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ALDS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians

Yankees and Indians 2017 Regular Season

New York Yankees – 91-71 (2nd AL East)

The New York Yankees came into this season with the assumption that they were one or two seasons away from really competing to win a championship. They had several young bats coming up through the ranks of their system and a few unproven pitchers that were expected to continue to develop into better players before they would challenge the Red Sox for the 2018 AL East title.

Well everything has seemed to go the right way for the Bronx Bombers in 2017 and now they find themselves ahead of schedule and smack dab in the middle of the hunt for the AL crown. After beating a less than stellar Minnesota Twins team on Tuesday night in the AL Wild Card game, they now are matched up with the reigning AL champion Cleveland Indians.

It has been the young bats that have carried the Yanks this season and they ended the season with the second best team wRC+ at 108, behind the almighty Houston Astros. You know the middle of the order guys that have helped lead to that high number and for good reason. Aaron Judge (173 wRC+) and Gary Sanchez (130 wRC+) will lead this lineup in the series just like they did all season long.

But don’t forget about the other bats that the Cleveland rotation will have to deal with. Didi Gregorious, Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, Chase Headley, Starlin Castro, and Jacoby Ellsbury all finished with wRC+ above 100 and fWAR greater than 1.5. Be on the lookout for all of these powerful bats as the Bombers lived up to their name in 2017, leading all of baseball with 241 home runs.

While the talk of this Yankees team has been the offense, the squad’s pitching staff has been pretty stellar to boot. As a team, they sit at second in the American League with a 3.75 ERA and third in the American League with a 3.88 FIP. The team has announced that Sonny Gray will throw game one, with CC Sabathia in game two, followed by Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino to round out games three and four. Each pitcher has been good, but not great throughout the season, and looks to be over-matched by a very powerful Indians lineup.

The strength really lies in the Yankees bullpen. If the rotation is able to pitch to keep the team in games and within a couple runs, the likes of Chad Green (1.75 FIP), Aroldis Chapman (2.56), Dellin Betances (3.22), David Robertson (2.10), and Tommy Kahnle (2.30) will provide multiple lock-down innings for the club.

 

Cleveland Indians – 102-60 (1st AL Central)

The Indians came into 2017 as the defending American League representative in the World Series. After a very successful season last year, the expectation was for them to be even better this season and they have met and even exceeded those expectations.

Owners of 102 wins and a win streak that went on for an insane 22 games in the second half of the season, an American League record, the Indians come into the Postseason as the favorite to win the World Series at 25% odds.

After being one of the more successful lineups in baseball in 2017, Cleveland added the former Toronto Blue Jay Edwin Encarnacion to the batting order to make opposing pitchers’ jobs even more difficult. The Indians sit at third best in baseball with a wRC+ of 107 with Jose Ramirez, Encarnacion, Austin Jackson, Lonnie Chisenhall, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, and Michael Brantley all with wRC+ above 110.

The Indians have a lineup that is able to compete with the Yankees lineup in terms of power and overall ability. Expect the batting orders to be a bit of a wash, with a slight advantage in favor of the experience and depth of the Indians.

Where there seems to be a very clear advantage is in the starting rotation for Cleveland. Potential Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber is the stud of the rotation, although he will not throw until game two, with Cleveland’s other big man in Carlos Carrasco and his 3.10 FIP going in game three. Game one will be started by drone enthusiast Trevor Bauer, with Josh Tomlin slated for game four of the series.

With the Yankees very strong bullpen, Cleveland will need to counter with an impressive pen of their own and just like last year, they will have a three headed monster coming in to close out ballgames. Andrew Miller will of course be the headliner with his 1.99 FIP, joined by Bryan Shaw (2.96 FIP) and Cody Allen (3.19 FIP).

 

Players to Watch In The ALDS

Both squads have some star power on their rosters and hopefully we get to see some special things from guys on both teams. Here is who to keep an eye on while you watch the ALDS.

