Yankees, Indians set for heavyweight ALDS battle
The Yankees won just two of seven games against Cleveland during the regular season.
The Cleveland Indians are the defending American League Champions with a balanced roster. The New York Yankees are the team many believe are a year ahead of schedule, but also provide a solid balanced roster. The two teams will battle it out in the American League Division Series, beginning with Game 1 Thursday night in Cleveland.
Take a look at the statistics from this season and you will see just how close these two teams may be matched up.
Team ERA: Indians, 3.30 (Ranked 1st in AL) – Yankees, 3.72 (Ranked 3rd in AL)
Batting Average Against: Yankees, .228 (1st) – Indians, .236 (2nd)
WHIP: Indians, 1.16 (1st) – Yankees, 1.21 (2nd)
Batting Average: Indians, .263 (2nd), Yankees .262 (3rd)
Slugging Percentage: Indians, .449 (2nd), Yankees .447 (3rd)
Home Runs: Yankees, 241 (1st), Indians, 212 (8th)
Runs Scored: Yankees, 858 (2nd), Indians 818 (3rd)
Both teams have young stars, the Indians with Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, the Yankees with Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. There will be plenty of firepower in each lineup throughout the series. The Yankees have more power from top to bottom, but the Indians are pretty stacked from top to bottom as well.
Defense will be an area to watch. Give one of these teams an extra out, and they likely will make you pay. The Indians led the American League with a league low 76 errors this season.
Cleveland and New York will rely heavily on their star studded bullpens this series. Unless a starting pitcher is thoroughly dominating, expect Terry Francona and Joe Girardi to use the bullpen phone often, and sometimes unconventionally. The Yankees were forced to do this in their Wild Card game win, as the bullpen pitched a combined 8.2 innings when starter Luis Severino was unable to get out of the first inning.
The Yankees have included 12 pitchers on their ALDS roster. Outfielder Clint Frazier and infielder Tyler Wade did not make the cut. Frazier and Wade were unlikely to see much action, other than potentially pinch running late in games. That won’t be the case now, unless an injury occurs.
Both managers have playoff experience, and their decisions will play a key role in this series. Which manager will push the right buttons? Which manager will use their bullpen to perfection? So far, the MLB postseason has been a wild one with both Wild Card games taking on unexpected flare.
New York will send Sonny Gray to the mound in Game 1, followed by CC Sabathia in Friday’s second game. The Indians will put Trevor Bauer on the hill for the opener, with ace Corey Kluber going on Game 2.
This could be the Indians lone weak spot. While Yan Gomez does have some pop, he combined with Roberto Perez and Francisco Mejia to hit just .221 this season. The Yankees young catcher, Gary Sanchez, has developed into a star. Sanchez can be a game changer with his bat. Unfortunately, he has had some issues with passed balls behind the plate, and with the Yankees pitchers that throw some nasty pitches in the dirt, that can be a problem. Edge: Yankees
Girardi seems to want Greg Bird at first base regularly at this point. His defense is better than the alternatives and he does provide a dangerous bat. His season was a mix-match of injuries but he is now healthy and has hit well, including a big hit in the Wild Card Game win. The Indians starting rotation if all right-handers, so expect Bird in the lineup every day. For the Indians, Carlos Santana has continued his consistent performance with quality power and on-base percentage. This season, Santana hit .259 with 23 home runs this season. Edge: Slightly to Indians
Starlin Castro battled some injuries and a late season slump, but still managed to hit .300. He is an all-around hitter that sits in a key spot in the middle area of the Yankees lineup. While he does have pretty good range with the glove, he tends to have defensive lapses from time to time. Castro is a very solid player that would likely carry an edge over most second baseman, but not in this series. Jose Ramirez will receive some MVP votes this season for his performance for Cleveland. He has played second and third for the Indians and hit .318. He’s one of the games best young players. Edge: Indians
Francisco Lindor is arguably the best shortstop in baseball, combining his ability to hit for average and power, as well as stand out defense. Lindor hit .273 with 33 homers this season and is the leader in the Indians lineup. Not many shortstops in baseball are in his league. Didi Gregorius has turned into a star since joining the Yankees when Derek Jeter retired. This season, Gregorius has taken over the cleanup spot in the lineup and come up big in many situations. The biggest to date was his three-run home run in the Wild Card game to tie the score and put the Yankees right back in it. His defense is very solid as well. Edge: Slightly to Indians
