After an electric start to the American League playoffs Tuesday night in the Bronx, the Cleveland Indians will take on the New York Yankees in a best-of-five Division Series. While the Indians will be favored in the series, postseason baseball has provided us with surprises before. The age-old matchup of an experienced group, a group who has been together and been tested, against an upstart, exciting group of young ball players who are now playing with house money. The Yankees and Indians have met three times in the postseason, 1997, 2007, and now 2017. Pencil them in for a playoff series in 2027. Here is the American League Division Preview: Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees.
Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees
Normally we would break this down into two different sections but in recent years once the postseason starts, the starting staff and bullpen have meshed into one. We saw it in the wild card games as not one starter made it through four innings. With a distinct edge in the ace department, Corey Kluber, the Indians have the best overall pitcher of the group. After that the starting staff for both is deep and comparable. The Yankees went 8 2/3 innings with their bullpen Tuesday night so they will be at a disadvantage Thursday night. Long term they have just as much talent as the Indians do in their pen.
In what was initially a surprising decision, Terry Francona will start Trevor Bauer in game one Thursday night. Bauer had a terrific second half of the season, registering just one loss in his final 14 starts. He then sets up ace Kluber in game two, Carlos Carrasco for game three, Josh Tomlin in game four and if necessary the possible AL CY young award winner will throw a second time in the series. The rest day after game two allows for Francona to start Kluber on four days rest in game five.
Sonny Gray was acquired for starts like the one he will have Thursday night. While his record doesn’t show it, Gray has had a good half season with the Yankees. He makes the biggest start of his career on Thursday night. Joe Girardi has yet to announce his starters in games three and four, but the grizzled vet C.C. Sabathia will get the ball in game two against Kluber. Options for game three and four comes down to Masahiro Tanaka, Luis Severino, and Jordan Montgomery.
Arguably the two best bullpens in baseball, Francona and Girardi will be using their pens early and often if necessary. Weapons like Danny Salazar and most likely Montgomery will get added to the pens for long relief. Then your fire ballers for both squads, Joe Smith, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Chad Green, Dellin Betances, Tommy Kahnle and of course Aroldis Chapman. Those are all guys capable of 95+ on their fastballs, many with the ability to reach triple digits.
While both lineups are extremely deep, strikeouts are inevitable with the talent of these two pens. As the series gets into the later games, expect Girardi and Francona to make the walk to the mound a few times as some starters become available for long relief.
The two teams who finished first and second respectively in run differential this season in the AL meet in the DS. The lineups are deep and will be incredibly difficult to manipulate. Combined, the Yankees and Indians outscored their opponents by 452 runs this season.
The Wild Card game saw the Yankees bat Todd Frazier in the nine hole. That will most likely remain because of his defense at third. The top six in the Yankees order will also remain intact. Tablesetter Brett Gardener is the prototypical leadoff hitter who will run the count and the bases if he gets on. Possibly the most dangerous heart of the order left in baseball sees AL MVP candidate Aaron Judge in the two hole, protected by Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius hitting cleanup. Starlin Castro and Greg Bird round out the top six.
Jacoby Ellsbury was slotted in the seventh hole on Tuesday night, but that may change. Matt Holiday and Chase Headley give Girardi options for his DH role. Finally defensive weapon and switch hitter Aaron Hicks bats eighth.
As deep as the Yankees lineup is, the Indians offer just as much. Starting with the best shortstop in the AL, Francisco Lindor will make things difficult for every Yankee pitcher he faces. While Michael Brantley has been added to the postseason roster, it may take a few games, even a series until he’s in the lineup everyday. Former Yankees prospect Austin Jackson hitting second, followed by the real meat of the Indians order. AL MVP candidate Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnicion, Jay Bruce and Carlos Santana. Giovanny Urshela and Jason Kipnis add length to an order that will see the catcher, either Roberto Perez or Yan Gomes hit ninth.
Players to Watch
One matchup that sticks out are the shortstops for both teams. Outside of Carlos Correa these may be the two best shortstops in the league. Lindor and Gregorius’ importance to their teams goes deeper than what you see on the field. They are leaders in the room and on the diamond.
Which shortstop has the better series may tilt the scale one way or the other. Both guys are X-factors for their teams and will provide special moments on the field for those watching.