Today's Free Picks for
Posted at 11:45 AM EST on October 5 BEFORE Game 1
SERIES BET - N.Y. Yankees +170 over CLEVELAND
7:35 PM EST. We could reach for an intertwined description to frame the upcoming ALDS battle between the Yankees and Indians but, really, this is a series of two teams with two distinct identities. On one side, we have the notorious Yankees—the Evil Empire, the next great New York dynasty, the financial powerhouse built like a small-market team with a roster perfect for the postseason. On the other, the Indians—the defending AL champions, the owners of a record-breaking 22-game winning streak, the electrifying and fun-loving roster which features Francisco Lindor’s smile and a complete set of baseball dolls. These two clubs are vastly different and unmistakably unique and that should make for a hell of a five-game series.
This is undoubtedly going to come up several times over the next couple of days, so we’ll get it out of the way now—the Indians and Yankees hold the two best run differentials in baseball, with Cleveland leading at +254 and New York second at +198. The two clubs’ offenses have played a major role in that, as the Yankees and Indians have scored the second- and sixth-most runs in baseball, respectively.
The first thing you might have noticed with the Yankees is that, by our measures, their lineup is ostensibly top-heavy. The first four batters are responsible for 80 percent of the order’s WARP, and there’s a serious drop-off past Gregorius. This observation held true in the club’s Wild Card win against the Twins, as the first four in the lineup scored all of the Yankees’ eight runs, going 7 for 15 with a double and three home runs in the process.
That said, the bottom half of the lineup isn’t quite as poor as it’s made out to be here: Castro’s missed time but remains a .300 hitter (albeit with few walks in the process), Bird’s now healthy and had a very good September; Hicks, Ellsbury, and Frazier all have their strengths as well. The Indians boast a more balanced lineup, one which can find myriad ways to beat you and rarely lets up. The dynamic Indians’ middle infield serves as the heartbeat, but look past Lindor and Ramirez and you’ll just find more quality bats.
Although Kipnis is having a down season, skipper Terry Francona trusts him high in the order for good reason—the center fielder upped his game in September and has an excellent track record. Following the front three is a trio of potent power bats: New additions Encarnacion and Bruce, plus a familiar face in Santana, combined for 97 home runs. Oh, and the next man up, Chisenhall, is no slouch himself but after missing two months with an injury, the lefty has hit just .224/.296/.306 in September. Alas, the bottom of the Tribes lineup features two rather unspectacular slots, as a Perez and Yan Gomes timeshare isn’t going to do much damage, nor will sophomore Urshela and his light bat.
There was a push among some New York beat writers to start Romine in the Wild Card game and put Sanchez at DH due to passed ball concerns but, luckily, the Yankees passed on that idea. You can read that ‘idea’ as a compliment toward Romine, but he’s about as ‘backup catcher’ as you can get. Speaking of embracing roles, Torreyes has been a key player for the Yankees this season, both filling in admirably at second base while Castro was out, and serving as an excellent utility infielder for the Yankees. There’s also Clint Frazier, the talented rookie (and former top prospect in the Indians’ system) who got off to a fast start but was injured and hasn’t been productive since. He might get some pinch-hitting chances and can play the outfield decently enough, but don’t expect a big role for Red Thunder just yet.
The real thumpers off the bench for New York are Chase Headley and Matt Holliday, two players who very well could have started in the Wild Card game and will likely see starts in this series. Headley rebounded from a shaky first half to hit a robust .300/.366/.455 after the All-Star break, while Holliday had the opposite season script after getting off to an excellent start and falling off the rails following an illness. The 37-year-old was somewhat better in September, but ‘better’ only means so much when you hit .130 between June and July.
The Indians’ pine is intriguing as well. The timeshare between Gomes and Perez isn’t an ideal situation, but it always leaves a very capable player available for later in games. Both players could start for some teams but, as they say in football: If you have two quarterbacks (catchers, in this case), you don’t have any. They’re also stacked in the outfield—Austin Jackson has been an extremely pleasant surprise and wouldn’t be out of place hitting at the top of the Indians’ order. Coincidentally, he might just find himself in that role in this series if Francona decides to go with him instead of Kipnis. Brantley isn’t healthy enough to play the field after missing a month with an ankle sprain so, for now, he’ll remain an excellent pinch hitter who could see his role expand soon.
Here’s the bad news for the Indians: They lack a southpaw in the rotation, and the Yankees’ offense have been weaker against lefties in 2017. Here’s the good news: they have Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and (possibly) Corey Kluber again.
