Trevor Bauer during his last regular season outing on September 29, a 10-1 victory over the White Sox for his 17th win of the season. Bauer will be the Game 1 starter in the ALDS for the Indians against the New York Yankees.
The Indians announced their ALDS roster on Tuesday, including their plan for starting pitchers over the course of the series. And we now know who that roster will be playing, as the New York Yankees defeated the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday night in the Wild Card game, 8-4. Let’s talk a bit about the roster, and about some of the potential match-ups we could see over the course of the series.
There are several aspects to the roster construction that have proved a bit controversial, the first of which has to do with the order of the starting rotation during the series. The rotation will look like this:
Game 1: Trevor Bauer
Game 2: Corey Kluber
Game 3: Carlos Carrasco
Game 4: Josh Tomlin
Game 5: Corey Kluber
The two primary issues that fans seem to have about this rotation – starting Trevor Bauer in Game 1, instead of ace and Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber, and the fact that Tomlin would start Game 4 in homer-happy Yankee Stadium (when Tomlin himself is a bit homer-happy). The reasoning for Bauer starting Game 1 is that it will give Kluber an extra day of rest from his last regular season start, and can put him on regular rest for a potential Game 5. Plus, Bauer is a good candidate to pitch on short rest if needed, particularly if he may be needed out of the bullpen later in the series.
You may remember that Bauer started Game 1 of the ALDS last year against the Red Sox, with Kluber starting in Game 2. One of the main reasons for that was the fact that Kluber had some nagging injuries at the end of the regular season and they wanted to give him some extra rest. The Indians won Game 1, 5-4 (Bauer got a no decision) while the Tribe won Game 2, 6-0.
The argument against Bauer starting Game 1: In nearly 70% of the past division series, the team that wins Game 1 goes on to win the series. Plus, if you let the opposing team win Game 1, then you immediately lose your home field advantage. While you always want to be thinking outside of the box, maybe this is an occasion where you want to go with tradition and put Kluber on the mound Thursday night.
The argument in favor of Bauer starting Game 1: Bauer is likely to start games 1, 2, or 3 no matter what. If you’re so convinced he’s going to lose his start, then why is he starting at all? If the Yankees are going to leave town 1-1, does it matter if they got that 1 win on Thursday night or Friday evening? It’s a relatively small sample size, but Bauer did well against the Yankees this year…both he and Kluber did. If Bauer wins Game 1, then the Indians are up 1-0 with 2 potential Kluber starts yet to come (and I’ve yet to even mention Carlos Carrasco, who pitched very well down the stretch). Even though regular season performance no longer matters in the postseason, the Indians played well on the road and won all 3 games in New York against the Yankees in August.
My thoughts on this: I think this is one of those things that will be brilliant if it works, and questioned continuously if it doesn’t. Maybe not questioned as much as Buck Showalter leaving Zach Britton on the bench during the 2016 Wild Card game, but people may still ask “what if?” During the 2016 postseason though, Terry Francona really broke the mold on how you use your bullpen with his high-leverage use of Andrew Miller. If Bauer does well on short rest (and manages to not slice any fingers open in October 2017) he could revolutionize how managers utilize their starters throughout a series. Particularly when you take into account that two starters, Danny Salazar and Mike Clevinger, will be pitching out of the bullpen this October. After going through last October with 2.5 starters, there are now 6 different starters the Indians can leverage in different situations.
As for Tomlin starting Game 4 at Yankee Stadium, we all knew that Salazar and Clevinger would be going to the bullpen…it’s not a huge shock to see Tomlin penciled in as the fourth starter. Tomlin has always (and probably will always) make me extraordinarily nervous. No matter how hard I try to tell myself “he’s had X amount of good starts this year, give him some credit” I still panic when he takes the mound. While Tomlin does surrender home runs, and does not have stuff that is going to blow anyone away, he can sustain a fair amount of pressure and stress. I think he could still be a weapon, depending on how Francona utilizes him. I am almost envisioning a tandem-start with Tomlin staying in just once or twice through the lineup, and then Clevinger or Salazar entering to stretch the game to your traditional relievers like Miller, Bryan Shaw, and Cody Allen.
I already mentioned Clevinger, Salazar, Miller, Shaw, and Allen in the bullpen; they will be joined by Joe Smith and Tyler Olsen. Francona opted to leave Dan Otero, Nick Goody, and Zach McAllister off the roster, which makes sense if you have Salazar and Clevinger in the bullpen. I didn’t expect McAllister to make the roster, but I figured at least one of Otero or Goody would make it.
