On August 4th, the Yankees tallied seven hits off of Trevor Bauer in a game they lost, 7-2. On August 30th, Bauer allowed nine baserunners (four hits, four walks, one hit-by-pitch), but only yielded one run over six innings as he handed the Yankees yet another loss. In 13 innings against the Indians’ Game 1 ALDS starter, the Yankees have been held to just three extra-base hits. Bauer has found success against New York this season in part by picking his battles, scattering walks and singles amongst players like Aaron Judge and Didi Gregorius, while feasting on the weaker spots in the lineup (it also doesn’t hurt that Gary Sanchez has gone 1-for-6 against him). These matchups against Bauer, though not necessarily predictive of what is to come, do point to a troublesome idea for the Yankees: namely, that their best players can be avoided.
In his in-depth ALDS preview for Baseball Prospectus, Ben Diamond points out that Gardner, Judge, Sanchez, and Gregorius are responsible for 80 percent of the WARP in the Yankees’ projected lineup. Being top heavy can of course be true of a lot of successful teams, and the best four players in a lineup cannot be avoided entirely, but it could spell trouble for the Yankees based on just how much they are going to need to rely on their most powerful hitters. While New York’s offense and bullpen appeared dominant in the AL Wild Card Game, things are most likely going to look a little different against Cleveland’s historically great pitching staff. In this ALDS, the team that hit the most home runs in the majors will be squaring off against the team that allowed the fewest homers in baseball, and if the latter proves more effective in the postseason, then a strong bullpen won’t be enough to get the Yankees past Cleveland.
New York will not find much solace in looking back at their regular season meetings with Terry Francona’s squad either, as they lost five of the seven games and were held to six hits over 17 innings against Corey Kluber. Meanwhile, the Yankees’ best starter is currently not slated to take the mound until Game 4, which, if things go poorly, will merely be an imaginary game played out in the minds of heartbroken Yankees fans.
“But what about the bullpen?!” You ask, desperate for some hope amongst this talk of dread and doom. And to you, I say yes, the Yankees have a fantastic bullpen, one that will be crucial if they are to advance to the ALCS. However, Girardi’s heavy reliance on his relievers on Tuesday night is a tactic we saw Francona utilize to great effect last year, and is a weapon that will be wielded by both sides in this series. While the Yankees may have a higher number of top-notch relievers, Francona is not afraid to lean on elite pitchers like Andrew Miller and Cody Allen for a high volume of innings.
Against the pitchers slated to be in Cleveland’s ALDS bullpen, the Yankees were held to five runs over 17.1 innings this year. Three of those runs came on an Aaron Judge homer. While Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have been elite players in 2017, the Yankees will be fielding the best position player this series, and as long as that is the case, they will have a chance to win, as plenty of scoreless innings can be erased by one swing from New York’s rookie right fielder. With 12 pitchers at his disposal – including some of the best relievers in baseball – Joe Girardi will be making every possible move to limit Cleveland’s scoring, while it will be up to the young sluggers who got the Yankees this far to do some heavy lifting, as they try to eke out a few runs of their own.
That, or the Yankees are going to mash homer after homer off of Corey Kluber and CC Sabathia is going to toss a three-hit shutout. You never can tell with postseason baseball.
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