The Yankees managed to navigate and ultimately win Tuesday's wild card game after Luis Severino recored just one out. It was not how the Yankees planned on using their dominant bullpen, yet they rode their relievers for 26 outs and added offensive firepower to move on to the ALDS, which begins Thursday night in Cleveland.
Now, the Yankees will be viewed as the underdog to the defending AL champion Indians, who rung up an AL-best 102 wins. However, New York is officially playing with house money, and could make more noise this postseason.
How do the Yankees match up with the Indians?
Yankees in Sept./Oct. - 20-9
Indians in Sept./Oct. - 26-4
Yankees home record - 51-30
Yankees road record - 40-41
Indians home record - 49-32
Indians road record - 53-28
Indians won the head-to-head season series 5-2 (outscoring the Yankees 31-20).
The Yankees are simply explosive up and down the lineup, and they will play the division series with a very deep and formidable bench. They led the majors in home runs (241) and placed second in runs scored (858, 5.3 runs per game) behind the Astros. The Yankees posted a 108 wRC+, again second in the majors (Astros). They stole 90 bases, good for 12th in the MLB (seventh in the AL). And they showed their offensives potency by scoring eight runs behind three homers in the wild card game.
The Indians crossed the plate 818 times this season (5.0 runs per game), good for sixth in the majors, and produced a 107 wRC+ as a group. The Indians were also in the middle of the league in terms of stolen bases with 88. Finally, Cleveland's batters posted a collective 27.3 WAR according to FanGraphs, just behind the Yankees' 27.9 mark.
The Yankees might feel a little less confident in their rotation with Severino's massive hiccup in the wild card game, and the inconsistency of Sonny Gray and Masahiro Tanaka as the season concluded. CC Sabathia, a positive surprise for the second straight season, takes the mound with a chance of folding on a balky knee. However, each of the Yankees' starters has the ability to shut down their opponent.
It will be interesting to see where manager Joe Girardi slots Severino. After throwing just 29 pitches in the wild card game -- essentially working as a throw day -- it is plausible Severino could get the Game 2 start. A potential Yankees rotation could look like this -- Gray, Severino, Tanaka, and Sabathia.
The Indians have a discernible advantage where it concerns their top three starters, as they will come at the Yankees with Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber (a AL Cy Young favorite), and Carlos Carrasco in order. Josh Tomlin is scheduled to start Game 4, if necessary. Of interest, is that the Indians decided to have Kluber go in Game 2, which means the Yankees match up quite well if they line up as suggeted earlier.
The Yankees bullpen may have proven to be the top relief crew in the game during the spectacular wild card affair. We witnessed Chad Green's, David Robertson's and Tommy Kahnle's ability to dominate for multiple innings, and Aroldis Chapman looked invincible Tuesday night. The Yankees add another powerful arm in Dellin Betances, who is battling inconsistency of late. Further, Adam Warren and Chasen Shreve provide enough talent to manage big outs.
The Indians were trailblazers of sorts in the 2016 postseason, using their best reliever and former Yankee, Andrew Miller, in much the same role that Robertson played Tuesday night. Miller remains their top relief arm, with Cody Allen finishing off games and Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith setting things up. Cleveland also possesses dynamic starter Danny Salazar, who will work out of the bullpen.
In my view, Joe Girardi has had better seasons at the helm. However, he demonstrated something Tuesday night, and that's the ability to scrap 'The Binder.' Girardi operated with his gut, something that has to be done more in the postseason.
Indians manager Terry Francona has done a remarkable job this season, coming back even stronger from last season's World Series runner-up finish. Francona guided the 2017 club through plenty of injuries and kept them focused as they ran off a 22-game winning streak. Francona is the model of the forward-thinking manager and will pose stiff competition to Girardi on the strategy side of the game.
If the Yankees are going to outlast the Indians, they will need to receive solid starting pitching, timely hits and for the bullpen to continue to throttle opposing batters. New York showed a ton of confidence in themselves in the wild card game, refusing to get down after falling behind early. The young Yankees were thrown into the playoff fire and for the most part they rose to the occasion. And they will be supported by a still productive veteran base as they strive to reach the ALCS.
I believe the Yankees will figure out a way to win this series, 3-1. I think the teams split Games 1 and 2 and the decision to go with Kluber in Game 2 backfires on Francona as the Yanks win both games at a boisterous Yankee Stadium.