Aaron Judge

The soon to be named AL Rookie of the Year and potential AL MVP, the Judge broke the rookie record for most home runs in a season this year with 52 bombs. He tacked on yet another in the Wild Card game when he took Jose Berrios deep in the 4th inning. He will get his first taste of a Postseason series this weekend and will look to prove that he can continue his historic season and become a Postseason hero.

Corey Kluber

Kluber has put together yet another amazing season; one in which he will more than likely come home with a Cy Young award and some MVP votes to boot. He finished the season with 5 complete games, with 3 of them being shutouts and Tito Francona will look for Kluber to continue to go deep into games. Since June 1, Kluber has put up a stat line of 15-2, 1.62 ERA, 224 strikeouts, and 23 walks in 23 games. If he can go 6 or 7 innings of shutout ball like he has proven he can do, he will be able to turn the ball over to the three headed monster of a bullpen.

Francisco Lindor

One of the most entertaining players in Major League Baseball, Lindor will be a key component of the Indians lineup in this series. He hit .310/.355/.466/.820 in the Postseason last year and will really lengthen that Cleveland lineup if he is able to put up stats like that again in 2017. Expect Frankie to show up and perform now that the lights are shining bright.

Greg’s ALDS Series Prediction

As exciting as the Yankees have been this season and as good as it is for baseball to see them succeed, I think that Cleveland is just too tough of a match-up for New York. This Indians team might just be the most complete team in all of baseball this year and is my favorite to win the American League. I am taking the Indians in games two and three almost strictly based off of the starter match-ups (Kluber and Carrasco) and I think that the bats will carry the team to another win in the series.

Cleveland Indians Win ALDS In 4 Games

Baseball is Better When Big Market Teams Are Successful

Sports fans claim that they love a great underdog story. The Miracle USA Hockey Team, George Mason basketball and their Final Four run of 2006, and the 1969 Miracle Mets were all stories that will be told for lifetimes. But there is one thing that fans love more than underdogs: Powerhouse programs and organizations matching up to win a championship.

People love to watch two “big dogs” go at it on the national stage with all of the chips on the line and baseball is no exception.

New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are the three largest cities in the United States and naturally are also the three largest markets for professional sports. According to Forbes, the Yankees, Dodgers, and Cubs are the first, second, and fifth most valuable teams based around the team’s net worth. More fans tune in to watch these big market teams take the field every day than any other organization around the league and when they are successful, so too is all of Major League Baseball.

In what would only be the second time in Major League Baseball history, the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago Cubs are all in line to make the Postseason. The only other time that ever happened was recently in 2015, a season in which the Yankees bowed out early, losing in the Wild Card game.

Now 2017, the Yankees are yet again lined up to make the Postseason as a Wild Card team. They have been somewhat of a surprise after expectations were that they would not contend for the playoffs until 2018 or later. The Dodgers have put together one of the best seasons in MLB history thus far as they are challenging the 2001 Mariners and 1906 Cubs for most wins in a season. The Cubs find themselves on top of a division that no one wants to take control of. Coming off a historic season, the team has seen somewhat of a World Series hangover. With that being said, they still boast a roster that has more than enough talent to make a deep Postseason run.

With the success of these powerhouse organizations, national broadcasts have seen a serious uptick in people tuning in to watch. Both FS1 and ESPN have seen an increase in viewers this season compared to 2016, with FS1 seeing a 17% increase and ESPN getting an uptick of 15%.

The popularity of these teams also hinges on the types of players they have on their roster. All three teams have been assembled in a way that has proven that a changing of the guard has occurred regarding roster construction. As recent as five years ago, these three teams that swim in their riches would be spending their offseason tossing around their cash as if their lives depended on it. Signing massive free agent deals was the way large market teams used to win, but it is 2017 and we know that is not how it works now.

All three teams have become experts in creating lineups out of young, cost-controlled players. This is proven by the players that each organization is building around on offense. While the days of young talent that is vaulting teams to the Postseason is upon us, young players are also growing the popularity of each team.