Francona took a unique approach to his playoff rotation, one which sparked a couple of minor controversies upon its announcement. The first of which was to start Kluber in the second game of the series, rather than in the first, as aces traditionally do. It’s an interesting move by the club’s manager—pushing Kluber back allows the club to start him in a (possible) game five on normal rest. Then again, planning for a game five as heavy favorites is a questionable tactic. Either way, Trevor Bauer will get the ball first, barring a drone attack. He’s been mediocre overall on the season, but more importantly has a 3.01 ERA in the second half and looked excellent down the stretch. Still, Francona could be accused of over-managing here, as Bauer doesn’t strike fear into the opposition like Kluber does. Not starting Kluber may work out but in a short five-game series, winning Game 1 is huge. Bauer is not a Game 1 starter and he knows it. He’ll be pitching under some serious pressure here.
Kluber starts Game 2 so not much more needs to be said about that. Game 3 is started by Carlos Carrasco, who has been excellent all year but then comes that second controversy: the club’s fourth starter. Francona had a tough decision, as he had to pick between Josh Tomlin, Mike Clevinger, and Danny Salazar. You can check the next section for Clevinger and Salazar’s statistics, but there’s a good argument for all three getting the start. But one can imagine that the team’s manager knows best, so Josh Tomlin it is.
The Yankees are a bit less… weird in their rotation alignment. With Severino used up following a Wild Card dud in which he recorded just one out and allowed three runs, the Yankees’ second ace, Gray, will take the mound. CC Sabathia is next, followed by Tanaka, who is coming off a career-best 15 strikeout performance to cap off a disappointing season.
Severino will then take the hill if needed in Game 4, hoping to come out with calmer nerves. If you’re looking for precedent here, Severino also seemed to get too amped up for his first start at home against the Red Sox this season and allowed 10 runs in his worst outing of the year. The next time he faced Boston? Six innings and just one unearned run. Severino has the stuff and he learned another lesson on Tuesday night.
Game 5 for the Yankees has yet to be officially unannounced, but one has to imagine that Gray would take the mound again on an extra day of rest. You already know about the Yankees’ bullpen—its dominance was the biggest factor in the club’s 8-4 victory in the Wild Card so allow the numbers speak for themselves here; this is probably the best bullpen in baseball, and it isn’t hard to see why.
The Indians aren’t exactly lacking in relief talent, either. They have one of the best relievers we’ve ever seen in the incredible Andrew Miller, and he’s backed up by the excellent Cody Allen and Joe Smith. The rest of the bullpen is made up of very solid depth.
In most circumstances, I’d shy away from this section of a playoff preview; it can be challenging to accurately capture a manager’s impact, and putting a magnifying glass on individual skippers can lead to some inaccurate conclusions. But this time is different. In one dugout, we have one of the best managers in baseball. In the other dugout, we have one of the best managers in baseball. Terry Francona’s creative moves this past October might have changed the way postseason bullpen roles are viewed for years to come. Joe Girardi hasn’t had quite the same impact, but his daring choice to go with a bullpen game after Severino’s struggles in the Wild Card game was a huge reason for the Yankees’ victory. If he hadn’t thought on his feet and expertly managed a bullpen for 8 2/3 dominating innings, we could be talking about the Twins right now.
You’ll hear about Sanchez’s defense one way or another in this series—either because commenters will be lauding his arm or lamenting over a passed ball. While he possesses a cannon behind the plate, he led all big-league catchers in passed balls, and some of his slip-ups have come at critical times. Other than that, the only big thing to watch with the Yankees is whether Hicks or Ellsbury is patrolling the outfield, as one of them had the hardest throw in baseball last year while the other has a wet noodle for an arm. For Cleveland, well, just enjoy the show from Lindor.
Considering the Indians are the World Series favorites and rightfully so, a reasonable person would choose them over the Wild Card Yankees. But, well, the Yankees aren’t an easy opponent. They have a heck of an offense—probably better than Cleveland’s, in fact—and they also have an advantage with their bullpen. As a result, it all comes down to the starting pitching. Can the Indians’ three dominant pitchers (Kluber, Carrasco, and Kluber) shut down the Yankees’ high-powered offense? Can the Yankees make up for their inferior rotation with an elite bullpen and plenty of dingers? It’s a closer matchup than you’d think and perhaps, just perhaps, the Indians peaked a bit too early. At the end of the day, it’s always about value and as a big price in an evenly matched series, the Yankees have to be the play.
Note: We are passing on the Astros/Red Sox. We prefer the Astronauts in the series but we’re not interested in spotting a price. We’ll play that series individually if something comes up that looks good. We’ll have the NL series and games posted tomorrow.
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N.Y. Yankees +170 (Risking 2 units - To Win: 3.40)