April 23, 2024

With a 4-2 victory in 10 innings on Friday, the Cleveland Guardians have tied their American League Division Series match-up with the New York Yankees and find themselves headed home for Game 3 on Saturday with the sudden opportunity to take care of business at home over the weekend. Before we get there though, let’s look at Friday’s clutch win. Here are my observations on how the series got knotted at one game a piece.

The Offense

  • Cleveland Guardians baseball finally showed up on Friday. The Guardians produced fourteen base-runners on the day between nine hits and five walks. After only getting runners into scoring position six times in the first three games of the postseason, they put runners in scoring position in six different innings in Game 2 alone. Even more importantly, they finally got three big, timely hits in those RISP situations.
  • The tenth inning will get most of the attention and it deserves it. The Guardians’ identity was shown through and it started with Jose Ramirez. Yes, Ramirez hit a little blooper, but he created a run from sheer will. If Ramirez isn’t busting it out of the box, he doesn’t end up sliding into second safely. He doesn’t end up forcing a bad throw from Josh Donaldson and he doesn’t end up getting himself to third on the same play. Jimmy Rollins was on the post-game show talking about how the Guardians got lucky with bloopers. I don’t want to hear anything about that… You create your own luck by playing hard. Unlike what some people think, this sport is more than a home run hitting contest. There are other aspects of the game that require execution. Cleveland executed. New York didn’t.
  • But in case hard-hit balls are what you like, Josh Naylor hit an absolute rocket later in the inning to score Oscar Gonzalez. Yankees CF Harrison Bader did take an odd route to the ball, Naylor even admitted it himself in an interview, but the ball still had a 68% hit expectancy. The ball was struck with a 108.5 mph exit velocity off the bat. It was the hardest hit of the game- hit harder than either home run. Take a look at Giancarlo Stanton‘s physique and then take a look at Naylor’s and try to figure that one out.
  • Not to be lost in the late-inning heroics though, is the work done early in the ballgame. Extra innings don’t happen if the Guardians don’t scratch out a run in the 4th. That run was manufactured solely with two outs. Naylor could’ve dogged it to first base after topping a grounder to second with two outs, but he hustled out an infield hit. Then Owen Miller works a walk. I said it during the Rays series, Andres Gimenez is a huge part of the Guardians Offense and they absolutely need him to contribute. That’s exactly what he did with a key base hit that finally broke the seal and cut the Yankees’ lead in half. Amed Rosario then turns around a Nestor Cortes fastball the next inning and we have a brand new, tied ballgame. Again, this doesn’t happen without hustle, effort and making the most out of all 27 outs.

The Starting Pitchers

  • So, Shane Bieber may not have exactly been the dynamo that he was one calendar week ago against Tampa Bay, but he proved just how special he is by keeping the Guardians in the game. Bieber was far from bad, but he didn’t have his A+ stuff in Game 2. Still, 5 2/3 innings of the two-run ball with seven strikeouts against arguably the best offense in the American League is more than adequate. He only had one clean inning, but he bobbed and weaved and made big pitches in big moments. If there was any doubt before, I think it’s gone now. The Guardians should feel like any game Shane Bieber starts is a game they have a great chance to win this October.
  • I’ve spoken a lot about the Guardians’ strategy at the plate. Conversely, I think the Yankees’ hitters deserve some credit. It’s clear they came into this game with a plan against Bieber and honestly did well to execute it. That game plan generated a lot of traffic on the bases and helped to shorten Bieber’s day. Stanton’s homer, the only run-producing event they had, is a perfect example of that plan. Bieber didn’t make that bad of a pitch, but Stanton knew that Bieber was going to try to get him out by pitching outside. When Bieber was just slightly off with his 3-2 fastball, Stanton made him pay.
  • On the other side, Cortes battled too. I was concerned early because he seemed to be pitching efficiently and the Guardians were struggling to make him work. They found other ways to make him work though by extending innings with base hits and walks. He may have escaped much of the damage, but those hits and walks got the Guardians to turn over their batting order faster and in one case turned into a two-out rally. Come the fifth inning, Aaron Boone had to make a decision on if he should try to push Cortes through the order for a third time or move to a bullpen that he lacks confidence in. He originally opted to stick with Cortes and that’s when Rosario struck to tie the game.

The Bullpens Take Hold

  • As the game got deeper and the bullpens took over, I personally was having an internal conflict about which would happen first: would the Yankees bullpen falter, or would their hitters find a way to run into one against the vaunted Cleveland relievers? If you’re a Yankees fan that was waiting on that one big swing, you are still waiting.
  • The Guardians Bullpen statistics since the postseason started: 17 2/3 IP, six hits, seven walks, 23 Ks, 0 runs allowed and a 0.74 WHIP. That’s right. They’ve pitched nearly two complete shutouts.
  • Trevor Stephan was particularly filthy in Game 2, sticking it to his former team. He came into the game in the 6th after Bieber departed leaving a slight jam with men on first and second and two out. He proceeded to strike out all four batters he faced over the next two innings, including pinch hitter Matt Carpenter to end the threat. Carpenter was the only hitter to even touch the ball when Stephan was on the mound as he fouled a single pitch off. Stephan faced both Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo. Seven All-Star appearances and neither made any contact.
  • One possible cause for concern would be James Karinchak, but I’m not sure if his performance is a harbinger of more struggles to come or not. Yes, Karinchak walked three, only got two outs and needed to be rescued in the 8th by Emmanuel Clase, However, Karinchak was faulty in his regular Karinchak way. He walks guys. It’s part of the deal. To their credit, the Yankees took what Karinchak gave them- three free base-runners. I think there is little doubt that Karnichak will be used in this series again. He’s going to be needed. The question becomes whether or not he can reign his stuff in slightly to make the Yankees’ hitters swing. Karinchak is hard for even the best hitters to square up. He just needs to adjust to the fact that the Yankees are on to him and get in the zone a little more.
  • Speaking of Clase, he was phenomenal in his own right, getting out of danger in the 8th and keeping the Yankees at bay the rest of the way. Even with how good he was, I think it was super gutsy to roll him back out for a third inning in the 10th. I can understand Terry Francona’s reasoning. You want to use your best guy with the game on the line and the win right in front of your face. On the other hand, Clase threw more pitches on Friday than in any other game he pitched in this season. The Guardians still have to play on up to three more consecutive days. Will Clase be available for Saturday’s Game 3? This all resolves itself if the Guards go out and beat the Yanks by six in Game 3, but chances are better that the games are going to remain close. With how well he pitched Friday and really all postseason so far, I think Stephan needs to be the go-to guy if Clase isn’t ready.
  • In the bottom of the 9th with one out, Clase faced Judge with the game on the line and ultimately got him to bounce out to Ramirez at third base. That at-bat was pure power vs. pure power and while the outcome was fairly routine, the situation and face-off itself was an intense moment of baseball magic.



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