Go Big or Go Home in Game 5 as Kluber and Sabathia Match Up Again
Bob Toth | On 11, Oct 2017
It doesn’t get much more exciting than a closeout game in the playoffs, but one thing is for certain – it does horrible work on the heart, the mind, and the stomach, especially if you’re a fan of the team that lost a 2-0 lead.
The Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees will play one final game on Wednesday night to declare a winner in their American League Division Series matchup, one that has teetered in favor of the home club throughout the first four games. To the benefit of the Indians, they have returned to their home at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario in downtown Cleveland, hoping to defend their home turf and, more importantly, their title as the reigning champions of the American League while punching their ticket to an American League Championship Series meeting with the Houston Astros. The Tribe has not lost three consecutive games since the start of the second half of the season, when it lost four straight wrapped around the All-Star break.
In order to get that elusive third ALDS win, the club will need some drastic improvements on the field. The lineup has been cold in the games to follow the loss of Edwin Encarnacion to a right ankle sprain. He could be back in the lineup after a workout in Cleveland on Tuesday that saw the big slugger hitting off of live pitching and running in the outfield while looking far removed from the man who was crumpled on the infield dirt in agonizing pain in the first inning of Game 2 of the series. Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have been kept at bay, further hurting production from the top of the lineup. The defense, an area of little concern all season long, imploded on Monday night, leading to six unearned runs in a 7-3 disaster in the Bronx, just one night after losing a 1-0 nail biter on a seventh inning Greg Bird home run.
The Indians went 5-2 in the regular season against the Yankees and swept a road series in New York, but New York owned the top mark in the AL at home at 51-30 (Cleveland was tied for the best road record in baseball at 53-28). The Indians, after a rough start at home to begin the year, went 49-32 at Progressive Field, the second-best mark in the league and fourth-best in baseball.
PITCHING PROBABLES and RESULTS
Thursday, 10/5 – New York 0, CLEVELAND 4
Friday, 10/6 – New York 8, CLEVELAND 9
Sunday, 10/8 – Cleveland 0, NEW YORK 1
Monday, 10/9 – Cleveland 3, NEW YORK 7
Wednesday, 10/11, 8:08 PM ET at CLE – LHP CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69) vs. RHP Corey Kluber (18-4, 2.25)
GAME 5 PITCHING NOTES
Kluber is the ace of the Tribe’s pitching staff, but looked nothing of the part on Friday, when he allowed six runs on seven hits with a walk and four strikeouts in just two and two-thirds innings. Command was an issue and an elevated pitch count early did not help – he had four three-ball counts in his short outing and threw five pitches or more to nine of the 17 batters that he faced.
The 31-year-old right-hander, who stands more than a fair chance of being named the league’s Cy Young Award winner, will need to call upon the types of performances that he had all season long and in his first playoff exposure last season, when he put the team on his back. He was held out of a Game 1 start in the ALDS for this very reason, giving the Indians a chance to avoid a series loss with their best starter on the mound. If for some reason he doesn’t have it, it’ll be all hands on deck behind him with nothing left to lose.
Kluber closed out his regular season on a six-game winning streak, taking a no-decision in his final start and in Game 2 after his teammates’ heroics earned the Indians a 9-8 win in 13 innings to spare him a defeat. He had two winning streaks during the season of five games or more, and both stretches included victories over the Yankees.
He was great on the road this season in 13 starts (8-2, 2.83 ERA, 0.94 WHIP), but he was even better at home (10-2, 1.81 ERA, 0.81 WHIP). The Indians will need every bit of that latter Kluber in crunch time on Wednesday to give the Indians a full home field advantage.
Sabathia will have the chance to win a clincher for the Yankees while simultaneously having a chance to knock out his former club. The Indians got to him early in his Game 2 start, but he settled in on the mound so the Tribe instead had to do damage late against the vaunted Yankees bullpen. Waiting will not behoove the Indians in Game 5, so striking early against the big left-hander will be the key.
