklahoma who was the third overall draft pick in 2013, was relatively unknown on the national scene prior to this season, but he emerged at the top of a young Rockies rotation in which four starters won at least 10 games and helped the team reach the postseason for the first time since 2009. Arizona, making its first postseason appearance since 2011, is going with the more experienced Greinke, a four-time all-star and former Cy Young Award winner (2009) who is 3-3 with 3.55 ERA in nine postseason starts.

From Seller to Contender

From a fan's perspective, the trade deadline brings drama and nail-biting to see if and when teams make moves. For a player, a late-season trade often brings a chance to join a playoff push and play meaningful games down the stretch. In perhaps the most productive move to date, Arizona acquired J.D. Martinez from Detroit. Martinez has given the D-Backs 29 home runs in 62 games since joining the club. “I think he's protected Goldie quite a bit,” GM Mike Hazen said on Tuesday, referring to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. “He's had a phenomenal run with us, and we're happy he's here. He's definitely added a different element both for right-handed and left-handed pitching.” The team Arizona will face In the NL wild card game, Colorado, added Jonathan Lucroy, who batted .310 over 46 games with the Rockies.

The Arizona Star

Zack Greinke quietly put together a 17-7 season with a 3.20 ERA. Ho hum, just his 10th straight season eclipsing the 10-win mark. To put the accomplishment in perspective, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound righty is only the fourth active pitcher with a streak of at least 10 seasons (also: John Lackey, 14 seasons; CC Sabathia, 14 seasons; and Justin Verlander, 11 seasons). In 2017, Greinke has been nearly unbeatable at home. In 18 starts at Chase Field Greinke compiled a 13-1 record and a 2.87 ERA, allowing opponents to hit just .209. “When you pitch good and you make good pitches, the results are going to be better,” Greinke said on Tuesday. “On the road, there's probably been like three or four games where I didn't think I pitched that good. So maybe just being more consistent at home this year.” Greinke, a 14-year veteran, said he doesn't pitch any differently in the postseason, rather the approach is the same as any other game. “I feel good going into it. I feel pretty prepared. All my pitches feel good,” he said.


 

American League Wild Card Game
Minnesota Twins vs. New York Yankees
Oct. 3, 2017

Wild card in the Bronx 

The last time the Yankees (91-71 in regular season) were involved in the postseason, they fell in the 2015 wild card game to Dallas Keuchel and the Astros at Yankee Stadium. They'll get another shot at the survive-and-advance game on Tuesday against Minnesota (85-77 in regular season), which is in the postseason for the first time since 2010 after becoming the first team ever to make the playoffs after losing 100 games (103) the previous season. Right-hander Ervin Santana will make the start for the Twins, while Luis Severino will take the mound for New York. Santana, no stranger to postseason play – he has pitched in eight playoff games, five against the Yankees – put together one of his best seasons in 2017. The 34-year old went 16-8 with a 3.28 earned run average. Severino will be making his first career appearance in the postseason, but the 23-year old logged a 14-6 regular season with a 2.98 ERA, the AL's third-lowest among starters. 

#H2H

New York and Minnesota matched up six times in 2017, with the Yankees taking the season series 4-2. The teams took the field just weeks ago, from Sept. 18-20, a three-game sweep by the Yankees in the Bronx. There have been four postseason series matchups between the two teams – 2003 Division Series, 2004 DS, 2009 DS and 2010 DS – with the Yankees winning all four series by a combined 12 games to two. Since the franchise moved from Washington to the Twin Cities, the Yankees hold a 361-257-1 advantage, including 21-9 at the current Yankee Stadium, which opened prior to the 2009 season. 

Wild (Card) Game, Take Two

The Yankees will become the fourth team to play in two or more wild card games, joining Pittsburgh (three appearances), Baltimore and San Francisco (two appearances each). In 2015, the Yankees fell to Houston, 3-1. This edition of the survive-and-advance game will look distinctly different from a roster standpoint for the Bronx Bombers, as the 2017 Wild Card roster features 15 players that weren't on the 25-man roster two years ago. 

Turning Point

The Twins' decision to trade All-Star closer Brandon Kintzler and No. 3 starter Jaime Garcia at the July deadline brought those players who remained even closer together. The team had lost 12 of 17 games, was five back in the AL wild card standings and the front office had clearly lost confidence. The players were stung by the news, but manager Paul Molitor and clubhouse leaders Joe Mauer, Brian Dozier among others turned the deflating news into motivation, according to veteran baseball writer Mike Berardino (St. Paul Pioneer Press). Molitor, who had listened to Bruce Springsteen during his morning walk along San Diego Harbor, returned to the visitors' clubhouse at Petco Park that day and wrote, “NO RETREAT. NO SURRENDER” on a white board. Then a players-only meeting was held before batting practice. It lasted just 15 or 20 minutes. “The biggest thing I remember is Joe and Doz stood up and they said, ‘Just because we lost a couple of our brothers, that doesn't change who we are,' ” said 24-year-old center fielder Byron Buxton who along with Mauer described the players' mood as angry. “I think them telling us that and so many of us looking up to them as our leaders, it took that weight off our shoulders of, ‘What are we going to do next?' ” The team went on to a 20-win August and kept up its momentum to win the second AL wild card spot and will play the Yankees in New York on Tuesday night. Buxton called it the turning point of the season for the Twins, who lost 103 games in 2016. “I think the biggest thing in the meeting was to direct that anger or whatever feeling in a positive way, and I think we were able to do that,” Mauer said. “A lot of the veteran guys spoke up.” Buxton, who emerged as a star in his own right this season, said, “We let [the trades] motivate us to say, ‘All right, if nobody believes in us, the guys that are here, we're going to believe in ourselves.' That allowed us to go out there and play this game free.”

Wild (Card) Game, Take Two

The Yankees will become the fourth team to play in its second or-more wild card game, joining Pittsburgh (three appearances), Baltimore and San Francisco (two appearances each). In 2015, the Yankees fell to Houston, 3-1. This edition of the survive-and-advance game will look distinctly different from a roster standpoint for the Bronx Bombers, as the 2017 Wild Card roster features 15 players that weren't on the 25-man roster two years ago. 

Jersey boys

Aaron Judge may only have one year under his belt at the major-league level, but walking around ballpark concourses around the country would reveal that fans have quickly taken note of the rookie's 52 home runs this season. Judge's No. 99 was the top selling jersey for the 2017 season, announced earlier Tuesday. Joining him is teammate Gary Sánchez, New York's catcher, coming in at 15th on the list. The list was compiled based on sales data of Majestic jerseys from MLBShop.com, the official online shop of Major League Baseball, since Opening Day.
Take a look at the entire top 20 best-selling jerseys here

 

Check out our #MLBPlayers411 series for more information on some of the players participating in the postseason: 

Minnesota Twins

Byron Buxton

Jorge Polanco

Max Kepler

Eddie Rosario

New York Yankees

Chad Green

Gary Sanchez

Luis Severino

Ronald Torreyes