As the Indians take a 1-0 lead over the Yankees in the ALDS with a 4-0 win, a few quick thoughts…
1. BAUER POWER: Plenty of Cuyahoga-area heads were scratched over Cleveland’s decision to start Trevor Bauer in Game 1 instead of a rested Corey Kluber, who was baseball’s best pitcher in 2017. (Terry Francona’s rationale: Pitching Kluber in Game 2 would leave him ready to pitch a potential Game 5 on regular rest, while a Game 1 start would have left him to pitch Game 4 on short rest or Game 5 on extra rest.) While Bauer had been strong at home in 2017 (10-4 with a 3.93 ERA) and finished the season on a hot streak (83 2/3 innings of 3.01 ERA after the All-Star break, including two wins over the Yankees), he’s still the Indians’ third-best starter after Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. And some Yankees had career good numbers against Bauer. Didi Gregorius enetered with a .916 OPS against him; Brett Gardner a .462 on-base percentage.
So what did Bauer do? He held the Yankees hitless through 5 1/3 innings—of course he did—and left the game with two out in the seventh having held the Bombers to two hits and no runs. He walked one and whiffed eight. Yankee slugger Aaron Judge (0-for-4 with four strikeouts, three of which came against Bauer) was overwhelmed by the pitcher’s curveball. Couple Bauer’s dominance with Jason Kipnis’s steadiness while playing out of position in centerfield, and we have a new playoff commandment: Thou shalt not second-guess Terry Francona.
2. GOOSED BY BRUCE: The 70-92 Mets are quite obviously not taking part in this year’s playoffs. But their actions during their misbegotten 2017 campaign did swing the game tonight. Both Cleveland and New York tried to acquire outfielder Jay Bruce from the Mets—no surprise, considering Bruce entered the month of August with 27 homers and a .263/.326/.523 batting line. But a pre-deadline deal between the Mets and Yankees fell apart, reportedly because the New York clubs couldn’t agree on how much of Bruce’s remaining salary each would pay. He remained with the Mets until early August, when he was shipped (with no financial strings attached) to Cleveland for a little-regarded prospect in A-ball.
While Bruce struggled down the stretch, with a .222/.304/.432 September, his bat came alive tonight, with a second-inning double, a two-run homer in the fourth (providing all the runs Cleveland would need, as it turned out), and an RBI sac fly in the fifth. To judge by the Indians’ tweeting, the sometimes-stingy franchise is awfully proud of its splurge:
3. A GRAY DAY: Sonny Gray didn’t pitch horribly for the Yankees, compared to the disastrous wild-card outing on Tuesday night from putative ace Luis Severino or some of the short starts that have followed Severino’s in these early playoff days. But he didn’t pitch well. Making his first postseason appearance since 2013, Gray struggled with his command, walking four batters and hitting one, endlessly nibbling around the strike zone. He lasted just 3 1/3 innings before Joe Girardi pulled him for Adam Warren.
The Yankees may have thought in landing Gray at the deadline that they were getting a top-tier starter—just two years ago, he finished third in the running for the Cy Young. But while he posted a 3.72 ERA in his 11 regular-season starts as a Yankee, he walked nearly 10 percent of the batters he faced and went more than six innings just three times. These days, he’s a fine pitcher, not an excellent one. He didn’t excel Wednesday night, either, and it’s hard to think the Yankees will be excited to see him back on the hill in Cleveland for a Game 5, should things get that far.
But maybe New York will be excited just to take Cleveland to five. The Yankees will send CC Sabathia to face Corey Kluber Friday evening. Kluber went 10-2 with a 1.81 ERA at home in 2017. The Yankees managed six hits and three runs against him in 17 innings this year. They struck out 18 times. They are in trouble.