Nobody believed the Yankees would have a chance of moving past the Indians. Not many even thought they would get a game off the red-hot Indians which broke the MLB record for consecutive wins at 22 in mid September.
“Whoever wins the Wild Card is just winning a ticket to get swept by the Indians.” I heard it countless times the day before the Yanks advanced to the divisional series.
I believed the comments as the Indians won the first two games, starting with a 4-0 victory that included only three hits for the yankees. This was followed by an even more embarrassing loss as the Indians came back from trailing 3-8 in the fifth inning to win 9-8 in the bottom of the 13th inning.
Although I heard this from Yankees fans and haters alike, the team crawled back from a two-game deficit to tie the series 2-2. Masahiro Tanaka carried the team in game 3, throwing 7 scoreless innings, and the Yankees were rewarded with a solo homer in the seventh inning by Greg Bird.
They had saved themselves from elimination, but their 7-3 win in Game 4 turned the Yankees from a team that was barely surviving to one that was ready to show they had the mentality to win in the playoffs.
Now, with a do-or-die elimination game tonight, both teams must show their mental grit and fight to win a game that means going home or going on to face the Astros for a chance to play in the World Series. Below I have gone over the biggest factors heading into this game and who needs to perform for their team to ensure moving on.
Corey Kluber, CLE
Corey Kluber has another chance to show he really is Cy Young caliber, after making a swift exit in Game 2 after letting up six scores by the third inning. The decision to sit him in the first game could pay dividends, with Kluber coming off a regular rest as opposed to the extended rest he had going into his previous start.
The Indians are really banking on Kluber to come out in top form to balance out their bullpen which has been spent in the past two losses. Not all regular season success carries over to the postseason and if he wants to prove he is the best in the league he needs to rebound from his weak performance earlier in the series and come out throwing hot.
The pitcher in the prime of his career says he identified the issue that caused problems in Game 2, but regardless of his comments it will come down to Kluber staying fully concentrated on the task at hand and keeping himself in as many innings as he can.
Just because Sabathia is 37 and on the end of his career doesn’t mean you should count him out of this contest. Many who did in Game 2 were silenced after he went 5 1/3 innings, allowing 4 hits and 3 runs before leaving in the sixth. Even after that, the decision to take him out may have been premature with relief pitcher Chad Green giving up a grand slam just four pitches later.
The Yankees have tons of confidence in the former Cy Young winner after his 77-pitch game which acted as a summary to his 2017 regular season in which he managed a 14-5 record with a 3.69 ERA.
“I feel great about our chances with CC on the mound,” left fielder Brett Gardner said ahead of tonight’s game, “Every time he goes out, he’s a big-game pitcher and always has been.”
This game is one of the biggest tests Sabathia has had to face in the past few years, he could leave this game as a legend who just won’t go away or a rusty arm whose time is up.
Both starting pitchers are potent at their best, but I’m having a really hard time predicting the type of game they will have. Ultimately, I think the bullpens are going to make the difference down the stretch of this game.
Severino’s huge seven inning Game 4 put a huge cushion on a bullpen that was already stacked. Although he did let up the grand slam in the second game, Chad Green is still the most important reliever on the Yankees, especially after his teammates Severino and Tanaka gifted him a two-game rest. The added rest was also enjoyed by Sonny Gray, who sat out all of Monday’s game, and Aroldis Chapman after pitching 34 times to close out the Yankees 1-0 victory in Game 3.
Losing the most recent games means that the Indians’ bullpen has less rest among them. Trevor Bauer had to be taken out after allowing 4 runs on only 55 pitches, once again opening up the bullpen early. Despite never clawing back into the game, the Indians used every single relief pitcher except for Andrew Miller! This is unbelievable scary for Indians fans, especially considering Kluber left the second game in the second inning as well.
The difference in rest between these two bullpens could mean all the difference if Kluber does not come out and pitch deep. The Yanks clearly have the upper hand, especially in a game where every pitcher will be eligible to play if they are called on to help their team move on.
Yankees fans, you know who needs to perform. Aaron Judge once again has the weight of New York on his shoulders with a chance to move his team one step closer to the World Series, a championship the team can almost call home. He moved the Yanks into this series with a homer against the Twins but has become almost invisible in the games since then, hitting 1-15 with 12 strikeouts and 4 walks.
Playing historically well in his rookie year up until now, he will need to outperform himself not only in the outfield but also on the plate if he wants to continue growing into the Yankees legend many think he is capable of becoming.
The Tribe’s lineup has looked stale in the past two games, only scoring four runs. Continuing on means they have to channel the importance of this game and get hits when they count.
Terry Francona said slugger Edwin Encarnacion (38 home runs, 107 RBI in the regular season) will most likely be okay to play, but it is still a question of how much he can add after his ankle sprain in Game 2. Despite Francisco Lindor hitting the grand slam in that game, he hasn’t managed another hit. Michael Brantley has only hit 1-11 in that time and Jose Ramirez has only hit 2-16. All three of these players have to add value to the lineup if the Indians are going to beat the Yankees.
The tide is in favor of New York after their past two games and unless Cleveland’s batters can focus and pull out some consistent hits then I don’t see them pushing past for a chance at World Series redemption.
The biggest deciding factor is going to be Corey Kluber, who has the chance to redeem himself in a big way. If he can last until the later innings, not only will it even up the mismatch in bullpens but also give the Indian’s offense enough breathing room to get some runs.
While I don’t think it will be a high scoring affair, I have no doubt that the Yankees will be eager capitalize throughout the game and score some runs. Cleveland needs to fire back and make sure they don’t lose sight of their chance to advance.
Ultimately, I believe the whole series will come down to the mental fortitude of both teams and the patience set forth by their managers. The Yankees are confident and riding high, but this could backfire if they do not stay focused and take the game one inning at a time.
On the other hand, the Indians have seemed disheartened after their 1-0 loss in Game 3. I believe Cleveland has a hunger to get back to the World Series after losing Game 7 last year and can absolutely push their way past the Yanks if they intimidate early and keep their foot on the throttle.
Prediction: Yankees 6-4
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