Yankees vs. Indians: Wild Card Round preview and prediction to start 2020 MLB postseason
Last season, the Yankees saw a long-standing streak broken: It was the first decade they hadn’t reached the World Series.
There were two really good chances in the past three seasons for the Yankees to keep that alive, but the Houston Astros had other plans last season and in 2017. Once again, though, the Yankees have the team to compete for their 28th franchise title.
But this is an entirely different format that every MLB team is experiencing in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. Teams will be going into playoff bubbles stationed in California and Texas — if they make it past the Wild Card Round.
For the fifth-seeded Yankees, that means getting through the fourth-seeded Cleveland Indians in a best-of-three series…in Cleveland. New York will not have playoff baseball at any time in October, as the Yankees will be the home team at Progressive Field in Cleveland for Game 2 of the series.
And this is a series that features two teams who have battled recently in the postseason. Back in 2017, the Yankees had to go through five games to beat the Indians in the ALDS before moving on to Houston. This season, they both feature a top ace in the American League, a solid lineup one through nine, and records that are very close (Indians went 35-25 while Yanks finished 33-27).
With Game 1 kicking off the Wild Card Round on Tuesday at 7 p.m., let’s break down the series and give our prediction of how this one will end heading into the ALDS.
Battle of Two Aces in Game 1
Gerrit Cole was pegged to be an AL Cy Young candidate the second he signed his blockbuster deal with the Yankees worth $324 million. He was a proven, bonafide ace that the team desperately needed and was hoping to land when the offseason began.
But with the regular season now over and the stats set in stone, the man that will likely win that award will be on the mound for the home team in Game 1.
Shane Bieber has been lights out for the Indians this season, owning an MLB-leading 1.63 ERA among starters while also leading the league in strikeouts with 122 on the year. The 25-year-old has not only solidified himself as Cleveland’s ace, but should actually be the favorite in this matchup against Cole – something no one would’ve predicted at the start of the season.
Cole hasn’t been as consistent as Bieber this season, having a stretch in late August/early Sept. that saw more runs than normal come across the plate when he was on the mound. He’s also let up 14 homers this season, which is uncharacteristic for the righty.
However, Cole has been dominant heading into this postseason, giving up just two earned runs in his last three starts with 24 total strikeouts and going seven innings in each contest.
In a series that is only three games, Game 1 is crucial to win to get the upper hand. And this will be the pitching matchup to watch across all the matchups for sure to see who can come out victorious and give their team good standing heading into Game 2 on Wednesday.
Offense = Advantage Yankees
The Indians don’t have a lackluster offense. But compared to the Yankees lineup, there’s no comparison.
– On-base percentage: .342 (fourth in MLB) vs. .317
– OPS: .789 (fifth in MLB) vs. .689
Run differentials, though, have been close this season with the Yankees at +45 compared to the Indians +39. At the end of the day, the Yankees lineup is stacked and arguably the best in the American League. However, after losing six of their last eight games of the season, they will need much more production to get past this Indians squad.
They can certainly do it, especially given their postseason experience over the past few years. Keep an eye on Voit and LeMahieu, too. Voit led the league in homers while LeMahieu made MLB history by collecting the batting title in the AL, making him the first player to ever win that award in both leagues.
If this series is pushed to a Game 3, Happ would be the likely starter in this win-or-go-home matchup. He doesn’t look like the lefty manager Aaron Boone had to cut out of the rotation during last year’s postseason, owning a 3.47 ERA over 49.1 innings this season.
He also has postseason experience while Zach Plesac, the likely Game 3 starter for the Indians does not. But Plesac does have better numbers this season at 2.28 in the ERA department.
As we mentioned, the Yankees’ offense has the advantage in a do-or-die game, but they would need solid starting pitching despite all hand being on deck for this one. Happ will need to step up, and if he does, he’d silence all the haters in the process.
PREDICTION: Yankees in 3
Game 1 is bound to be a fun pitching matchup to watch, but I’m going to have to take the postseason-experienced Cole over Bieber regardless of what the stats say. It’s a whole different game and Cole has proven to perform in those high-pressure moments while we don’t know what to expect from Bieber just yet. It will be close, but the Yankees offense will come away with the win.
Masahiro Tanaka has not been his consistent self this season despite his ERA being 3.56. His FIP at 4.42 shows the true nature of his regular season. Yes, he’s a different animal when the postseason comes around, and that could very well be the case and the Yankees be done with this series after just two games following a stellar start. But Carlos Carrasco is no slouch either, with postseason experience and a 2.91 ERA to boot this season. He also handled the Yankees well in 2017 during his start in the ALDS.
Game 3, then, will be the Happ-Plesac battle and I think this is where the Yankees’ offense seals the deal. The bullpen advantage with Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman on the back end should provide a good safety blanket as well.