Making his first postseason start since October 18, 2012, Sabathia lasted five and one-third innings on Friday and turned the game over to his bullpen after allowing four runs (two earned) on three hits with three walks, one hit batter, and five strikeouts. As was the case for the Indians on Monday, the Yankees defense behind Sabathia on Friday was not his friend, but he was able to minimize the damage and work later into the ball game. Still, despite giving manager Joe Girardi 16 outs on the mound, one of the bigger questions of the playoffs remains why the Yankee skipper gave Sabathia the hook after just 77 pitches thrown. Had the bullpen held down the Indians, there would have been little question of the move, but Sabathia had found himself in a nice groove on the mound, retiring eleven straight at one point and 12 of the last 13 that he faced in the contest.
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Cody Anderson (SP) – out for season – right elbow surgery
Dylan Baker (P) – 60-day disabled list (9/1) – undisclosed
Edwin Encarnacion (DH) – day-to-day – right ankle sprain
Brandon Guyer (OF) – out for season – left wrist surgery
Boone Logan (RP) – 60-day disabled list (7/20) – left lat muscle
Adam Plutko (SP) – out for season – right labrum (hip) surgery
Bradley Zimmer (OF) – expected to miss rest of season (9/11) – surgery on broken fourth metacarpal in left hand
GAME 5 NOTES
The Indians got some promising news on Tuesday as Encarnacion got work against live pitching on the field and was able to get in some running in the outfield and on the base paths during the day. Now, the team will await how he feels in the morning on Wednesday, but if he can go, he will be in the heart of the Indians lineup for manager Terry Francona, who indicated during media availability during the day that he has four prospective lineups in play for the matchup against Sabathia.
Encarnacion has faced Sabathia more times than any other pitcher in his career with the exception of Baltimore’s Chris Tillman. He has not taken Sabathia deep, but he has 15 hits (four doubles) and four RBI while hitting .273.
While there have been some bad slumps around the lineup for the Tribe against Yankees pitching (Ramirez, .118 average; Brantley, .091; Lindor, .071; Chisenhall, .000), the backstop duo of Gomes and Perez have performed admirably. The tandem has gone 4-for-13 (.308) with a double, a homer, two RBI, and two runs scored while drawing four walks between them (.467 OBP). Both have accounted for a pair of the hits and two walks.
Santana is slashing .267/.389/.467 in the series with a team-high four hits (matched by Kipnis and Bruce) and four RBI (equaled by Bruce).
Hicks is leading the Yankees in hitting during the ALDS with a .313 average. He and Castro are tied for the team lead in hits with five. Hicks leads the club with four RBI, including three off of Kluber in Game 2.
Bird and Sanchez have each hit two homers in the series. Bird is batting .286 with three RBI and has drawn three walks. Sanchez has struck out in seven of his 19 plate appearances in the ALDS.
The Indians have contained Gregorius so far in the series. In four games and 19 plate appearances, he is hitting .077 with a single and one run scored. He has drawn six walks, the most in baseball in the division series.
Judge has been held to a double and four walks in 19 plate appearances for the Yankees. A dozen of his trips to the plate have ended in strikeouts, five more than Bruce, Ramirez, and Sanchez, who are all tied for second in the Majors during the first full round of action. Judge has seen 33 pitches (111 in total) more than the next closest player in LDS action (his teammate Gardner, at 84). Cleveland’s Ramirez is third in the game with 83 pitches seen.
Playoff baseball was idle on Tuesday night. The NLDS contest between the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals from Wrigley Field was washed away by rain. Their series will resume in Chicago on Wednesday, with the Cubs holding a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five matchup.
The two other playoff series were locked up over the previous two days of the week. The Los Angeles Dodgers completed a three-game sweep of the wild card Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday at Chase Field. The Houston Astros took Game 4 of the ALDS in Boston against the Red Sox to advance to the American League Championship Series, where they await the winner of the Indians/Yankees divisional series.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images