Last Updated: 2017-10-07
For six innings on Friday night, the lone solace I had about Game 2 of the Yankees/Indians series was that my pick in the game preview seemed to be on point. Cleveland trailed 8-3, CC Sabathia did far more than expected, and the Yankees were turning the game over to an elite bullpen. Well, the Indians now hold a commanding 2-0 lead as the series goes to the Bronx and the Yankees are left to pick up the shattered pieces of what was supposed to a series-tying victory. The Indians are a small road favorite with Carlos Carrasco on the bump against Masahiro Tanaka in an attempt to close out the series with a sweep.
Before we break down the matchups and examine how both teams stack up, we have to talk about how the Yankees bounce back from that game. It feels like every coin flip has gone against them in this series. Reviews haven’t gone their way. Check swings haven’t gone their way. Francisco Lindor’s grand slam was a couple feet from going foul. Joe Girardi didn’t challenge Lonnie Chisenhall’s hit-by-pitch and instead challenged a ball into the camera bay in extra innings. The vaunted bullpen has looked human. Can they get off the deck in Game 3 after an emotionally-draining Game 2 loss? While the matchups are important, that is the biggest question to me about this game.
Carlos Carrasco is not going to be a walk in the park. After getting shut down by Trevor Bauer, the Yankees rolled Corey Kluber for six runs. Carrasco is unquestionably the best Game 3 starter in the playoffs. Carrasco posted a 3.29 ERA with a 3.10 FIP and a 3.24 xFIP across exactly 200 innings during the regular season. He was worth 5.5 fWAR in what amounted to a career year for the right-hander. He struck out 226 and walked just 46. He allowed 21 HR after allowing the same number in 146.1 innings last season. The first two times through the lineup, Carrasco has allowed a .201/.267/.357 slash and a .240/.293/.365 slash. The third time through, he has struggled, but the playoffs do limit the window for starting pitchers, so the Indians really only need him to be good two times through before they can turn it over to the bullpen. Carrasco has a 24.2 K%-BB% in the second half, which ranked sixth. Interestingly enough, Masahiro Tanaka ranked fifth. The dudes in front of those two were Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Justin Verlander, and Rich Hill.
As the series shifts to New York, the Indians do have a few bullpen questions from the 13-inning marathon in Game 2. Bryan Shaw worked 2.2 innings, but he didn’t work in Game 1, so he’ll be fine. Cody Allen was extended in Game 2 and Terry Francona will likely want to avoid him if possible. Andrew Miller worked in Games 1 and 2, so we’ll see what his threshold is for Game 3. Joe Smith will be fine. Josh Tomlin worked two relief innings and probably won’t be an option for Game 4 now, if necessary. Danny Salazar is the only one that didn’t pitch, but Mike Clevinger didn’t look very effective, so I would expect Salazar to be the first option in either Game 3 or Game 4.
Talk about a tale of two halves for Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka finished the year with a 4.74 ERA, a 4.34 FIP, and a 3.44 xFIP. His 21.2 percent HR/FB% is the standout outlier of what wasn’t a bad year otherwise. He allowed 35 HR in 178.1 innings of work, but he shaved 106 points off of his SLG% against in the second half. He also posted a 91/14 K/BB ratio after the All-Star Break. His first-half pitcher slash of 5.47/5.04/3.89 was terrible, especially compared to his 3.77/3.41/2.83 pitcher slash in the second half. He is an asset increasing in value and you have to consider that when looking at the full body of work. He made the necessary adjustments and had success. He’s still susceptible to the long ball, but the Indians only hit 141 home runs off of right-handed pitching. To be fair, they had the fewest plate appearances by a large margin against them. They were only tied for 19th in HR/FB% against right-handed pitchers, so we’ll have to see if they can take advantage of what looks like a favorable matchup, but may not be.
Tanaka had pronounced home/road splits, holding opposing batters to a .285 wOBA at Yankee Stadium. On the road, batters feasted with a .368 wOBA. Lefties only posted a .277 wOBA despite the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. These numbers all seem to run counterintuitive to me. The Indians have a good left-handed park factor at home, yet seemed to struggle to hit homers off of right-handed pitching. Tanaka, whose bigger issue was the long ball, pitched really well in a park notorious for home runs and with an offense that hit a ton of them at home to prove that point.
The Yankees bullpen is in relatively okay shape. Dellin Betances is the only guy to have worked in both games. David Robertson got a break in Game 1 and only threw 25 pitches in Game 2. Aroldis Chapman worked two innings, but only threw 27 pitches and didn’t work in Game 1. This is a big deal in this game and in this series going forward, if the Indians can’t close it out.
Free MLB Pick: New York Yankees
I don’t think the Yankees are going to roll over and die. Masahiro Tanaka’s improvements in the second half look to be legit, especially when considering his career body of work. The Yankees bullpen is in better shape than Cleveland’s by a pretty wide margin at this point, which puts a little bit more pressure on Carlos Carrasco, who, crazily enough, is making his first career playoff start. He missed all of last season’s run with a broken hand. The Indians will also be without Edwin Encarnacion, who suffered what looked like a pretty ugly ankle injury in Game 2. The Indians lineup will be interesting to see for Game 3.
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