Here are the position players on the ALDS roster:
First, let’s talk about the people that are not on that list, specifically Yandy Diaz, Abraham Almonte, and Brandon Guyer. Almonte has value as a switch-hitter, but let’s face it – it’s not a huge loss to leave him off the roster. Guyer’s wrist probably still isn’t 100%, and he didn’t really have any at-bats leading up to the end of the regular season. Plus with a team like the Yankees, they don’t have an overabundance of left-handed arms where you’d need a bat like Guyer. The one that is kind of surprising to me is Yandy Diaz. Urshela is far superior defensively, but I thought Diaz could be a tantalizing option as a pinch hitter, or for the first few innings of a game (before Urshela is inserted as a defensive replacement). Since the Indians hope to ride the strength of their pitching staff, they instead went with the light-hitting, but solid defensive player in Gonzalez.
There aren’t really any surprises with the outfielders on the roster, but I do have some concerns. Kipnis looked more like his old self at the plate in the last few weeks of the season, so I like the idea of getting him at-bats. While I love the Lindor-Ramirez combo up the middle, I’m concerned about Kipnis in center field. I’m more concerned about his arm than his ability to catch balls (although I’m a little worried about that too) as a number of runners were going first to third on him in the last few weeks of the season. And while I love Chisenhall and Brantley, I’m just not sure if they’re at 100% and ready to play. I’d just hate to see Francona rely on them in a tough situation and find they aren’t able to deliver. The look on Brantley’s face during the player introductions of the 2016 ALDS was heartbreaking; you could see how badly he wanted to play and how it was killing him to be out of action. So while it’s a great feel-good story to see him back, I’m just not sure if he’s always the best option. As he’ll likely primarily pinch hit, we probably don’t have to worry about him re-injuring himself in the outfield.
Now, let ‘s talk about the match-ups for the ALDS. I figured the Indians weren’t likely to see Luis Severino until Game 3, since he was starting Tuesday night’s Wild Card game. However, the fact that he didn’t even make it out of the first inning means that he may be available much sooner. While the Yankees waited until Wednesday night to announce their starters for the first two games, I thought they may be considering moving Severino up to Game 1 or Game 2; however the Yankees finally announced that Sonny Gray would start Game 1 and CC Sabathia Game 2. They’ll likely round out their postseason rotation with Severino and Masahiro Tanaka.
The Indians have had some trouble with Severino in the past, but did manage to get to him for 3 ER back on August 28, as they beat the Yankees 6-2 in the midst of their 22-game winning streak. As for Severino’s disastrous outing on Tuesday night, it could be chalked up to nerves or it could be the fact that some of the Twins players seemed to imply that he was tipping his pitches. The Indians managed to beat Gray back on August 3 in Cleveland, but they were aided by some sloppy play from the Yankees defense.
One bright spot for the Indians is that the Yankees bullpen, one of their greatest strengths, had to throw 8 innings of baseball on Tuesday night. David Robertson, who the Indians have probably had the most trouble with over the years, threw 3.1 innings. The Indians have had some success against Tommy Kahnle (much of which was when he was with the White Sox) including a walk-off win against him at the home opener this season.
As for my predictions for this series – I don’t like to make predictions. Not because I’m afraid of being wrong, but because I am a human curse and hate to tempt fate in any kind of way. I’ve done my share of Eeyore-style pessimistic worrying, because I am a pessimistic, neurotic person. Before the season started I bitterly said that the Indians would manage to do whatever would be the most heart-breaking…and after reaching Game 7 of the World Series last year that meant they would get bounced in the ALDS or miss the playoffs entirely. After some folks started to imply the 22-game winning streak meant that the Indians were destined for greatness in the postseason, I instead said that they were getting our hopes as high as possible to more efficiently crush them later. This is one of the reasons I haven’t done much blogging over the past few months. It’s been an extraordinarily difficult 5 months or so for me in my personal life, but I also figured that people didn’t need my brand of bitterness when things were going so well. And trust me – I truly enjoyed the 2017 regular season. In many ways, I think I may have gone crazy over the past few months without Indians baseball to distract me. But as my anxiety builds this week, my neuroses are now on full display.
All that matters now are the 11 victories that the Indians need to bring a World Series trophy to Cleveland for the first time in 69 (nice) years. Let’s hope that they can get started with win #1 on Thursday night.