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ALDS Game 5 Preview: Can the Yankees complete the comeback?

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Looking at tonight’s pitching matchup, and how each team has fared against their opponent on the mound.

Divisional Round - New York Yankees v Cleveland Indians - Game Two Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Here we go. After all the controversy and anger that surrounded the Yankees’ Game Two loss in Cleveland, the Yankees now return to Progressive Field with an entirely different atmosphere surrounding them. Now just one win away from completing an improbable comeback, the Yankees come into Game Five with a wave of momentum similar to the one that Cleveland rode into the Bronx after the first two games of the series.

Game Five features the same pitching matchup we saw in Game 2, with Corey Kluber taking on CC Sabathia. Kluber was uncharacteristically ineffective in that start, getting tagged for six runs on seven hits and was done by the third inning, in a game that the Yankees actually lost. You just can’t predict baseball.

So, can baseball continue its unpredictability in the form of another Kluber clunker? Given the numbers and the resume, it seems highly unlikely. Game 4 was the first time Kluber allowed more than three earned runs in a start since May 2. He figures to be the American League Cy Young Award winner, and he will be looking for redemption much like Luis Severino in Game 4. It figures to be a tough task for the Yankee offense, especially given their history against Kluber, excluding the Game 2 outlier.

Coming into Game 2, the Yankees were batting .155 with an OPS of .454 against Kluber. Didi Gregorius was 2-for-13. His double play partner Starlin Castro was 2-for-12. Todd Frazier was a dismal 3-for-26 with 10 strikeouts. The numbers weren’t pretty, and still aren’t. However, we saw on Friday that anything can happen.

The Yankees can look to Gary Sanchez if they need a power boost to get the offense going early. Sanchez, who homered in Game 4, also took Kluber deep in Game 2 to start the scoring, his second home run off the Cleveland ace. Aaron Hicks also took Kluber deep, but his overall numbers aginst Kluber are not good. In fact, the best numbers against Kluber comes courtesy of Jacoby Ellsbury and his .263 batting average against the righty, though Ellsbury has not been hitting since the playoffs began, and it should be time for Matt Holliday to enter the lineup, despite not having a recorded at-bat against Kluber in his career.

If the Yankees can’t get to Kluber, they will need Sabathia to keep things close like Masahiro Tanaka did in Game 3. Sabathia was great in Game 2 and settled in nicely after a rough first two innings in which his defense failed him at crucial times. The Yankees need another strong performance from the lefty veteran, but he will face a few land mines in the Cleveland lineup, particularly Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana. Lindor is 5-for-9 with a double off of Sabathia, while Santana is 10-for-19 with a home run.

Fortunately for Sabathia, he has done a good job of keeping Jay Bruce in check throughout his career. Bruce is just 2-for-12 in his career against Sabathia with five strikeouts. Jason Kipnis has experienced a similar fate as well in his career. Based on history and the numbers, Sabathia should be able to contain Cleveland’s lefty bats, but needs to be at his best when the switch hitters like Lindor and Santana come to bat.

Again, we can dissect the numbers all we want, but Game 2 showed us that anything can happen, especially in a winner-take-all game. The Yankees will have a fully equipped bullpen ready to roll at the first sign of trouble, although faith in Dellin Betances may be at a minimum after his brief stint on Tuesday night. Still, Joe Girardi has plenty of arms at his disposal that will be ready for multiple innings of work if need be. It’s all hands on deck, and who knows how it will unfold.