It’s kind of pointless to make a prediction about what is going to happen in the playoffs. You can analyze the matchups all you want from every angle, and you still won’t know what’s going to happen, because they’re only playing five or seven games. One game in division series has the same leverage as 30 games in the regular season, so those little fluky things that balance out over the course of a season aren’t going to balance out in the playoffs.
The Indians come into this series with the Yankees holding a distinct advantage in starting pitching. Perhaps the Yankees are better equipped to win Games three and four than Cleveland, but in C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, the Indians have two legitimate Cy Young candidates, while New York’s only candidate is only one if you overvalue wins.
But what if the Indians lose game one or two? Just because one pitcher is better doesn’t mean they’re going to win, or even pitch well. That’s not a character thing, it’s just dumb luck. Sometimes you just don’t have it. Sometimes it happens in October.
Do I think the Yankees are going to beat the Indians? I really haven’t made up my mind yet. I know they can, and I hope they will, but they have a hard road ahead.
If the Indians get spectacular starting pitching in this series, they’ll probably win. But if they don’t get it, here are five reasons the Yankees will advance to the ALCS:
The monster that devoured Cleveland
“Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa” – Casey Stengel
The 2006 Yankees entered the playoffs with “The Best Lineup Ever”. They lost in four games, scoring just 14 runs. But they were shut down by Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman, who aren’t quite what you think of when you imagine “playoff pitching.” No disrespect to those two guys, but it was basically a fluke that they got shut down like that right then. They shouldn’t have scored six or seven runs a game, but they should have scored more than what they did.
This season, the talent in the lineup is inferior to what they had in 2006, but it is still spectacular. The offense has been particularly explosive since the end of May, when they turned it all around. Over those last 112 games, they hit .298/.373/.480, averaging 6.3 runs a game.
Take your rules and shove ‘em
Joba Chamberlain has been utterly dominant in relief since getting the call-up in August. His 1156 ERA+ this year was the highest ever by any pitcher to give up at least one earned run, and he really was that good.
To protect his future, the team instituted “rules” about how he could and would be used. Always to start an inning, no more than two innings, never two days in a row, and two days off if he threw 35 pitches.
In the season’s final week, they finally began to stretch him: bringing him in mid-inning, bringing him in with runners on, bringing him in on back-to-back days. It’s obvious that in the postseason they’re not going to let arbitrary rules keep him out of the game—only fatigue will. For Yankees fans, this should bring back memories of 1996, when Mariano Rivera and John Wetteland turned games into six-inning contests. If the Yankees get a lead, it could be game over.
There’s no place like home… your home, that is
The Indians have home-field advantage, but the Yankees probably don’t care about that. Since Jacobs Field opened in 1994, the Yanks have gone 39-22 in Cleveland during the regular season, the second-highest winning percentage they’ve had at any current AL ballpark—including Yankee Stadium. For some reason, the Yankees play well in Cleveland, and they’re not going to be bothered if they have to go there for a game five.
7 > 8
By choosing to play the eight-day division series, the Red Sox gave the Yankees a break. The Indians can still use Sabathia and Carmona four times, but they’d need to use Sabathia on short rest, which should make him a bit more hittable.
And if the Indians decide to save Sabathia for game five, the Yankees catch an even bigger break, taking their swings against a league-average pitcher, at best. Unless Mike Mussina is really terrible, they can and should win that game.
All Things Must Pass
Ultimately, the Yankees’ chances in this series, in the entire postseason, come down to one man: Alex Rodriguez.
For the first time since coming to New York, Rodriguez has met the expectations of Yankees fans. Of course, he had the best season of his career by a wide margin, which sums up how unreasonable the expectations were in the first place. And, of course, if he doesn’t have a good postseason, Yankees fans and the media will be on his case again.
A-Rod has done well in the postseason before, and he’s done well with the Yankees, but ever since giving them the lead in game four of the 2004 ALCS, he’s been 4-for-44 with one extra-base hit. His failures were a large part of the reason the Yankees lost their last three postseason series, and if he does it again, they’re doomed.
A-Rod will almost certainly come up with runners on base in this series. He’ll have a chance to make a difference, and if he takes advantage of those opportunities, the Yankees will probably win. If A-Rod has an OPS over 1.000 in this series, the Yankees will probably win. If he has a sub-.700 OPS, they almost certainly will lose.
The concept of being “due” is a false one, but it is true that Rodriguez is more likely to hit .300 in this series than .200. When he’s on, he can carry this team on his own. If he does it again, it could be a very happy October in the Bronx.