ALDS Preview: New York Yankees vs Cleveland Indians

The Yankees were nearly downed early in the Wild Card game after a disastrous start by Luis Severino, however, the bullpen and lineup both stepped up in a major way, and punched a ticket for the Yanks to the ALDS, where they will face the team who had the best record in baseball during the regular season: the Cleveland Indians. The Indians were having a stellar season, until it turned in to an incredible season when they won 22 consecutive games and 27 of 28 from late August to mid September, a run that was the talk of the baseball world. 

The Indians have cooled down a bit since then, yet still won 102 games, and are attempting to repeat as American League champs, and should feel confident facing the Yankees, as they were 5-2 in the regular season against the Bombers. The Yankees themselves should head into this series with a ton of confidence, as they are a team full of inexperienced budding stars with close to nothing to lose. This will be the fourth time in baseball history that the Yankees and Indians will face off in the postseason, with the Indians winning two of the three previous series, including the most recent meeting in 2007. 

Game 1: (Thursday, October 5) | First Pitch: 7:30 PM TV: FS1
Sonny Gray (10-12, 3.55 ERA) vs. Trevor Bauer (17-9, 4.19 ERA)

Sonny Gray has only been a Yankee for a couple of months, yet he will be the game one starter for the Yankees, and will almost certainly need to give his team some solid innings after the bullpen was forced to record 26 outs in the Wild Card game. Gray has not exactly been lights out in his last few starts, posting a 2-4 record and a 4.58 ERA in the month of September. Another worrying aspect about Gray starting is the fact that the Indians have seen Gray quite a bit this year, as Thursday night will be the fourth meeting between the two. Despite being acquired from a bad team, Gray does have prior postseason experience, two starts including one that was an absolute gem against Detroit; eight innings of shutout ball.The Yanks would love to get that sort of performance from Gray with the bullpen in desperate need of a night off.

The Yankees should be facing the Indians best pitcher in game one; that is not the case, however, as Trevor Bauer, not Corey Kluber, will get the ball to start off Cleveland’s postseason run. Make no mistake, Bauer has been hot lately, and started game one of the division series last year against the Red Sox. Yet, that was a game in which he was pulled in the fifth inning after giving up three runs and was bailed out by the outstanding Indians bullpen. Another reason why Francona may be trotting Bauer out for the opener is that Bauer has been great in his two starts vs the Yanks this year, picking up wins in both and only allowing two earned runs over 13 innings.

Game 2: (Friday, October 6) | First Pitch: 5:00 PM TV: MLBN
C.C. Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA) vs Corey Kluber (18-4, 2.25 ERA)

It was very interesting to see C.C. get announced as the Game two starter, as many still thought it would be Luis Severino, even after his implosion. It should come as a reminder to all that C.C. getting the ball in game two after where he was the last time the Yanks made the playoffs is truly remarkable. C.C had his best season since 2012, and was arguably the most consistent pitcher in the rotation. This will be C.C.’s 19th career postseason start, and will be his first against his former team. 
If the Yankees cannot find a way to win the first game against Bauer, then they are in for a hell of a battle in game two, because Corey Kluber is an animal, and will most likely be collecting his second Cy Young Award once this season is completed. Kluber had another incredible year, posting a 2.25 ERA and a ridiculous 0.87 WHIP. Kluber struck out 265 over 203.2 innings, and was at his best in Cleveland: 10-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 16 starts at Progressive. Since Kluber is scheduled to start a potential game five, it will be vital for the Yanks to make him throw a lot of pitches early on, because even with the deep Cleveland bullpen, you would rather face them than Kluber.

Photo Credit: AP Tony Dejak

Game 3: (Sunday, October 8) | First Pitch: 7:30 PM TV: FS1
 Masahiro Tanaka (13-12, 4.74 ERA) vs Carlos Carrasco (18-6, 3.29 ERA)

The series will shift to the stadium Sunday night, as it will be Masahiro Tanaka who takes the mound for the Yankees in what could be an elimination game. Tanaka has the ability to mow down this Indians lineup and strikeout 12 plus…but he also has the ability to surrender five home runs in less than three innings. Tanaka is truly a a coin flip, and his season has been filled with more down than ups. Tanaka interestingly enough did not pitch once this year against Cleveland, which could work to his advantage.

Carlos Carrasco is a solid pitcher, who had an excellent year, setting career highs in wins, strikeouts, and inning pitched. Carrasco has been on fire in his last seven starts, 6-0 with a scintillating 1.28 ERA, just unfair when you consider what Kluber has done in the second half. Carrasco did get hit hard when he faced the Yankees for his only start against them this year, suffering one of his six losses. Carrasco will be the first Indians starter in this series to go away from home, but that should excite Carrasco, who is 11-2 with a sub three ERA on the road this season.

Game 4 (If Necessary: Monday, October 9) | First Pitch: TBD TV: FS1
Luis Severino (14-6, 2.98 ERA) vs Josh Tomlin (10-9, 4.98 ERA)

The only thing to say after watching Luis Severinos Wild Card game performance is: what happened?!?! Severino has not looked that bad since the 2016 starting pitcher version of himself and was lucky his offense and bullpen had his back Tuesday night.  The sad part about Severino starting this game is that it shows a clear lack of confidence in him, being scheduled to pitch a game that may not even wind up happening. The bottom line is if there is a game four, Luis Severino will have a chance at redemption in what would be a 2-1 series either way.
Photo Credit: AP Frank Franklin II
If the Yanks can make it to game four, they will have by far their most favorable pitching matchup of the series when Josh Tomlin is on the hill. Tomlin was extremely hittable this year, as opponents batted .294 versus him. Tomlin is a clear step below the other three pitchers in this rotation, and the Yanks will need to make the most out of that opportunity.

