Earlier today, as we continue to get ready for tonight’s Wildcard Game at Fenway, we’ve taken looks at both the starting pitcher going for the Yankees tonight as well as their bullpen. That just leaves one group for us to dissect: The bats. Here’s a quick look at the nine players we figure will be starting tonight for the bad guys, and what we think you should know. (This is not a projected batting order.)
Aaron Judge, RF
This is a Yankees lineup that is loaded with big names, but no one stands taller — literally or figuratively — than Judge. New York’s right fielder is simply one of the very best overall players in the game and easily the hitter to fear most in this lineup. The big righty has prodigious power, which we all know. Judge finished the year with 39 homers and a .256 Isolated Power (SLG - AVG). Beyond the homers, he’s probably most well-known for his strikeouts, but that’s an outdated view of him. His 25 percent strikeout rate is only slightly worse than average in this era of baseball, and he pairs with that rate a high walk rate (nearly 12 percent) and one of the most consistent abilities in the league to turn batted balls into hits. Over his career he’s had trouble with the splitter, so look for Eovaldi to lean heavily on that offering in these matchups tonight.
Giancarlo Stanton, DH
Paired with Judge, there is not a more intimidating twosome in all of baseball, taking into account both their ability to hit 400-plus foot homers with ease and their stature. Health had been an issue for the slugger the last couple of seasons, but he got into 139 games in 2021 and he reminded folks that he’s still among the best offensive players in the league. Stanton finished his season with 35 homers and a 137 wRC+. Like Judge, his strikeout rate (27 percent) is still a tad high, but probably not as high as his reputation may suggest. Also like Judge, he draws plenty of walks (11 percent), and he can turn batted balls into hits with the most consistent hard contact in all of baseball. Eovaldi will need to use the fastball to keep Stanton honest, but it’s the slower pitches (i.e. his splitter and curve) that should be most effective in this matchup.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B
The apple of many Red Sox fans’ eyes around the trade deadline, the former Sox prospect went to New York and put that team on his back for those first couple of weeks. But he’s come back down to Earth since then, and in his time with New York he has a good, but not quite great, 113 wRC+. Unlike the previous two, Rizzo hits from the left side and he also is tough to strike out. While his power is not elite by any stretch, he can still go deep if given the chance. His pull-happy tendencies make him an easy shift, so Eovaldi should be looking to pitch to contact a little bit in these matchups and try to get Rizzo to ground into his defense.
Gleyber Torres, 2B
Once seemingly the future star of this franchise, Torres has never really been able to take that next step and become a full-fledged star. He spent much of this season struggling both offensively and defensively, just never really seeming to make solid contact with the baseball. His season-long line comes in below average with a 94 wRC+, and his ISO of just .107 is well below average. That said, he’s been better in the second half with marks of 115 and .167, respectively, and that combined with the natural talent we know he has makes him a scarier opponent than his 2021 line may suggest. Torres has had some trouble with fastballs this year, so Eovaldi could come out firing against him, especially early on.
Joey Gallo, LF
Perhaps no hitter in baseball better epitomizes this current three true outcomes era of baseball than Gallo. Picked up from Texas at the deadline, he’s struck out over 38 percent of the time with New York, but has also drawn walks at a 16 percent clip and put up a .245 ISO. He’s another guy who is easily shiftable, though getting him to hit the ball on the ground can be a challenge. Fenway is not an easy place for pull-happy lefties to hit homers, but Gallo has more than enough raw power to buck that trend. He’s another guy who I’d expect to see Eovaldi pepper with a lot of splitters.
Gio Urshela, SS
Urshela turned himself into a folk hero on the last day of the season, going face first into the Rays’ dugout to catch a foul ball. He’s feeling good enough to play, though he did get banged up on that catch. Urshela is one of a handful of position players whose game the Yankees have taken to a new level, though he’s taken a step back this year and has been more average at the plate. He’s a very aggressive hitter, so Eovaldi should be trying to expand the zone against him and make him prove he can draw a walk.
Brett Gardner, CF
Gardner, I assume, will be playing outfield for the Yankees long after I’ve left this realm for whatever’s on the other side, and he somehow was mostly and everyday player this year as well. He’s certainly not a star, but he can still play a bit, putting up a 93 wRC+ in center field. Unlike Urshela, he will work counts, but he is also less likely to do damage with strikes. Gardner is exactly the kind of player Eovaldi should not be messing around with, challenging him with strikes and hoping for quick outs.
Kyle Higashioka, C
You might expect to see Gary Sánchez here, but Higashioka has been Cole’s personal catcher and it’s hard to see them changing that up now. I would expect Sánchez to be in at some point and serve as a pinch hitter whenever Cole leaves the game, though there is some chance I suppose that he starts at DH, with Stanton playing left, Gallo in right, and Judge in center. As for Higashioka, he’s struggled making contact this year and doesn’t hit a lot of singles, but he’s also someone you don’t want to just throw fastballs down the plate, because he does have some pop in that bat.
Rougned Odor, 3B
Odor is the replacement for DJ LeMahieu, who is not able to go for this game. Odor once looked like someone who would start in this league for a long time, but his inability to make contact did him in with Texas and the Yankees picked him up for nothing early this season. He made a surprising impact early, but generally he’s been who we expect. Like Higashioka, Odor is not someone you want to challenge with hittable fastballs because he can hit it a long way. But he will expand the zone if you let him, and there’s plenty of swing and miss to try and target.