It was a roller-coaster of a season, but the New York Yankees weathered the storm and enter the MLB Playoffs as the #5 seed in the AL. Their first round opponent is the Cleveland Indians. How far can this team go?
Ups and Downs
Entering the season, the Yankees were a trendy World Series pick. In mid-July, they tied for the best odds with the Los Angeles Dodgers at +450. It made sense. After winning 103 games last season and losing in six games to the Houston Astros in the ALCS, the Yankees went out and took the best player from that Astros team–Gerrit Cole, and signed him to a mega-deal. The natural progression for this team was up.
It seemed like the predictions were right early on. They started 16-6, were in first place in the American League East, and looked like the best team in baseball. Then disaster struck by way of the injury bug for the second consecutive season. It was almost comical. With the exception of Luke Voit, Aaron Hicks and Gary Sanchez, every Yankees starter spent time on the Injured List this year. After their 16-6 start, they went 5-15 over their next 20 to sit at 21-21 with 18 games to go.
They survived that tough stretch, and finished the season a respectable 33-27, good for 2nd place in the AL East. Even with the injuries, the offense was impressive all season, leading the league with 315 runs scored. They can hit for power, as Luke Voit led the league in home runs, and Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton can go yard at any point. They also have the best leadoff hitter in baseball in DJ LeMahieu, who led the American League with a .364 batting average. However, this team has struggled to hit for contact in recent playoff series’, and their playoff opponent may be their kryptonite with their pitching staff.
By virtue of the expanded playoffs, the Yankees will enter the playoffs as the #5 seed, and will travel to Cleveland for the entirety of their Wild Card Round. The Indians boast one of the best starting rotations in baseball.
Yankees vs. Indians–Best of 3, who you got?
Tough Playoff Matchup
Awaiting the Yankees in the Wild Card Round is the Cleveland Indians. It’s a complete contrast of styles. The Yankees led the American League in runs scored with 315, and the Indians led the league in runs against, allowing only 209. Their starting rotation is arguably the best in the entire league, and their Game 1 starter, Shane Beiber, is one of the few guys in the league who can stare down Gerrit Cole in a Game 1 and go pitch for pitch.
Beiber was phenomenal this season, winning the pitching Triple Crown. He led the league in wins with eight, ERA with a mark of 1.63, and strikeouts with 122. That being said, he’s never pitched in a postseason game, giving the Yankees an advantage on the experience side.
With all three games being played in Cleveland, the Yankees won’t get to play at Yankee Stadium. The oddsmakers don’t seem to care though. The Yankees are -134 to win this series, while the Indians are +110.
It’s not an overreaction to call Game 1 a must-win for the Yankees with Gerrit Cole on the mound. The Indians have the best pitching rotation in baseball, and behind Beiber are two aces in Carlos Carrasco and Zach Plesac. If the Yankees fall behind in this series, Tanaka will need to outduel Carrasco and the Yankees don’t really even have a dependable third starter.
However, the Yankees are prepared for this. Their lineup is finally healthy, and after years of not having the playoff ace they need, Gerrit Cole steps right in and fills that void. I expect the Yankees to take Game 1 in a low-scoring game, and for them to eventually win this series in three games. It will be low-scoring, gritty, and a majestic showing of pitching, but the Yankees will get just enough timely hits to steal this road series and continue their quest for 28.
Best and Worst Case Scenarios
Best: The Yankees get solid starts from Gerrit Cole and Masahiro Tanaka and sweep the Indians in the Wild Card Round. Their lineup hits like it’s supposed to, and the team makes it to the American League Championship where they defeat the Minnesota Twins in an epic six game series. Gerrit Cole gets two starts in the World Series against the Dodgers and lives up to his monster contract, and is named World Series MVP with a 2-0 record and an 0.00 ERA. The Yankees win their 28th championship, first under Aaron Boone, and first since 2009.
Worst: Gerrit Cole gets banged around in Game 1, and the Yankees lineup gets shut down in Game 2. Tanaka can’t pitch as well as Carrasco and the lineup goes silent in a disappointing 4-2 loss. The Yankees get swept out of the playoffs, and not only have questions about Cole’s fortitude in New York, but about a lineup that consistently struggles in the postseason. Aaron Boone gets placed squarely on the hot seat, and the team desperately looks for a suitor for Giancarlo Stanton, while DJ LeMahieu walks in free agency.
A Chance for 28?
Even with all the question marks around this team, their lack of pitching depth, and the fact that they have to win two of three on the road against three Cy Young candidates in the WCR, the Yankees are still favored to win the American League. Their odds stand at +280, just ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Their World Series odds, while longer than before the season, are still among the league’s best. They trail only the Dodgers, and their +700 odds match the Rays for second best in the league. It’s clear that although this team has struggled through some portions of the season, that the oddsmakers like their chances of playing up to their potential.