The Yankees realize what they’re up against in the American League Divisional Series. The Cleveland Indians are the superior team and the odds on favorite to advance but a familiar sports cliche’ could provide the blueprint for a Yankee upset, “find a way” to win.
“Find-A-Way” is not a supermarket where you can pluck clutch hits and clutch pitches off of a shelf.
Instead, it’s a “way” on how to beat a superior team.
So how can they do it? Here’s a small checklist of things they need to do.
It is a foregone conclusion that if the Yankees are to win this ALDS, the loaded bullpen will play a large role. The problem is that the Yankees don’t have a distinct advantage in the pen as they did in the AL Wild Card game. Cleveland’s bullpen is just as good if not better, so even though the Yankee relievers have been solid, they can’t afford any slip-ups like what occurred during the middle part of the regular season when the team struggled and blew a number of game in the pen.
Indians’ pitching has dominated the Yankee offense to the tune of a .210 average over seven games. Unless the Indians’ staff throw multiple no-hitters, the Yankees’ offense will get some chances and will need to capitalize.
During the regular season, the lack of timely hitting against Cleveland was apparent in the box scores. Sanchez was 2/22 (.091) vs. Cleveland with 1 home run and 1 RBI. Judge had a home run and 3 RBI’s in five games; Gardner was 6 for 25 and Starlin Castro was 0 for 8.
Those numbers can improve in this series. Sanchez is a much better hitter than what he showed while Castro could get hot and really energize the offense. If Judge continues to show his “first-half side,” the Indians arms will get worn out, while Gardner has to continue to set the table as he has been the past six weeks or so.
I’ve pointed this out before. The Yankees have left a boatload of men on base this season and part of the reason has been a lack of a productive out. There have been a number of times this season when the Yankees have had a man on second with no one out and have failed to move the runner to third, not to mention their inefficiency with getting a runner in from third with less than two out. Untimely hitting is a by-product of a failure to move runners.
Make the routine play
You can’t expect extraordinary defensive play but you can expect the routine play to be made. Don’t give the other team extra outs, particularly the Indians who seem to take advantage of any break that they get.
Aggressive but mistake free base running:
Taking the extra base when the opportunity is there is a must.
Speaking of aggressive, the Yankees did not steal a single base against the Indians in seven games. Brett Gardner was caught stealing once. The Cleveland pitchers (who are predominantly right handed) are exceptional at holding runners on. Catcher Yan Gomes is throwing out potential base stealers at a 42% clip while the other backstop, Roberto Perez is even better at 43%.
Like football, the Yankees will need to establish the run. If they can be somewhat successful with the running game, it could make the Indians’ pitchers have something else to think about that could lead to a mistake to the “meat of the order” hitters like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez.
Winning the home games is a must:
Yankee Stadium’s friendly dimensions play to the way the Yankee offense is structured. That hasn’t been the case on the road where their numbers are significantly lower in most categories. Surprisingly, the Yankees have had more hits on the road (747) than at home (716) but their slugging numbers suffer without their home field advantage. The Yankees hit 39 less home runs on the road (101) and left a lot more men on base.
Since they don’t have the home advantage in this five-game series, the Yankees have no choice but to win a game in Cleveland if they hope to advance. That means they cannot afford to lose a home game. If they did, that would put enormous pressure on the club to win two road games, and if they lost the first two in Cleveland, (in a tribute to Captain Obvious) losing game three would end the season.
With all of the right handed pitching from the Indians’ staff, left hand hitting first-baseman Greg Bird is an “x-factor.” Bird’s left hand bat not only lengthens the Yankee lineup but it adds balance. What will be interesting to watch is if Yankee Manager Joe Girardi will allow Bird to bat in a big spot against former Yankee and Indians left hander Andrew Miller.
Matt Holliday gives the Yanks an option against the left handed Miller.
Expect Aaron Hicks to get the nod in center because of his superior defense but Jacoby Ellsbury is a solid pinch-hitter and a useful pinch-runner that could prove crucial in late inning situations.
The Yankees and Indians met seven times during the regular season with Cleveland taking 5 of the 7 including a three game sweep at Yankee Stadium in early August. At that point of the season, Cleveland was surging to a record win streak while the Yankees were not healthy and not playing well. Things could be different this time around.
That 22-game winning streak merely intensified the spotlight on Cleveland to make it back to and win the World Series after they came up short last season. Winning game one on the road would really shift the pressure to the Indians.
The Yankees can pull off this upset. They just need to “find-a-way.”