My Yankees First-Round Playoff Overview and Prediction
by Ed Botti
I was all set for a very positive round one analysis of a Yankees vs. White Sox three-game series. And then a funny thing happened on the way to the Playoffs. The Yankees lost 6 of 8 to the Blue Jays and Marlins, and will now face off against the Cleveland Indians, who finished their season going 7-1 against the Tigers, White Sox and Pirates.
Looking at advantages and disadvantages each team has over the other team, I would give the Yankees the advantage on the right side of the infield, and the Indians the advantage on the left side of the infield.
I do not see a Cleveland outfielder that would start on the Yankees, Advantage Yankees.
Catchers, Roberto Perez and Gary Sanchez both had terrible years. Advantage Yankees (why not?).
DH- We have two strike out kings in this series, Franmil Reyes and Giancarlo Stanton. Advantage Yankees as Stanton can impact a game at any moment more so then Reyes at this point of their careers.
It would seem that the Yankees have an overwhelming advantage on offense. Having said that, the Indians do know how to manufacture runs, and having Lindor and Ramirez makes this closer then it appears on paper.
As we know, the game is not played on paper, and some of the intangibles will come into play.
The Indians made the 7th fewest errors (30) while the Yankees led the league (48). The Indians had a .986 fielding percentage, good enough for 8th in the league, while the Yankees finished dead last at .976.
Fielding can be an issue in this series. The Yankees cannot give free base runners to the Indians. They have to make them earn their way on base, otherwise the Indians will turn on the assembly line, and begin the manufacturing process.
Although neither bullpen is the underbelly of either team, getting to the bullpen will be important.
Starting Pitching – It is close, especially the top 3 which is all we will see in this series. Cole and Bieber will only start once, and against each other. Advantage Indians.
Bullpen – The Indians have a much underrated bullpen and can hold their own with any team. The Yankees have been inconsistent this past month, however I still like their depth and experience. Advantage Yankees.
Bench – The Yankees are deeper. Advantage Yankees
Manager- If Tito Francona was healthy, it would be a mismatch. Since he is not, and it will be Sandy Alomar Jr. in his place, I would say advantage Yankees.
Prediction- the Yankees need to be careful relying heavily on the home run in this series. Cleveland pitching was tied for the League lead at allowing only 1.1 home run per 9 innings. The Indians staff also only allowed 2.6 walks per 9 innings.
For the Yankees to advance and win this series, they are going to have to earn it. Cleveland will not be giving them any gift base runners, and I have a feeling meatballs will be few are far between.
With no head to head competition this year between them to use as a baseline, it makes it a little more difficult to project performance. Not having the fans in attendance is also a major factor; Cleveland fans are very loud and make road games a tough spot for all teams, come October especially.
However, I can see a scenario where the Yankees get enough runs to hold off the Tribe in three games. To do so, they will need to manufacture more runs then they showed during the 60 game season. However, If they are going to take that approach (which they should), they will need to install a better hitter then Aaron Hicks in the 3 spot, one that can protect Aaron Judge if Boone is going to continue to hit him in the 2 spot. Otherwise, the Tribe will walk Judge, or give him nothing to hit to try and get him to chase, to pitch to Hicks as often as possible.
At least that is what I would do.
Lastly, I do not think it will be a smart move to attempt many stolen bases, at least against Perez, as the one big strength of Perez is his ability to throw out potential base stealers, which he did at a 71% rate in 2020. When Sandy León is in the game, run at will, he threw out only 18% in 2020 (the Yankees ran all over him in Fenway last year). The two essentially split catching duties in 2020. So, the opportunity will be there at some point, and when it is, they need to be aggressive and take every base they can.
Focus and hard nosed unselfish baseball tactics like moving runners, hitting behind runners, running hard, backing up plays and executing in situational hitting opportunities are the keys in this series.
The team that does that the best, will win.
Under the Radar- What does Pitching coach Matt Blake know about his old staff that he is sharing with the Aaron Boone and the hitters? Tendencies? Tipping Pitches? Pick off moves? It will all be valuable in this series.
More so this year then before, the playoffs are a long road to get to the top. The 60 game season can almost be viewed as a long spring training, and now the actual season begins.
Both teams had to deal with injuries and illness. It’s now time to square off and see what you have.
History will judge if this is a legitimate playoff or not, but for now its going to be exciting baseball through the entire MLB Playoff format.
We do know one thing for sure, there will be no garbage can drum solos this year.