The Yankees have their postseason tickets secured and a majority of their roster set for October, which means it’s time to start thinking about the teams they could face in a couple weeks. The American League postseason race has been boiled down mainly to a competition over the two Wild Cards spot, with all three division leaders either already clinching or holding comfortable leads. The Yankees playoff seeding is still fluid enough to face any team in the ALDS however, so there’s a lot to prepare for.
The Cleveland Indians are staring down the end of the 2019 regular season in a position vastly different than they have in the recent past. For years the Indians have been the frontrunners in the AL Central, winning the division three straight years. After making a run to the World Series in 2016 though, that security hasn’t done much for them, resulting in ALDS exits each of the last two years.
Now, the Indians are looking up at the Minnesota Twins and in all likelihood have to win a Wild Card berth to make it to the playoffs. The Indians are in a tie with the Tampa Bay Rays for the second slot currently, meaning the playoffs are by no means a guarantee, but they have the firepower to make it.
The Indians have had to shuffle a lot of pieces to remain contenders this year, but their roster has turned from heavily leaning on the might of their starting pitching to a credible offensive threat with plenty of arms still available. Two of the biggest names from their 2018 rotation, Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, will not pitch for them in October due to injury and trade respectively. Despite this, the Indians’ rotation boasts some high upside.
Shane Bieber has taken the mantle of team ace, picking up 252 strikeouts in 208.2 innings while pitching to a 3.23 ERA. Mike Clevinger missed the beginning of the season with a back injury, but has pitched to a career-high 12.3 K/9 rate since. Zach Plesac and Adam Plutko have stepped into the rotation and provided stability in the second half, both tossing over 100 innings for the club, though there is a significant gap in their FIP compared to their ERA. Overall, the Indians dealt with big cuts to their biggest depth and still have considerable weapons to deploy.
Offensively, the Indians remade themselves at the trade deadline. The aforementioned trade of Bauer brought two pieces that have plugged right into the heart of the Indians lineup, Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes. Reyes has added some power to the Indians, popping nine home runs in 46 games with Cleveland, while Puig has slashed .300/.378/.424 in 45 games since the trade. Paired around franchise centerpiece Francisco Lindor, who is slugging a career-high .527 while continuing to play elite defense at shortstop, and the offseason return of Carlos Santana as the premier power bat of the lineup, the Indians have enough threats to challenge any postseason opponent.
The Indians have even gotten by with a so-so season from the teams’s MVP candidate last year. Jose Ramirez has hit to an OPS of just .788 and has missed significant time late in the year due to a fractured hamate bone, but he’s set to return for this final playoff push.
The Yankees didn’t fare well against the Indians in the regular season this year. They lost two of three to the Tribe in Cleveland back in June, and split a four-game series in Yankee Stadium in August that began with a massive 19-5 blowout loss. That game featured an implosion from opener Chad Green, who has otherwise been terrific in the role but showcased the ability of the remade Indians lineup to take over a game early.
Still, the Yankees appear to match up favorably to the Indians. Despite the improvements Cleveland has made, the Yankee lineup is one of the best in the league. The depth around the lineup, from DJ LeMahieu down to Gleyber Torres, is tough to beat, and adding sluggers like Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez back late could push them well over the top. Meanwhile, the emergence of James Paxton down the stretch and the return of Luis Severino has the Yankee starters poised to not only go even with Cleveland, but possibly boast a better playoff rotation.
Because of this, the Yankees might have a better chance of defeating the Indians in the longer ALCS format than a meeting in the ALDS. Instead of looking to catch an ace on a bad outing to turn a short series like they did in 2017, the Yankees are the ones built to outlast their opponents. If the current standings hold and Cleveland ultimately wins the Wild Card Game, an ALCS meeting would be the only possibility anyway, but if home-field advantage flips in the final week of the season the Yankees could have a tough out on their hands.