MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees

Both optimism and uncertainty surround Yankees’ playoff berth

Considering the tumultuous nature of the Yankees’ 2015 season, it’s only fitting that their playoff-clinching win was wrapped in both buoyancy and anxiety.

On the one hand, here were the Yankees, who the masses counted out back in April, cracking beer cans and submerging their teammates in alcohol. Here was Alex Rodriguez, who wasn’t even expected to play in the Major Leagues again, holding a bottle of Ace of Spades so large, each ounce accounted for each of the 86 runs he batted in this season. Here was a close-knit group of veterans that was assembled over the past 400 or so days by general manager Brian Cashman that had produced at a level that even he couldn’t have expected.

At the same time, there were also many faces in the clubhouse that, while incredibly instrumental in the team’s late season push, weren’t a part of its larger success.

Mark Teixeira, an All-Star, was lost for the season, as was Nate Eovaldi. The Chasen Shreve and Brian Mitchell sporting celebratory gear and spraying champagne around the clubhouse were hardly the same Chasen Shreve and Brian Mitchell from July. The Yankees’ bullpen, once rock solid, was now a swaying bridge to closer Andrew Miller.

Against Boston, the team was caught somewhere in the swirling winds that encapsulated the Bronx.

They managed to post six runs in 11 combined innings against left-handed starters on Wednesday and Thursday, something they had struggled so mightily to do. Lefty-killer Chris Young returned, going 3-for-6, and so did general killer Alex Rodrguez, who snapped a 13-game homerless streak on Wednesday with his 33rd of the year. As they had at times during the year, the Yankees did not have an issue scoring runs.

Their pitching was another story.

Masahiro Tanaka, who hadn’t pitched in 12 days, went a shaky five innings, yielding four runs on five hits. Michael Pineda crashed and burned, throwing seven innings and allowing seven earned runs. Ivan Nova, yet again, struggled to find command late in his outing, allowing two big home runs.

Still, Tanaka will pitch Tuesday’s Wild Card game, as he should.

“[He]’s a big game pitcher,” said Brendan Ryan. “I think that’s why they brought him in. He’s dying for that type of start and that kind of pressure, and I think he has the ability to thrive under that. Just from his makeup and who he is and what he’s about, and the intensity shows out there. We’ve seen it from time to time. I love it, and I’m looking forward to that.”

Tanaka’s DRA WARP is right there in MLB’s Top 20 with Felix Hernandez at 3.07 this season, and that’s with the 16th most Adj. runs added by various factors, including strength of opponent and ballparks. Out of all pitchers to throw 100 innings, Tanaka’s Line Drive percentage is 12th-lowest in the league at 22.6%. He’s strong mentally, and all season long he’s given hitters a tough time.

The Yankees’ bullpen, though present for most of the season like Tanaka, has fallen a bit in recent weeks.

The Yankees, essentially, had six solid options about a month or so ago – Miller, Betances, Wilson, Shreve, Warren, and Mitchell. With injuries to Eovaldi and Mitchell, coupled with the strange rut that Shreve has fallen into, about half of the Yankees’ bullpen is now gone.

But, like with the rest of the Yankees’ problems, there lies a sense of optimism.

Adam Warren, scheduled to start for the Yankees during the week, came out of the bullpen to relieve an effective C.C. Sabathia and seal the Yankees’ clinching victory. In 23 high-leverage appearances, Warren’s opponents have hit just .224 against him. He will likely be the key to a playoff run.

“When you have a guy like Adam Warren, I don’t care if we have Adam pitching Game 1, 3, or 7 in the playoffs,” Rodriguez said in September. “I think we’re gonna win that game, that’s how good he is.”

It’s important to have Warren, and Tanaka, who you can trust to pitch the majority of innings in a Wild Card game, given its unpredictable nature.

“It’s a one-game playoff,” Joe Girardi said. “There are so many funny things that happen.

“It’s really going to come down to who has the best day.”

Just maybe, with Adam Warren sliding back into the bullpen, the Yankees can survive more than a game.

(Photo: Anthony Gruppuso-USA Today Sports)

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