ALDS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians
The Indians won the AL Central this year with a record of 96-66, accomplishing what many had been predicting of them for several years, and today will host the first playoff game in Cleveland since 2001. The Yankees used a furious second half charge to win their first wild card since 1997 and extend their streak of reaching the playoffs to 13 years in a row. The Indians have some great pitching and the Yankees have the best offense in baseball, so it could be an interesting series in terms of conflicting styles. I've gathered some information about the series and each team, and then have two guest writers, Earl from Pinstripe Alley and Ryan from Let's Go Tribe to break down the series, position by position.
Hi, I'm Ryan Richards of Let's Go Tribe. After going through the late-season collapse of 2005, it was nice to have a boring last week of the season thanks to an early clinch. It's only been six years since the Indians were in the playoffs, but that was long enough for Kenny Lofton to play for eight teams before coming back to Cleveland.
* if necessary
HOME ROAD TOTAL NYY 52-29 42-39 94-68 CLE 52-29 44-37 96-66
Head-to-head results: The Yankees swept the season series, 6-0.
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS OPS+ NYY 968 .290 .366 .463 .829 123 CLE 811 .268 .343 .428 .751 105
PITCHING AND DEFENSE
RUNS AVG OBP SLG OPS ERA+ NYY 777 .268 .340 .417 .757 96 CLE 704 .268 .322 .407 .729 109
Victor Martinez (.301/.374/.505, 40 2B, 25 HR) threw out 32% of potential base stealers, a massive improvement over an 18% clip last season. He also posted career highs in home runs and doubles. He was remarkably consistent, not posting an OPS below .800 in any month this season.
Earl says: I would have said Martinez last season, but Posada has just been unbelievable in 2007. Edge to Yankees.
Ryan says: Even. Posada has the better rate stats, while Victor has the counting stats (thanks to some time at 1B) and a better arm.
Doug Mientkiewicz (.277/.349/.440, 5 HR, 24 RBI) missed three months of the season with a broken wrist as a result of a collision with Mike Lowell of the Red Sox back in May. He wasn’t expected to get much playing time after his return from the DL on Sept 1st, but the season-ending injury to Andy Phillips (who, ironically, also suffered a broken wrist) opened the door for Mientkiewicz to reclaim the starting role and has taken playing time away from Jason Giambi.
Ryan Garko (.289/.359/.483, 29 2B, 21 HR) had to convince the Indians he could play first base this spring. Drafted as a catcher, Garko moved up through the Indians' system because of his bat. After the Indians dealt Ben Broussard last season, Garko switched to first base in the minors, and was good enough by the end of March to make the club. His bat made sure he didn't go back to the minors; Ryan has a quick, short, and aggressive swing, and while he'll chase balls out of the zone, he is also adept at making contact.
Earl says: This one isn’t close. Big edge to Tribe.
Ryan says: Advantage Indians, assuming Doug Mienkiewicz comes back to earth.
Robinson Cano (.306/.353/.488, 19 HR, 97 RBI, 41 doubles) struggled terribly for the first six weeks of the season (.234/.276/.312, 1 HR, 16 RBI, 8 doubles) then suddenly caught fire in the middle of May and continued to rake for the rest of the season (.328/.376/.540). Cano is emerging as one of the top second basemen in the league and may very well be a perennial .300, 25 HR, 100 RBI guy who can play Gold Glove caliber defense.
Asdrubal Cabrera (.283/.354/.421, 9 2B, 2 3B, 3 HR) wasn't supposed to be a contributor this season. The Indians traded for Josh Barfield in the off-season, and if anything, Cabrera was seen as Plan B at shortstop if Jhonny Peralta didn't rebound from a bad 2006. The Indians had Cabrera start the season in AA, and after a short stay in Buffalo, he was brought up to replace Barfield, who was hitting an abysmal .243/.270/.324. Cabrera's defense was a given, but his offensive contributions at such a young age were a very pleasant surprise.