Yandy Diaz is not on the Indians ALDS roster, and Jose Ramirez has taken over second base, so Giovanny Urshela is likely the guy here for the Indians. Urshela is not much of a threat with the bat, but he plays exceptional defense. He has hit just .225 in parts of two seasons. The Yankees acquired Todd Frazier before the MLB Trade Deadline, and he has fit in nicely with this club. The Toms River, NJ native will not hit for average, but he is a power and on-base threat. Frazier is also a very underrated defensive third baseman. His enthusiasm rubs off. Edge: Yankees
Brett Gardner is the spark plug at the top of the Yankees lineup. When he is swinging a hot bat, he gets on base and can make things happen for Judge, Sanchez, and Gregorius. His average of .266 is nothing to ride home about but he is streaky and can use his legs as a difference maker. He also has surprising pop from the left side. Gardner is also a Gold Glove defender. The Indians will likely use some combination of righty Austin Jackson and lefty Lonnie Chisenhall in left field, depending on who the Yankees starting pitcher is. Regular left fielder, Michael Brantley, has not played the outfield since suffering an ankle injury in early August. Edge: Tie
After Bradley Zimmer broke his hand on Sept. 10, the Indians decided to move second baseman Jason Kipnis to center. Kipnis has some offensive pop, but has only played center field for 11 games. He only hit .232 this season and now has to try and focus on a new position on top of that. The Yankees will use Aaron Hicks and Jacoby Ellsbury in center. Both are good defensively, but Hicks has one of the best outfield arms in all of baseball. Both have also had solid offensive seasons. Edge: Yankees
Let’s be honest, this position, and much of this series will be the Aaron Judge show. He’s an AL MVP candidate and quickly became the face of the Yankees this season. As hot a first half as he had, Judge may be playing some of his best baseball now, and that has to scare any opponent. The massive athlete is also a solid defensive outfielder with an above average arm. This young superstar is already enjoying the emotion that comes along with playoff baseball. The Indians acquired Jay Bruce from the Mets before the deadline, and we all know what Bruce is by now. He has some power, and hit .248 with seven home runs since joining the Indians in August. Edge: Yankees
The Yankees have options at DH with Chase Headley, Matt Holliday, and Ellsbury. With the Indians all right-handed rotation, don’t expect to see Holliday in any starting lineups. How Girardi uses Headley and Ellsbury will be interesting to see. Both had solid seasons down the stretch. Having options and the ability to play matchups is an advantage, but the Indians are able to put Edwin Encarnacion in the lineup here. Encarnacion is a feared slugger who has the ability to put the ball out of the ballpark on any swing. He beat up on the Yankees in the past as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays. Now with the Indians, he hit .258 with 38 home runs this season. Edge: Indians
Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin, and Carlos Carrasco combine to give Cleveland one of the best rotations in all of baseball, not just this year, but in recent memory. Bauer starts Game 1, but Kluber is the ace. The likely American League Cy Young Award winner, struck out 104 batters and walked just nine in 89 innings the final two months of the season. During that time, he had a 1.42 ERA. He is clearly on a roll and ready for the postseason. The Yankees have Sonny Gray (acquired from the A’s at the deadline), CC Sabathia, and Masahiro Tanaka set for the first three games. Luis Severino should pitch Game 4 if needed. The Yankees rotation is good, but Cleveland’s is better. Edge: Indians
A big focus on this series will be the stacked bullpens each team brings to the table. The Indians have do-everything-and-anything reliever, Andrew Miller, a former Yankee. Along with Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw, and Tyler Olson, the Indians will also be able to use starters Danny Salazar and Mike Clevinger out of the pen. It’s a very good group. The Yankees however, might be the scariest position group in all of baseball. As shown in the Wild Card game, the Yankees can bring out fireballer after fireballer to mow down any lineup. Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahle, Adam Warren, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman. That’s down-right nasty. Edge: Yankees
The Yankees were just 2-5 against the Indians this season. They two clubs split a four-game series in Cleveland in early August and the Indians swept a three-game set at Yankee Stadium later that month.
This is the fourth postseason meeting between the Indians and Yankees. Cleveland won both of its Division Series tilts (1997, 2007), while New York prevailed in the 1998 ALCS.