In case anyone not familiar with Damn Yankees — the first show I ever saw on Broadway — is reading this, the first song of the show is SIX Months Out Of Every Year. Which is how long the season has been for the Yankees each of the past four years (losing the 2015 Wild Card game to Houston in their one postseason appearance).
I like I better when their season is a full SEVEN (7!) months out of every year.
I started to write this before Tuesday’s game against the Twins, so I don’t expect any of you to believe me when I say that I predicted Luis Severino would have a horrible outing and the Yankees hitters would eventually bail him out. I didn’t think that all would happen in the first inning, but still. I saw it coming.
Now they’re in Cleveland, beginning what I hope will be a thrilling ALDS. The Indians have been one of the best stories in baseball this year. They won 22 games in a row, they have two potential top-5 MVP finishers in Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, and they are led by likely AL Cy Young Winner Corey Kluber (it would be his second Cy). They also now have the longest World Series drought in baseball and they have a chip on their shoulder after coming within a hair of a title last year. They’re the team I would least like to face in a “short series” right now.
*Side note: what the hell is a long series? My entire life, I’ve heard baseball announcers describe every postseason series as a short series. How long does a series have to go before it’s not a short series anymore? 8 games?
But that’s another matter. Never mind. Anyway.
My boys in pinstripes are already disappointing me by starting Sonny Gray in Game 1, instead of Masahiro Tanaka. I get it, Gray was the big midseason acquisition and Tanaka just had the worst year of his career. Let’s not screw around: Tanaka is better and we all know it. He’s also more likely to pitch deep into a ballgame, which is what the Yankees need in Game 1 after Severino lasted an Anthony Scaramucci-esque amount of time in the Wild Card game.
Fortunately, the Indians are inexplicably matching the Yankees by using their third best pitcher in Game 1. Terry Francona’s strategy does make some sense: Kluber doesn’t pitch well on short rest and Game One starter Trevor Bauer pitches much better at home, which is why he’s starting and not Carlos Carrasco. Still, it’s a break for the Yankees.
Bauer faced New York twice this year and only gave up 2 runs in 13 innings. He’s noticeably better against righties (who are .258/.313/.404 against him) than he is against lefties (.272/.346/.492), so it would behoove the Yanks for Joe Girardi to start as many left-handed or switch hitters as he can. That means making sure Jacoby Ellsbury, Aaron Hicks, Chase Headley, and Greg Bird are all joining stalwarts Brett Gardner and Didi Gregorius in the lineup. Since Aaron Judge (All Rise) ain’t coming out of the lineup, either Ellsbury or Hicks (probably Ellsbury) has to DH, which puts Headley at third. Don’t worry, Toddfather fans: Frazier will be back out there for Game 2.
Speaking of Game 2, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Corey Kluber, who reminds me a lot of Roy Halladay, toss a one-hit shutout. Tanaka has to match him pitch for pitch to even give the Yanks a chance in this one.
Game 3 is back in New York. Over the course of the series, the Yankees’ biggest priority should be not to let Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor beat them. Both switch-hitters, they have a good chance to take advantage of Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field. Which is why C.C. Sabathia’s presence in the rotation (and Jaime Garcia’s in the bullpen) is so important. At 37, Sabathia has basically turned himself into Tom Glavine and he just finished his best season since 2012 (not coincidentally, the last time the Yankees played in a “short series” in October). He’s probably the Yankee pitcher most likely to win his start, and I would get a kick out of watching him beat the team with whom he spent his first seven and a half years.
It looks like the pitching matchups are going to be Bauer vs. Gray, Kluber vs. Tanaka, Carrasco vs. Sabathia, and Josh Tomlin vs. Severino. (A potential Game 5 would pit Gray against Kluber, a scary thought for any Yankee fan). I think Girardi is making a mistake by not using Severino in Game 2. First, it’s not like he’s tired. Second, the 23-year-old ace clearly had postseason jitters on Monday. Nothing could serve him better than a relatively low-pressure start like a Game 2. [Hey, that’s about as low-pressure as it gets in October.] Plus, then he’d be available to go again in Game 5 against Kluber, by which time he’d hopefully be over his presumed self-loathing. Whereas, if he starts Game 4, he’ll have had a week to wallow in self-pity and at that point, there’s a good chance he’ll be in a do-or-die situation again. If the Yankees even make it that far!
To sum up: for the Yankees to beat the Indians, they have to neutralize Ramirez and Lindor (particularly Ramirez) and not let any pitcher not named Kluber beat them. If they can’t do that, I expect a first-round exit.