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Remembering Luis Severino’s first ALDS start against Cleveland, five years ago

The last time Sevy took the mound against Cleveland in the postseason, the Yankees were fighting for their playoff lives.

Divisional Round - Cleveland Indians v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Tonight, Luis Severino gets the ball for the Yankees as they take on the Cleveland Guardians in Game 3 of the 2022 American League Divisional Series. This, obviously, is a big game for the Yankees, who will be trying to reassert control in the series after losing to the Guardians in the Bronx yesterday afternoon. But this is arguably an even bigger game for the right-hander, who will be making his first postseason start since Game 3 of the 2019 ALCS against the Houston Astros, a game in which he gave up two runs in 4.1 innings to earn the loss.

That reminds me quite a bit of the last time that Sevy faced Cleveland in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, just over five years ago. That one was a big game for him as well, his first start after his first career postseason start, a disaster against the Minnesota Twins in the Wild Card Game in which he allowed three runs and recorded just one out. Back in front of the Yankee Stadium faithful, he looked to regain his mojo and prevent himself from getting unfairly stuck with the choker label. It was also a must-win game for the Yankees, who had lost the first two games in Cleveland, and while they had scratched across a 1-0 victory in Game 3, they were still facing elimination against a team that won 102 games.

Much has changed in those five years; let’s start by taking a look at the Cleveland lineup.

Of these players, only one — José Ramírez — remains in a Cleveland uniform. Even then, he had not yet become the full-time third baseman he is today, splitting time between second and third base (partially due to injuries by normal second baseman Jason Kipnis, who wound up taking over center field, a position he had not played since he was in rookie ball, upon his return from the IL in September). Everybody else has moved on. Francisco Lindor was traded to the Mets; Carlos Santana left, came back, and left again; and Gio Urshela and Michael Brantley left for the Yankees and Astros, respectively.

The Yankee lineup is similarly filled with names that have departed elsewhere, with only Aaron Judge and Aaron Hicks among those who are still in pinstripes.

This lineup gave a massive gift to Severino, dropping a four spot on Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer and knocking him out of the game in the second inning. The early lead helped make life easy for the then-23 year old. But even so, it should not discount just how dominant he looked that night.

Severino did not necessarily have all his pitches working. His fastball averaged 98, and hit 99.5 mph and above four times (including his 106th pitch, a 1-2 fastball to Lonnie Chisenhall in the seventh inning). His slider, however, had both a lower spin rate and less movement than normal, although it should be noted that it was 4.2 mph faster than normal, and thus looked more like the cutter he had thrown on occasion in 2016, had abandoned in 2017, and brought back in 2022. And his changeup was...technically present, although hardly used.

Even so, this added up to a Severino that was virtually unhittable at times, as he struck out nine Cleveland hitters across seven innings — many of which on that slider/cutter, deposited down and away to righties and down and in to lefties.

Cleveland was not able to generate much traffic against Severino at all, with only five batters reaching base (four hits, one walk) against him. Unfortunately, those five hits resulted in three runs, courtesy of a two-run home run by Santana in the fourth and a solo shot by Roberto Perez in the fifth. Thanks to the Yankees offense, which continued to tack on throughout the game, Severino was allowed to work through these blemishes and eat up innings, giving some rest to a bullpen that had seen a lot of use in the Wild Card Game and the first two games of the ALDS as they headed into a decisive Game 5.

Severino’s task tonight isn’t quite as intense as it was five years ago; the win-or-go-home stakes are notably absent, fortunately. But as he takes the mound in Cleveland, another strong outing like this one — which to this day has remained his best outing in the postseason — would go a long way towards securing the Yankees’ third ALCS berth in six seasons.