Posted on October 4, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine

New York Yankees Cleveland Indians

Image via newsday.com

After taking care of the Twins in the Wild Card Playoff, the New York Yankees have officially moved onto the ALDS. Of course, waiting for them is the defending American League champion Cleveland Indians, who have had a few days to rest leading up to Thursday’s Game 1. Ever since they rattled off 22 straight wins, many have viewed Cleveland as the favorites of the American League. Of course, those regular season records get wiped clean when the postseason begins, including the Indians taking 5 of 7 regular season meetings against the Yankees.

Battle of the Bullpens

Cleveland’s rotation has drawn great praise, but many are already labeling this series as an epic battle of the bullpens. The Yankees showed how good their bullpen can be in the Wild Card Game, as New York’s relievers combined for 8.2 innings, allowing just one run. Dellin Betances may have struggled down the stretch, but the Yankees still have the contingent of David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Chad Green setting up for Aroldis Chapman.

Of course, the Indians have perhaps the greatest weapon in any bullpen in Andrew Miller, who they acquired from the Yankees last summer. Miller, Cody Allen, and others gave the Indians the best bullpen during the regular season. The fact that both teams have dominating bullpens may actually make each team’s starting rotation more important in this series, as both teams may not feel good about their chances of a late-game comeback.

Pitching Matchup

In what was a surprising move to many, Indians manager Terry Francona gave Trevor Bauer the nod in Game 1. His season numbers are unspectacular, but Bauer was great during the final two months of the season. Since the all-star break, Bauer is 10-2 with a 3.01 ERA. He’s never pitched better than he is right now, and while he didn’t experience a ton of success last October, he does have postseason experience. Bauer also faced the Yankees twice this season, allowing two runs over 13 innings and winning both starts, so he’s ready to start Game 1.

After using Luis Severino in the Wild Card Game, albeit for one out, the Yankees will send Sonny Gray to the mound for Game 1 against the Indians. After coming to the Yankees in a trade over the summer, Gray was only 4-7 but posted an impressive 3.72 ERA across 11 starts. Gray also brings with him postseason experience from his days in Oakland. He started two games in 2013, and while he went 0-1, he allowed just three runs over 13 innings of work. Between Oakland and New York, Gray has faced the Indians three times this season with varying results. However, most of Cleveland’s best hitters have had limited success against him.

X-Factor

Cleveland’s outfield may be the biggest X-factor heading into this series. Jay Bruce has solidified right field, but what about the rest of the outfield? Jason Kipnis has hit since coming back from his latest DL stint, but can he handle center field defensively in the postseason? Also, how healthy and productive will Michael Brantley be after playing just two games late in the season following seven weeks on the DL with a sprained ankle? If those guys can’t be trusted, will Austin Jackson, Lonnie Chisenhall, and rookie Greg Allen be able to step up? There’s a lot of unanswered questions in Cleveland’s outfield.

Prediction

The Yankees have a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum coming out of their wild-card win over the Twins, and that’s going to carry over. As good as Bauer has been the second half of the season, Gray has a better playoff track record and will be more likely to hand his bullpen a lead. The Yankees will steal Game 1 on the road, winning 5-3.

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