ALDS Game 5 Preview

It’s hard to make an analytics post based on four games of a playoff series. It’s even harder to draw conclusions from these since they are short series that have almost no correlation with what has been done throughout the regular season (i.e. the Los Angeles Dodgers sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks.) But, given the final scores of the first two games, it is surprising that the New York Yankees have gotten this far, so I’ll try to make due.

As Andrew Gargano documented earlier during this series, the Yankees were on the verge of elimination because of a blunder by manager Joe Girardi. I won’t go into the details since they’ve been covered ad nauseam. Instead, I’ll focus on the performances of CC Sabathia and Corey Kluber, and how the lineups might end up looking.

But first a quick recap. Here we are, the final game of the division series; fresh from sweeping the Cleveland Indians in the Bronx. Game Three was won thanks to Greg Bird and a masterful performance from none other than Masahiro Tanaka, and Game Four was a lesson in what the Baby Bombers can do when the bats are hot — which is what they were doing for most of the regular season. Much like the Dodgers, who were covered by Dave Cameron over at FanGraphs, when the Yankees are firing on all cylinders, they are a scary bunch.

The bullpen has been spectacular — save for that Game Two blowout — throwing to the tune of a 3.52 ERA in 22 2/3 innings. Now that’s a small sample size but during the regular season, the bullpen has pitched to a 3.49 DRA, the lowest of any relief corps in the majors. Cleveland, however, ranks in the sixth spot with a 4.07 relief DRA. So should Girardi turn it over to another bullpen game, it’s more likely than not that any lead held by the Yankees will be hard to snatch away.

What about the lineup? During this series, Judge has gone missing, going 3-for-19 with a double. But, once again, small sample size alert, which may mean that he is due for a regression. The real catalysts this series have been Aaron Hicks, Gary Sanchez, and a revitalized Greg Bird. Hicks has been getting on base the most for the Yankees, while Sanchez and Bird have two home runs apiece, providing all the power the Yankees have needed so far. But if they are to advance to a rematch of the 2015 AL Wild Card, the whole lineup will need to contribute much like in Games Two and Four.

Shameless self-promotion alert! Craig Goldstein and I covered the ALDS preview over at the Baseball Prospectus main site and looking only at TAv for the Indians and Yankees, though the Indians have a more balanced lineup, the Yankees are more than capable of stringing hits together before putting it all away with a home run. So that will be an interesting factor if…

CC Sabathia delivers another masterful performance like in Game Two. Last Friday, Sabathia was firing on all cylinders and, through 5 1/3 innings, was vintage, throwing 77 pitches with five strikeouts and three walks. Yes, he was unfortunately charged with four runs (two earned), but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t good. He managed to cool down the Cleveland bats while the Yankees did short work of none other than Kluber — who was done for the night after 2 2/3 innings of work.

If Sabathia manages to draw from the well one more time, then it will be up to the Yankee bats to provide enough of a cushion for the bullpen to hang on to. The key will be Girardi playing the matchups well-enough to silence the likes of Kipnis, Ramirez, Bruce, and Santana. If everything turns out right, then we’ll have a longer look at what the 2015 AL Wild Card match should have been.

Photo Credit: David Richard / USA TODAY Sports

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