Despite winning only one World Series in the last 17 years, it’s always weird to think about the New York Yankees as underdogs, perhaps even massive ones, as they head into a playoff series. But the Cleveland Indians, believe it or not, are the popular pick to go all the way this season, thanks to their historically good pitching staff.
The Indians finished the season with an AL-best 102 wins while giving up less runs than anyone in the majors. The Yankees are the second best team in the American League when it comes to stopping teams from scoring runs, but they gave up 96 runs more than the Indians over the season, and four more in their wild card win over the Minnesota Twins.
The Yankees were only second-best in the American League when their players were at the plate, trailing only the Houston Astros. We saw what they can do against the Twins, not letting an early lead by Minnesota get to them. Aaron Judge (he of 52 home runs) hit a home run, Didi Gregorius did too, as well as Brett Gardner. Judge, the man the Yankees offense revolves around, is 4-for-14 this season against the Indians, including one home run off of Mike Clevinger.
The Yankees might be getting a small break by facing Trevor Bauer in the first game instead of Corey Kluber. Bauer did have a 17-9 record this season, but also a 4.19 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP, slightly higher than his career number. He’s had trouble before against a number of Yankees players, including Todd Frazier, Gregorius and Gardner. Judge is 1-for-1 against him, which implies nothing.
Over the long run, it’ll be the Yankees bullpen, the one that gave them so much trouble early on, that gives the AL East team the best shot of upsetting last season’s World Series losers. David Robertson and Chad Green (perhaps the team’s best reliever) probably won’t pitch in game 1 on account of their work in the Wild Card game, but Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Tommy Kahnle can give the Yankees quality in their innings, as long as it’s not another game of their starting pitcher lasting just one inning.
The Yankees might continue with a tactic of pulling their starters early on, considering there are two days off in the potential 7 games, and they will likely carry 12 pitchers into the series. Chasen Shreve will be used for certain matchups, while Masahiro Tanaka and another player will join the pitching staff.
The Indians are difficult to get an advantage over because of their switch hitters – Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Carlos Santana. But they do have weak links: Jay Bruce against lefties, Lonnie Chisenhall doesn’t start against them either in most cases.
This still is the Indians’ series to lose, and the Yankees can’t expect a barrage of home runs from Judge and co. However, if they get their bullpen to deliver like it has during the second half of this season and matchup with the Indians bullpen, we might have ourselves a potential upset in the making.