CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – Again, it will be the Evil Empire that Terry Francona will need to thwart if he wants to snap a legendary title drought.
The New York Yankees predictably won the American League Wild Card game, and now Francona will face a beast created in the image of his own.
Joe Girardi’s bunch are the only team in baseball who finished with a higher bullpen WAR than the Indians, 9.2 to 8.6, even though 1.8 of that 9.2 was acquired near the trade deadline.
Whether or not it was the bullpen or MVP candidate Aaron Judge that pushed the Bronx Bombers to the level needed to reach the playoffs, the former will be what would have to propel them past the defending AL champs.
Like that AL Championship team showed, a good bullpen’s effectiveness is heightened in the playoffs. Catcher Roberto Perez said he can see a team like the Yankees using their relievers as more of a weapon like Francona did in 2016.
“It changes a lot. You saw it last year with us. Starters can go four innings, five innings, then the bullpen,” Perez said. “You could see the Cubs, how they used Chapman last year in the World Series too. I mean, it’s about matching up.”
It is not like the Yankees are devoid of starting pitching, either. Far from it. Girardi’s rotation amassed a 15.2 WAR with a 3.98 ERA and 3.83 xFIP.
The formula is all in all what the Indians have made the horse they have ridden to their heights.
“I think we see it from our side,” outfielder Jay Bruce said. “Understand that that creates a much more complex challenge for teams. Pitching rules in the playoffs.
“My dad and I used to argue about, he would say good pitching would beat good hitting. I would always be like, ‘No, no, no.’ But I think the point has been proven. Good pitching usually prevails. Obviously what they’ve done over there is impressive but we have our own group of guys over here that I’d put up against them.”
The Indians will have the luxury of facing Yankees ace Luis Severino either one time in a five-game series or another time on short rest. Of that 15.2 WAR from the rotation, Severino accounted for 5.7, with no other starter accounting for 3 wins above replacement.
Obviously, Judge could wind up the X-factor. After a rough start to the second half, the rookie has recalibrated to the tune of a .367/.512/1.100 slash with 5 doubles and 12 home runs since September 10th. Playing two games in homer-happy Yankee Stadium, the breakout star could realistically out-homer the Indians in the series himself.
“He had a tremendous year. Not much more you can ask for,” Bruce said “Obviously he had some swing and miss, a little bit more than I’m sure he wanted to, but I mean at the end of the day, I feel like he carried that team.”