Earl says: Cabrera is a nice player, but this one isn’t close either. Big edge to Yankees.
Ryan says: This one's easy: Yankees
Derek Jeter (.322/.388/.452, 12 HR, 73 RBI, 15 SB) had another very good season at the plate and is still the heart and soul of this organization. The Captain remains one of the best clutch players in the game when his team needs him most (.418 w/ RISP and 2 outs). Jeter’s production was slowed for several weeks with a nagging knee injury, but did catch fire in mid-September and finished the regular season on a 15-game hitting streak.
Jhonny Peralta (.270/.341/.430, 27 2B, 21 HR) has rebounded both on offense and defense after a brutal sophomore season. His range is still among the worst in baseball, but he's cut down on his errors, and has always been good around the bag. Peralta had a bizarre home-road split this season, hitting .297/.367/.514 at Jacobs Field, as well as having 16 of his 21 home runs come at home.
Earl says: Tough to pick against the Captain in October. Edge to Yankees.
Ryan says: Advantage Yankees.
Alex Rodriguez (.314/.422/.645, 54 HR, 156 RBI, 24 SB) had a season for the ages and will be the runaway AL MVP when the votes are tallied in November. While the rest of the club struggled during the first two months of the season, it was A-Rod who kept this team afloat and is the primary reason why they are playing in October. All eyes will be on A-Rod again with his struggles in the postseason in years past, but he has been a completely different player in 2007 dealing with the pressure of New York.
Casey Blake (.270/.339/.437, 36 2B, 18 2B) was originally slated to play mostly at first, but Andy Marte couldn't hit and later got hurt, so Casey returned to his old position. He's been very acceptable at the hot corner, perhaps because not much was expected of him. Casey is a streaky hitter, and very good when he's guessing right. He's coming into October on a hot streak after hitting .302/.344/.477 in September.
Earl says: You have to ask? This is A-Rod’s year. Edge to Yankees.
Ryan says: Yankees.
Johnny Damon (.270/.351/.396, 12 HR, 63 RBI, 27 SB) had the same problem as many of his teammates during the first two months of the season. Damon sustained nagging leg injuries for much of the first half and lost his centerfield job to Melky Cabrera. Not surprisingly, he has been the Damon of old since the All Star break once his legs got healthy (.296/.364/.450, 7 HR, 36 RBI).
Kenny Lofton (.296/.367/.414, 25 2B, 7 HR, 23 SB) returned for his third stint with the Indians this July. Kenny still has the wheels and the eye to play the same kind of game he played ten years ago. Instead of leading off and playing center, he's in left and hitting seventh because of Grady Sizemore.
Earl says: This is one pretty even. Lofton has had a good year back in Cleveland and Damon is healthy again and playing well.
Ryan Says: Lofton's provided what the Indians need, but Damon's been better. Point to the Yankees.
Melky Cabrera (.273/.327/.391, 8 HR, 73 RBI, 13 SB) brings a youthful energy boost and an aggressive style of play to this team. He unseated Johnny Damon as the everyday centerfielder early in the season and led all centerfielders with 14 assists. Cabrera is primarily a slap hitter with occasional power who generally doesn’t take a lot of pitches.
Grady Sizemore (.277/.390/.462, 34 2B, 24 HR, 33 SB) had another outstanding all-around season, taking walks, stealing bases, and hitting for power, to say nothing of his defense. Left-handed pitching can still neutralize Grady’s bat, though he won't see many southpaws beyond Andy Pettitte in this series.
Earl says: Melky on his best day doesn’t compare to Sizemore on his worst day. Big edge to Tribe.
Ryan Says: Indians in a no-brainer.