Game 5 (If Necessary: Wednesday, October 11) | First Pitch: TBD TV: TBD
TBD vs Corey Kluber (18-4, 2.25 EA)

If there is a game five, it is obvious that Corey Kluber will get the ball for the Indians barring injury, and the choice for the Yankees is not obvious at all, as it may depend on who pitches better between Gray and Sabathia. The Yankees are not at all worried about who is pitching a game five at the moment, yet it could become the main cause of concern if Kluber shuts down the Yanks lineup in game 2.

Players to Watch:

Aaron Judge
What a year it has been for Aaron Judge, 52 home runs and adding a postseason shot in just his first  game in the month of October. Judge picked up right where he left off after his 15 home run September against an inferior Twins team, but will now face a much tougher Indians staff who will have just about every piece of information needed to get him out. Judge has gotten used to having the target on his back, yet that target may not be as big as it usually is if Gary and Didi continue to protect him in the lineup. 

A major role Judge could possibly play in this series is on the bases, especially if he is struggling to hit and/or getting walked a lot. Judge swiped nine bases on 13 attempts this year, and may need to swipe a few more in this series to get the Yanks over the edge. A matchup that should scare Yankee fans this series is the Indians bullpen vs Judge, as guys like Andrew Miller and Cody Allen are awfully tough to hit if you have not faced them a whole lot like Judge. If Judge can put together a monster series, you can all but book a Yankee trip to the ALCS, as this team goes as he goes.

Didi Gregorius

It is incredible to think about the evolution of Didi Gregorius as a Yankee. From a player that was an unknown shortstop in 2015, to the cleanup hitter and possibly best all-around player on the 2017 Yankees tweeting victory speeches filled with emojis after every win. Didi has been the perfect replacement for the captain, and in typical Captain fashion, Didi delivered Tuesday night in a monumental way, tying the game back up at three after that dreadful top of the first. For those that have watched the Yankees all year, it wasn’t surprising to see Didi deliver in a big way, because he has been doing it all season, batting .304 with runners in scoring position and .327 with runners on base. Didi already broke Jeters record for most home runs by a Yankee shortstop this season, and now has a chance to do something Jeter did several times: anchor and will his team to a series victory.

Photo Credit: AP Kathy Willens

Dellin Betances

The amount of innings the relief pitchers threw during the Wild Card game was absurd, although there was someone, something missing: and that was Dellin Betances. Not only did Betances not pitch in that game, he didn’t even throw a warmup pitch, which says a lot about how Girardi feels about Betances at this point in time. Despite all that the main point is this: the Yanks need Dellin Betances at his best if they want to make a deep run into the playoffs. No matter how much he struggles Dellin has this going for him: when he is on, he is virtually untouchable, it is incredible to watch and a joy to have on your team. Yet, when he is off, he’s really off, and things usually get ugly sooner rather than later. Betances had a 5.59 ERA in September, but has not given up a run in his last six appearances. Expect to be seeing Betances at least once during the first two games in Cleveland with the bullpen still recovering.

Photo Credit: AP Kathy Willens

Players to Watch: Indians

Francisco Lindor

Francisco Lindor is only 23 years old, yet that has not stopped him from compiling 462 career hits, 60 home runs, and a .293 lifetime average. If his offensive numbers weren’t enough, it can also be noted that he has already won a gold glove, and may have two by the end of the year. Lindor is the spark of the Indians lineup, and added some serious power to his game this year. After only hitting 27 home runs in his first two seasons, Lindor connected on 33 this year, which was second on the team only behind Encarnacion. Lindor will hope to follow up his stellar 2016 postseason, where he hit .310 over 58 at-bats.
Photo Credit: AP:Elaine Thompson
Edwin Encarnacion

Speaking of Encarnacion, the former Blue Jay had just the type of year the Indians hoped they would get out of him when they signed him this past offseason. Encarnacion was the ideal DH for Cleveland, launching 38 home runs, driving in 107 runs and only missing five games in the process. It was his sixth straight season of hitting 30 or more home runs, and his third straight season of 100 or more RBIs. Edwin was also red hot in September, as it was only one of two months on the year in which he hit over .300.

Andrew Miller

It still hurts to put Millers name in here under players to watch for the Indians, as he has only gotten more dominant since his departure from New York, and now the Yanks will most likely have to deal with him in just about every close game that will be played this series. Miller is a nightmare matchup for any hitter, and can be expected to be used multiple innings as we saw last October, as he and Chapman were each of their team’s best players through the championship series. Miller’s number this year weren’t as incredible as last years, but nevertheless they are still laughable, just not for opposing hitters. The strange thing about Miller is the way the Indians use him, as he has only recorded five saves since he was traded to Cleveland last summer. Francona uses Miller the way that most managers may be using their top relief pitcher in the future, and it certainly has worked out for Miller and the Indians.

This will be a difficult series for the Yanks; one that will take a full team effort if they want to take three out of five from the defending American League champs. The matchup to watch in this series is the battle of the bullpens, as these are almost certainly the two best bullpens in baseball, and both will be on full display in the coming games. 

The Yankees showed what their bullpen can do during the Wild Card game, yet it also left a couple of key members of that pen gassed and most likely unavailable for game one, and possibly game two. The Yanks will need to lean on Sonny Gray and C.C to eat some innings if anything during the first two games in Cleveland, as the bullpen will probably not be able to go 8.2 innings for a second straight game. The Yankees are ahead of schedule, yes, and whatever they do from here on out  can be viewed as a positive. However, Brian Cashman did not get players like D-Rob, Kahnle, and Gray to just be ahead of schedule; he got them to win, now, and that is just what the Yankees plan on doing as they roll into Cleveland, looking to continue the quest for 28. 

Article By: Matt Luzzi


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