Game one of the ALDS is in the books, with the Cleveland Indians securing a victory at home on Thursday evening. Trevor Bauer pitched a gem, Sonny Gray was shaky, and Cleveland coasted to a relatively easy 4-0 win.
With Corey Kluber on the mound for Game 2, most Cleveland fans are feeling comfortable about heading to New York up 2-0 in the five game series. There is no reason they shouldn’t – Kluber will almost certainly win the AL Cy Young Award, and if he pitches like he has the entire second half, the Yankees will have a difficult time scoring any runs on him. Considering New York is starting 37-year-old CC Sabathia, who posted a mediocre 4.49 FIP in 2017, Cleveland’s chances seem good.
However – the key to Friday’s game will almost certainly be getting to Sabathia early. The Yankees bullpen – who led the MLB with 9.2 WAR during the regular season – will be at full strength. Shane Green, Aroldis Chapman, Tommy Kahnle, and David Robertson have had two days of rest since pitching Tuesday against Minnesota. Meanwhile, Dellin Betances only threw 11 pitches Thursday, while striking out the side in order. As a result, the Yankees’ best five bullpen arms will be ready to pitch on Friday.
If the Yankees wanted, they could comfortably turn to their bullpen as early as the second inning in Game 2. This is bad news for the Indians, considering just how overpowering New York’s bullpen is: they collectively average an MLB-best 95.5 mph on their fastballs, according to Baseball Savant. It isn’t particularly close, either: New York has a .4 mph advantage on second-best Atlanta, which is the same difference that Atlanta has with sixth-place Boston.
While facing New York’s bullpen would be a tough matchup for any team, it’s especially problematic for the Indians, who struggle more than usual against high-velocity fastballs. Cleveland only managed a .298 wOBA in 2017 against four-seam fastballs 95 mph or higher, which was 6th-worst in baseball. Comparatively, Cleveland destroyed four-seamers 92 mph or slower, with a .425 wOBA – good for 2nd-best in the MLB.
As a team that thrives against soft-pitching, the Indians profile well against Sabathia, who averaged just 90 mph with his four-seamer in 2017. But, if the Indians can’t get to Sabathia, they’ll have a hard time scoring any runs off of New York’s dominant, flame-throwing bullpen. It helps to have Kluber on the mound – Cleveland likely won’t need more than two or three runs to win the game.
My Game 2 prediction? The first team to score two runs in the game will win.