Bobby Abreu (.283/.369/.445, 16 HR, 101 RBI, 25 SB) was downright atrocious and completely lost at the plate from the beginning of the season until the end of May (.228/.313/.287, 2 HR, 22 RBI, 6 doubles). In a truly remarkable turnaround, Abreu’s offensive production the rest of the season coincided with the numbers on the back of his baseball card (.309/.396/.520, 14 HR, 79 RBI, 34 doubles).
Franklin Gutierrez (.266/.318/.472, 13 2B, 13 HR) gradually beat out Trot Nixon as the everyday right fielder. Franklin is a natural center fielder, though he has more than enough arm to play right. Hitting for corner-outfielder power has been a major stumbling block for Gutierrez, especially with Grady Sizemore entrenched in center. He answered those questions by slugging .472 this year, though, like Jhonny Peralta, he has an extreme home/road split, slugging .617 at home and .343 on the road.
Earl says: I thought Abreu was finished in May. He really turned it around and is a major cog in that lineup. Edge to Yankees.
Ryan says: Yankees
Hideki Matsui (.285/.367/.488, 25 HR, 103 RBI) had another good season and seems to have regained the power stroke that he lost recovering from a broken wrist in 2006. Like the other left-handed hitters in the lineup, Matsui struggled early on but caught fire in July and August and finished with the kind of numbers Yankee fans have come to expect from him. Most of his playing time of late has been as the DH and I don’t expect that to change much in the postseason with Damon playing superior defense in left field.
Travis Hafner (.266/.385/.451, 25 2B, 24 HR) had a poor year by his standards. He still took his walks, but suffered from a power outage, becoming more of a ground ball hitter instead of a line drive slugger. He came on strong in September, hitting .316/.414/.551, and showing more of a line drive stroke.
Earl says: Matsui struggled in September because of his knee barking, but tends to hit well in October. Hafner scares me. Edge to Tribe.
Ryan Says: Even in a down year, I'll take Hafner over Matsui. Indians.
Off the Bench:
Jason Giambi (.236/.356/.433, 14 HR, 39 RBI) missed much of the regular season after having surgery on his foot at the end of May. Since his return from the DL on Aug 8th, he has essentially been a $20M+ reserve who comes off the bench late in the game as a pinch hitter and DH’s on occasion. Giambi could get a start or two as the DH in the ALDS, but don’t expect to see him at first base during the postseason.
Jason Michaels (.270/.324/.397, 11 2B, 7 HR) should get a start in Game 2, though a lack of left-handers in New York's bullpen should restrict his pinch-hitting opportunities overall.
Earl says: The bench was a big problem for the Yanks earlier in the season. Not anymore. Edge to Yankees.
Ryan says: The Yankees have the more useful bench.
Chien-Ming Wang (19-7, 3.70) is a ground ball machine who throws strikes and eats innings (almost 6.2 IP per start). After hitters around the league started to figure out his sinker, Wang has been mixing in his slider more often to keep them honest. Although he will get the ball on the road in both Game 1 and Game 5 if necessary, he has been a far better pitcher at Yankee Stadium (2.75 ERA) than on the road (4.91 ERA). He has also been the beneficiary of a ton of run support (7.04 runs per game).
C. C Sabathia (19-7, 3.21) has increased his strikeouts and dropped his walks for the fourth consecutive year. He’s become very efficient on the mound, and averaged seven innings a start. He hasn’t faced the Yankees since 2004 and a long break between starts like that usually favors the pitcher.
Fausto Carmona (19-7, 3.06) rode his power sinker for his few starts with some success, and then started to spot his secondary stuff. As good as he was in the first half (107.2 IP, 3.85 ERA), he’s been even better in the second half (107.1 IP, 2.26 ERA). He ended last season back in the rotation after a disastrous stint as the Indians’ closer, and really took off this spring.
Jake Westbrook (6-9, 4.32) missed most of May and June with an oblique injury. He’s pitched well in the second half, posting a 3.44 ERA in 104.2 innings pitched.
