The Cleveland Indians will face the New York Yankees in the playoffs for the second time in four years. This is an intriguing matchup because of the star power on both sides and the stark contrast in styles in which these teams play. Cleveland relies heavily on its excellent starting pitching while New York tries to out-slug its opponents. A three-game series in baseball brings with it a whole new dynamic to the postseason baseball we’ve grown accustomed to. Cleveland’s pitching against New York’s hitting is the most significant matchup, but there are other things the Indians must do in order to move on to the Division series.
1. Starters Continue to Dominate
Triple-Crown winner Shane Bieber was the best pitcher in baseball during the regular season. He had one start with three earned runs and that was his most for a single start. He struck out over 14 batters per nine innings. Bieber needs to continue to pitch that way against New York. In addition to facing a potent offense, it’s due to who he’s matched up with in Game 1. The Yankees are countering the imminent Cy-Young-winner with their 324-million-dollar man, Gerrit Cole. This is as good a pitching matchup as we may see all postseason. A Game 1 win for the Tribe would be crucial because they would have beaten the Yankees with their best pitcher on the mound and they’d have a clear starter advantage in Game 2 and Game 3 (if necessary). That being said, Carlos Carrasco needs to show up and Zach Plesac, if needed, as well. If the Indians’ starters pitch like they have all season and keep the Yankees offense under control, with enough backing from the offense, Cleveland will have a solid chance at moving on.
2. The Superstars Play as Such
It’s no secret that the Yankees are bringing heavy artillery to this series. The Indians will need to score more than a couple runs per game. Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez have to lead the charge. Lindor is a career .276 hitter in the playoffs with five HR and 12 RBI. That’s pretty good for 23 games and especially for a player in his ages 22-24 seasons. That being said, in the 2017 ALDS against New York, Lindor went just 1-17 outside of his dramatic Game 2 grand slam. That can’t happen again if the Indians want to win this series. Ramírez is one of the reasons Cleveland was able to surge into the four seed. He needs to remain hot in this series. Ramírez is just a .195 postseason hitter. This includes a 2-20 effort with seven Ks against New York in 2017. This offense needs Lindor and Ramírez to be on their game to win this series. If these two hit like they’re capable of, the Indians can score enough runs to support the pitching staff, take the pressure off the other seven in the lineup and even open opportunities for those players.
3. Help From Hitters Not Named Lindor and Ramírez
As I just eluded to, the Indians’ offense goes as these two do. Fortunately, these aren’t the only two players capable of having a major impact in a quick series. Carlos Santana had a disappointing follow-up to his All-Star 2019 campaign, but that can all be erased with a big series against the Yankees. He’s a career .213 hitter under the brightest lights, but he has homered in the last three series he’s played in. Franmil Reyes has game-changing power and has shown the ability to hit the ball the other way both inside and out of the park. Cesar Hernandez has been an absolute steal of an off-season acquisition. He has also been one of the Tribe’s best clutch hitters. Hitting after Lindor and in front of Ramírez and Santana should mean he will get some good pitches to hit. These three as well as the remaining hitters supporting Lindor and Ramírez could mean the difference between advancing and a third straight first-round exit.
4. Timely Hits
This one is really simple. Good teams cash in when presented with a scoring opportunity. Those types of situations where a runner is on third with less than two outs are critical in the postseason. The more runs the Indians can give their starters and bullpen, the better position they’ll be in and the better their chances are of advancing to the division series.
5. The Bullpen Shuts the Door
The Indians’ starters will most likely leave the game with the Tribe having a chance to win. In that case, the bullpen needs to pick up where the starter leaves off. With the Yankees’ power, they’re never out of a game. Additionally, if Cleveland knocks the opposing starter out of the game, they’ll have to deal with a solid New York bullpen. The Indians do have a high-quality bullpen themselves and it got even better with the additions Triston McKenzie and Aaron Civale for the series. These are two pitchers that would probably be in rotations for most of the other 15 teams in the playoffs. They can go multiple innings and prevent the bullpen from being overtaxed. James Karinchak, the living embodiment of Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn, throws heat like the fictional hurler and has a breaking ball that could prove difficult for the Yankee hitters. Brad Hand, the MLB leader in saves, needs to maintain his perfect record in save situations. If the bullpen pitches like it did during the regular season or even elevates its level of play, it’ll be tough for the Yankees to mount a comeback or extend a lead.
This is the fifth all-time postseason meeting between the Indians and Yankees. Each team has two series wins. Game 1 from Cleveland is scheduled for Tuesday at 7:00 EST on ESPN.
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