The winner goes to Houston and the loser goes home in Game 5 tonight between the Guardians and Yankees. The NLCS between the Phillies and Padres starts tomorrow night and I’ll have a preview of it up later this afternoon.
Before I get into Game 5, I want to talk a little more about all the playoff complaints with this format and how the Dodgers, Mets and Braves are gone and what to do about it. The answer – nothing. Absolutely nothing. Here’s the thing about baseball. Over 162 games, the best teams will be the best. Over three, four, five, six or seven games, anything can happen. Remember when the Pirates swept the Dodgers in Los Angeles earlier this season? Remember when the Braves started 3-4 against the Reds and Nationals? Remember when the Mets were swept by the Cubs in mid-September?
Baseball is a high-variance sport. The only thing that minimizes the variance is playing a lot of games, a luxury not afforded to teams in the playoffs. I understand the frustration and, believe me, MLB doesn’t want a Phillies/Padres NLCS. If they had their way, it would be Mets/Dodgers every year to tap into the two biggest media markets in the country. They’re sure as hell not rooting for Cleveland tonight.
There is no solution. Previously, the regular season wasn’t really incentivized at all besides home-field advantage. At least now the top two teams avoid the Wild Card Round and those teams have to tap into their rotations. It will take more than one postseason to argue the “rest vs. rust” point people have been making.
The best team doesn’t always win in the playoffs. It’s always been that way and it’ll forever be that way. Is it unfair that greatness over 162 games gets whittled down to a best-of-five series? Sure. But, what do you do? Best-of-11? Best-of-13? The playoffs would end in December with games played in 20-degree weather.
The Dodgers were undoubtedly better than the Padres in the regular season and in the head-to-head meetings, but San Diego was the better team in the NLDS. They rightfully moved on. The format isn’t to blame. The Dodgers going 2-for-2,000 with RISP is to blame.
This won’t be the last example we get. You just have to embrace that the playoffs are a giant Tournament of Variance and that’s all they’ll ever be.
Cleveland Guardians at New York Yankees (-155, 7.5)
Rumors also circulated on social media that the Yankees’ team plane was delayed overnight due to a mechanical issue in Cleveland. That is not the case. The team plane got in last night around 1:30 a.m. ET, while the chartered friends and family plane got in today around noon ET.
Another indication it wasn’t true? The betting odds didn’t move. Something like that would have created a line shift if accurate. If you’re ever wondering if something is BS or not, see what the betting market has to say.
Rain is in the forecast at Yankee Stadium, so that adds another element of uncertainty to Game 5. This is effectively a bullpen game for both teams. Starting pitchers will throw the first pitches for their respective teams, but all hands are on deck the rest of the way. How Terry Francona and Aaron Boone perform in this chess match may be the ultimate deciding factor. The timing of the rain could be a huge wild card in this game as well.
Aaron Civale and Jameson Taillon will start it, but who knows how long each guy will go and how effective each guy will be. Civale hasn’t pitched since October 5 and wasn’t on the Wild Card roster. Taillon looked uncomfortable in Game 2 in the first relief appearance of his career. Taillon faced three batters, allowed three hits and got saddled with the loss, though the hits had exit velocities of 76.3 mph, 58.9 mph and the 108.5 mph Josh Naylor double that Harrison Bader took a bad route on in center field.
Bullpen games are excruciatingly hard to handicap. I’m trying to put together the blueprint in my head for both of these managers and how they intend to piecemeal this game. Nestor Cortes is said to be available for the Yankees and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is used as the fireman at the end of the game over Clay Holmes and Wandy Peralta. That’s the spot I’d put him in given the Yankees bullpen.
If I’m Boone, it’s Taillon for as long as he’s effective, Domingo German as a bridge to Jonathan Loaisiga/Clarke Schmidt/Lucas Luetge and then Cortes and possibly Trivino at the back end. I’m not sure he wants to use Wandy Peralta a fourth straight day unless he has to, despite yesterday’s painless inning. Luetge could be a huge weapon as a lefty, given that Cleveland was 20 points worse in wOBA than any other team in the second half.
Personally, I would have started Enyel de los Santos to try and get through Torres-Judge-Rizzo the first time and then gone to Civale, but they’re going to roll with the starter and that’s fine. Civale will likely be on a short leash and I could see de los Santos as the first man out of the pen. If necessary, I could see Sam Hentges come in as well, especially if you’re in a big spot with a lefty like Rizzo or a switch hitter like Oswaldo Cabrera, who has more power batting left-handed.
Ultimately, the goal would be to get to Trevor Stephan, James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase with a lead and get multiple innings from each. Karinchak was very wild in Friday’s appearance, so I’d be more reliant on Stephan and Clase. Clase has only pitched once in the last six days and Stephan twice, so those are my two horses here. They’re going as long as I can make them go. If you win, you’ve got Shane Bieber in Game 1 on Wednesday. If you don’t, they have four months to recover.
All we know for sure is that Taillon and Civale will start. Taillon had a 3.91 ERA with a 4.20 xERA and a 3.94 FIP in his 177.1 innings of work. He gave up 26 homers and had the lowest K% of any starter Cleveland has seen in this series. In theory, Taillon should be Cleveland’s best hope as far as starters go. He’s only thrown 18 pitches since October 4, which makes it tough to stay sharp. He had a higher ERA in the second half, but was better in BA, OBP and SLG against. He also had a higher K%, but his walk rate did increase. He’s just an average pitcher, but that should be enough for a few innings.
Civale made 20 starts, but only completed 97 innings. He had a 4.92 ERA, but a 3.80 xERA and a 3.87 FIP. The problem for him is that he throws a ton of strikes and will give up home runs. He allowed 14 during the regular season, but he had a weird year with a couple of IL stints. In 43 innings in the second half, he pitched to a .186/.228/.340 slash against with a .247 wOBA. This start for Civale is all about the long ball. If he doesn’t allow them, he should be effective enough.
Civale also had some pretty big times through the order splits. That’s why I’m thinking quick hook, but Francona has shown a penchant for pushing his starters to this point, so I’m not optimistic. If he is reactive instead of proactive, it will be to Cleveland’s detriment.
I could make a case for taking Cleveland + 135. Their bullpen is better and deeper. Cortes is the wild card here and the guy that scares me the most as a Guardians fan. They’d have a better chance at coming back against the bullpen than against Cortes in a short burst. I’m not sure which team jumps out to the early lead, so you could get either one of these teams at a better price potentially.
So, long story short, it’s a no-bet for me, but one hell of a chess match and hopefully one hell of a game.