Paul Byrd (15-8, 4.59) rebounded from a disappointing 2006 campaign, eating innings and sending hitters back to the dugout frustrated at making outs off of his batting practice fastballs. Byrd’s secret is control and movement, but he will lose it very quickly. I don’t like Byrd against the Yankees lineup at all.
Earl says: The 1-2 punch of Sabathia and Carmona certainly beats Wang and Pettitte. But the rest of the rotation on both sides pose a lot of questions marks. Edge to Tribe.
Ryan says: Ryan says: Sizable advantage for the Indians.
Mariano Rivera (3-4, 3.15, 30 Saves, 4 Blown Saves) is not consistently as unhittable as he has been in the past, but is still among the elite closers in the game. His very un-Mariano like ERA this season can be attributed to his struggles against two often seen AL East opponents; Red Sox and Orioles. Against those clubs he put up a robust 8.33 ERA and blew 3 saves, while his numbers against the rest of baseball were as good as ever (1.69, 1 Blown Save).
Joba Chamberlain (2-0, 0.38, 24 IP, 34 K, 0.75 WHIP!) has been spectacular since his arrival and has been the Yankees’ best weapon out of the pen. The kid throws gas consistently in the upper 90s and possesses a devastating slider in the upper 80s that he can locate. Much is made about the “Joba Rules” but it probably won’t be a major issue in the ALDS due to the off-days on Saturday and again on Tuesday if the series goes that far.
Luis Vizcaino (8-2, 4.30, 14 Holds) is another of the several Yankees who came back from the dead after struggling early. Under the tutelage of Mariano Rivera, he altered his mechanics and was lights out from June through August (1.31 ERA in 41.1 IP). Vizcaino was sidelined for eleven days in September as a result of shoulder fatigue and has been very shaky since his return (10.12 ERA in 8 IP).
Others: Phil Hughes (fifth starter)
Joe Borowski (4-5, 5.07, 45 SV) leads the league in saves, but it wasn't pretty. One of Joe’s most memorable (in a bad way) performances came against the Yankees in April. With two outs in the ninth, and 6-2 Indians lead, Borowski let the next six runners reach, culminating with an Alex Rodriguez walk-off home run. That game was the last time Borowski faced the Yankees.
Rafael Betancourt (5-1, 1.47, 31 HLD) has been a constant in recent Indians’ bullpens. He’s essentially a fastball pitcher, especially with runners on base. Hitters always seem to be late on his four-seamers, possibly because of his deliberate delivery, his release point, or both. However he gets hitters out, he’s been the Indians’ best reliever and one of the best relief pitchers in baseball.
Rafael Perez (1-2, 1.78, 12 HLD) relies on a fastball and slider. He’s held left-handed hitters to a .145/.209/.241 line, and doesn’t have too much trouble with right-handers (.213/.257/.324), either.
Jensen Lewis (1-1, 2.15, 5 HLD) was brought up in mid-July, and has worked his way into Eric Wedge’s trusted circle of relievers. He’ll pitch in the 6th and 7th innings.
Earl says: Mo over Borowski is obvious and Joba and Betancourt seems like a wash to me. Nonetheless, the rest of the Tribe pen is deep and much more stable. Edge to Tribe.
Ryan says: Even with Borowski dragging things down, the Indians have the better bullpen.
Earl's Prediction: The key to this series is how the potent Yankee offense will fare against the 1-2 punch of Sabathia and Carmona. If the Yanks manage a split in Cleveland, they will come back home to a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd, ready to feast on Westbrook in Game 3 and perhaps Byrd in Game 4. However, if the Tribe find themselves trailing the series 2-1 going into Game 4, I fully expect to see Sabathia ready to pitch on short rest because I can’t imagine the Indians relying on Byrd to keep their season alive with their big guns sitting on the bench. Yankees in 4.
Ryan’s Prediction: The Indians take the first two at home, the Yankees blow the Indians out in New York, and CC Sabathia pitches the Indians to the ALCS in Game 5.