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Yankees vs. Indians: Three keys to win Game One of the ALDS

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What do the Yankees need to do to take the series opener?

Tampa Bay Rays v New York Yankees Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Later tonight, the Yankees will square off against the Cleveland Indians in Game One of the ALDS. Sonny Gray will start opposite of Trevor Bauer. This marks the Bombers’ first trip to a postseason series since 2012. Making it to this round already represents an accomplishment. Advancing, however, would be an even sweeter experience.

A critical step to achieving that goal is winning Game One. Historically speaking, during a short series, a team boasts a significant advantage after taking the first game. The Indians stand as the best team in the American League, so it won’t be easy to steal a victory. Fear not, however, as strategies exist that could power the Yankees to a win. I assembled three of these items below. While not an exhaustive list, if the Bombers can meet all of these benchmarks, they will be in good shape for Game One.

Get length from their starter

Tuesday night’s Wild Card Game took years off my life expectancy. It was a thrilling affair that captured a rollercoaster of emotions. The matchup had deflating lows and exorbitant high points. Things got off on a sour note, however, notably when staff ace Luis Severino failed to escape the first inning. He surrendered three runs on 29 pitches, having only recorded a single out. It was an unmitigated disaster.

As a result, Joe Girardi turned the affair into a bullpen game. The results proved spectacular, as Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Aroldis Chapman held the Twins to one run over 8.2 innings. The side effect, however, comes into play tonight. Green and Robertson will, in all likelihood, be unavailable. Those two are arguably the biggest weapons out of the bullpen, and they will have no impact on the series opener.

With those two sidelined, the Yankees need Gray to give them length. I know that Brian Cashman assembled The Bullpen of DoomTM to shorten games, but that doesn’t mean every outing can turn into a relief corps parade. At the very minimum, Gray has to last five innings for the Bombers. Ideally he would go deeper into the game before handing it off to either Dellin Betances — who does need work — or Chapman. Anything shorter than that could spell trouble with lesser relievers.

Right-handers capitalize on Bauer

The Yankees faced Bauer twice this year. They had very little luck in either game, scoring just two runs over 13 total innings. Part of this success comes down to his impressive numbers against right-handed batters. He had an interesting platoon split working during the regular season:

Left-handed batters against Bauer: .272/.346/.492, 16 home runs, 83 strikeouts
Right-handed batters against Bauer: .258/.313/.404, 9 home runs, 113 strikeouts

It’s not too exaggerated, but a noticeable enough difference. Considering the Yankees have a righty-heavy lineup, this poses a problem. The batters need a game plan going up against Bauer. He baffled them twice, so the right-handers should try a new strategy.

One way to crack a pitcher like him is to pick a particular spot and sit on it. Wait for a pitch to come there, and when it does, capitalize. This could work because Bauer loves to live on the outer half. His heatmap illustrates this:

Credit: Baseball Savant

Look for pitches off to the outside. If the right-handed hitters can establish that as a target zone, then they figure to have some degree of success against him.

Neutralize Jose Ramirez

The Indians have a dangerous lineup. In fact, in terms of run differential, they had baseball’s best offense in 2017. They finished third on the season in terms of wRC+ with a mark of 107. Cleveland has a talented young core plus a few veterans who are no pushovers. The team can score runs, and do so in bunches.

Jose Ramirez, the utilityman-extraordinaire, might give the Yankees the most trouble. A bonafide MVP candidate, Ramirez had an outstanding year at the plate. He hit .318/.374/.583 with 29 home runs. That works out to a 148 wRC+. He gets overshadowed by Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge, but don’t let your guard down. Any mistake to Ramirez would prove costly.

The Yankees learned this the hard way during the regular season. He hit three home runs against the Bombers over seven games, including two on August 28th. Gray and company have to contain him. The entirety of Cleveland’s lineup remains dangerous, but Ramirez has entered a league of his own.

A number of pathways exist for the Yankees to take Game One. This list just scratches the surface. If Girardi’s crew can manage these points though, they will give Cleveland a serious run.