The Yankees, Dodgers, and Cubs each have two very clear-cut young superstars that man the middle of the order for their respective teams. They are putting up stellar stats and they are also the faces of their franchise.

The Yankees have two guys by the name of Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez.

The Dodgers employ the likes of Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger.

The Cubs have 2016 MVP Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

These two-headed monsters are not only powering their teams into the Postseason this year, but they are putting their organizations back on the map in terms of the powerhouse super teams that baseball fans expect from the three largest markets in the country.

Commissioner Rob Manfred and the rest of Major League Baseball front offices won’t need to worry about Postseason match-ups that include the likes of Kansas City, Minnesota, Oakland, and other small markets and the low television ratings that come with those teams. It is looking like 2017 will be a year that the commissioner as well as the fans across the country will be able to enjoy as the big dogs are making their push to occupy their respective slots in the playoffs and potentially the World Series.

 

Greg Huss, Baseline Times MLB Contributor

Feature photo provided by Ron Cogswell

 

Aaron Judge Ties Yankees Rookie HR Record

In tonight’s 7-6 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees rookie phenom Aaron Judge hit his 29th home run of the season. Judge has been blasting home runs all season, but this one is special. With his 29th home run of the season hit tonight, it ties Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio for the Yankee rookie home run record.

When DiMaggio hit his 29 home runs in 1936, he did so in 138 games played. Judge has played just 81 games to reach 29 home runs.

Judge Setting His Sights On Yankee Legends

With the 57 home run pace Aaron Judge is on, he is on pace to challenge some other historic Yankees such as Mantle, Rodriguez, Ruth, and Maris.

With the torrid pace Aaron Judge is on, it seems possible he could challenge some historic Yankees by the end of this season. At his current pace, Judge would hit 57 home runs in 158 games played. Only four Yankees have ever hit 50-plus home runs, with Alex Rodriguez (54) once, Mickey Mantle (52 and 54) twice, Babe Ruth (54, 54, 59, and 60) a whopping four times, then Roger Maris (61) once at the top with his magical 1961 season.

Taking a look at Judge’s overall offense in 2017, he sits at 15th in Yankee history in wRC+ at 196. The only three names he is looking up at here are three of the very best to ever play the game: Mantle, Gehrig, and Ruth. The only other players in their top 50 and since 1980 are Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi, both appearing on the list twice.

Lastly by looking at fWAR, Judge is currently sitting at 5.5 through his 81 games to this point. If he were to keep up that pace, he would end up around 10.5 fWAR for the full season. All-time, the Yankees have had 14 seasons from position players with 10 or higher fWAR. In no surprise to anyone, we see the same legends on this list with two from Gehrig, three from Mantle, and an unbelievable NINE from Ruth.

All-Star Game and Home Run Derby

We are around a week from the All-Star game, and Aaron Judge is by far the best position player in the MLB this season. Currently, he is sitting nearly a win and a half higher than the next closet player in fWAR, over the perennially underrated Paul Goldschmidt. Baseball fans, writers, and players alike are all buzzing about seeing Judge not only in the All-Star game, but seeing him participate in the Home Run Derby.

As far as the Home Run Derby goes, we will see a stacked power lineup:

Despite many interesting power hitters in the derby, including another rookie phenom in Cody Bellinger, most people are salivating at the prospect of Aaron Judge vs defending 2016 Home Run Derby champion Giancarlo Stanton.

Aaron Judge Going Forward

2017 has been superb for Judge to this point. We are now more than halfway through the season, and he has not slowed down a single bit. People are clamoring to do things as simple as essentially taking batting practice, as with the Home Run Derby. Tonight he has tied Joe DiMaggio for the Yankees rookie home run record, but we could see season records fall by the end of this season that don’t have the qualifier of “rookie” in them.

Judge has been great for everyone in or surrounding the sport of baseball, outside of opposing pitchers, that is. If we could see him hanging around with all-time Yankee greats in the record books by the end of 2017, we all will have been treated to something incredibly special.