Yankees, Luis Severino Overpower Indians to Force Decisive Game 5

Sparkling outing from Masahiro Tanaka in Game 3 and Luis Severino in Game 4 have rescued the Yankees and pushed the ALDS to a decisive Game 5. Meanwhile the disappearance of Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez have put Cleveland's lineup in a bind.
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The Yankees touched up Indians starter Trevor Bauer for four runs in the second inning to propel them to a 7–3 win over Cleveland on Monday night in the Bronx. The win forces a decisive Game 5 in Cleveland on Wednesday night, where Indians ace Corey Kluber will most likely battle the Yankees’ CC Sabathia. Below are three thoughts on New York’s surprisingly easy Game 4 win.

1. Luis Severino bounced back and owned the night

When Luis Severino took the hill to make his first career playoff start in the AL Wild Card Game, he lasted just 14 minutes and earned one out before Joe Girardi removed him from the game. For a pitcher who will likely finish third in the 2017 AL Cy Young voting, his start in the AL Wild Card Game was an inauspicious outing on the biggest stage of his young career. When asked who would start Game 4 after the Yankees defeated the Indians on Sunday night, Girardi answered Severino with no hesitation.

The 23-year-old hurler rewarded his manager’s confidence with a splendid outing on Monday night, finishing seven innings, allowing just four hits and three earned runs while walking one and striking out nine. ​Severino’s best asset is his velocity, and he stymied the Indians with a fastball that hovered between 97-100 MPH all night. Outside of home runs from Carlos Santana and Roberto Perez, the Indians struggled to pick up Severino all night. “I told [Severino] after the game he grew up a lot today,” Girardi said. “He got that extra inning, which was really important for our bullpen. To me, that’s growing up.” When they weren’t trying to catch up to his fastball, they were flailing at his changeup or rolling over his sliders.

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The Indians were the team said to have the starting pitching advantage entering the series, but the Yankees earned back-to-back strong starts from Masahiro Tanaka and Severino to even the Division Series. Prospective Cy Young winner Corey Kluber may be the more desirable option to CC Sabathia in Game 5, but the Yankees touched up Kluber for six runs in Game 2. Maybe it was the Yankees who held the edge this whole time. 

2. The Indians will need more from Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez

When the Indians rattled off 22 consecutive wins earlier this seasons, the catalysts behind the astonishing run were infielders Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. Lindor hit .360 with nine homers while Ramirez solidified himself as baseball’s most valuable utilityman with a .423 average and 19 extra-base hits during that stretch. Complemented by fearsome designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion and the ever-dependable Carlos Santana, Lindor and Ramirez solidified their down-ballot MVP candidacies.

Encarnacion has since been lost to injury, and Ramirez and Lindor remain ineffective heading into Game 5. The two entered Game 4 hitting a combined 3-for-24 in the series, and both players looked lost on Monday night, finishing 0-for-7 and sinking their combined average to .096. With Encarnacion likely shelved for Game 5 with an ankle injury, the pressure is mounting on Lindor and Ramirez, the Indians’ most consistent sources of offense throughout the season and their most feared hitters. Cleveland has received next to nothing from the designated hitter spot since Encarnacion was injured (Michael Brantley is 1-for-11 since taking over for the slugger), and limited production from the reinforcements Jason Kipnis and Jay Bruce.)

The hitting wasn’t there, and neither was the defense. The Indians committed four errors on the night, including two from usual defensive stalwart Giovanny Urshela. Five of the Yankees’ seven runs were unearned.

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“The whole night we made it hard on ourselves to win,” Francona said. “We kept shooting ourselves in the foot.”

3. Aaron Hicks, Everybody

The Yankees’ most valuable hitter in this series has not been Aaron Judge—who has one hit in the series—or even Gary Sanchez, who hit his second home run in the last three games on Monday night. It’s been Aaron Hicks, the unlikely starting centerfielder who was acquired in December 2015 for backup catcher John Ryan Murphy.

Hicks was a mere 1-for-4 on Monday night, but his two-out single in the second inning drove in the second run of the game and extended the inning that knocked Bauer out of the game. In a series where the Yankees' most reliable bats have lacked punch, Hicks has hit a steady .316 in the postseason with a team-leading 4 RBI. While Hicks hasn’t walked against the Indians yet, he’s been an promising revelation at the plate when his primary reason for starting ahead of Jacoby Ellsbury is his centerfield defense. Leave it to Yankees GM Brian Cashman to unearth the gems that shine in October.