Happy Wednesday! We get a Game 5 that is one of the juiciest Division Series games we’ve ever had, with the Yankees of all teams playing underdog versus the mighty Indians. As a bonus, we also get Game 4 between the Nationals and Cubs. We won’t, however, be getting Stephen Strasburg.
The most important thing of the day: Will Edwin Encarnacion start for the Indians? He spoke with ESPN’s Marly Rivera after Tuesday’s workout and said he expects to be in the lineup. “I feel very good. I ran, I hit and did everything we deemed necessary to evaluate if I can play [Wednesday],” he said. “Me being in the lineup [Wednesday] is what we all want; it’s what I want. … Us Latinos, Dominicans — we leave our body and soul on the field during the game … so let’s go!” The Indians have hit .173 in the first four games, so getting Encarnacion back as a threat in the middle of the lineup will certainly be a big lift.
If you’re only going to watch one game, tune in for: Yankees at Indians. Back in 2009, CC Sabathia had just signed a huge contract as a free agent with the Yankees. He was 28 years old, won 19 games and was at the peak of his powers. He started five games that postseason, including two on three days of rest, and posted a 1.98 ERA. The Yankees won the World Series. Did you think that eight years later Sabathia would be starting a do-or-die game for the Yankees? Especially after winning just 18 games over the previous three seasons? Yet here he is, making his 15th postseason start in pinstripes.
ALDS Game 5: Yankees at Indians (Series tied 2-2)
CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69) vs. Corey Kluber (18-4, 2.25), 8:08 ET (FS1)
The stakes: The Indians won 102 games. They had — by far — the largest run differential in the majors. They had that 22-game winning streak and finished the season on a 33-4 run. They haven’t lost three games in a row since Aug. 1. Jose Ramirez, the major league leader in extra-base hits, is 2-for-17 without an extra-base hit or an RBI. Francisco Lindor is 1-for-14, granted that one hit was a big one. They have the likely AL Cy Young winner going, but he’s coming off one of the worst starts in his career. They’re at home. Oh, and the franchise hasn’t won a World Series since 1948. I think Indians fans are already throwing up from nervousness.
If the Yankees win: Everyone forgets about manager Joe Girardi’s Game 2 blunder when he failed to challenge the Lonnie Chisenhall HBP. The Yankees move on to the ALCS where they once again get to embrace their underdog status.
If the Indians win: They move on for their titanic battle against the Astros. It would be the first LCS matchup of 100-win teams in the wild-card era and the first since the Yankees played the Royals in the 1977 ALCS.
One key stat to know: Girardi took out Sabathia after 77 pitches in Game 2 with good reason. Check his splits for the season:
Pitches 1-25: .731 OPS
Pitches 26-50: .742 OPS
Pitches 51-75: .572 OPS
Pitches 76-100: .899 OPS
So we know Sabathia isn’t going to throw more than 75 pitches — if that many. Sabathia had a 3.67 ERA in the first inning and 5.00 in the second, so the Indians need to jump on him early.
The matchup that matters most: Aaron Judge versus Kluber. Judge is 1-for-15 in the series with 12 strikeouts. Judge’s big weakness during the season was sliders — he hit .153 against them. Eight of those 12 strikeouts have come on curveballs or sliders, with 11 coming on 2-2 and 3-2 pitches, so Judge has been very patient in trying to seek out his pitch. Will Judge adjust by trying to attack fastballs earlier in the count? The Indians have thrown him six first-pitch fastballs in his 19 plate appearances. But if Kluber suspects Judge will be hunting fastballs, does he start him off with his curveball or slider/cutter and risk falling behind in the count? In Game 2, they faced each other three times, with Kluber starting him off with three different pitches. Judge walked twice and struck out looking on a 3-2 fastball. Judge doesn’t have to hit a home run, but Kluber has to keep him off base.
The prediction: You know Indians manager Terry Francona wants to use three pitchers: Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. If somebody else pitches, something has probably gone wrong. Girardi, on the other hand, will likely go full bullpen. As the Indians proved in their Game 2 comeback, that bullpen isn’t invulnerable, but it’s well rested after Masahiro Tanaka and Luis Severino both threw seven innings in their starts. Only Dellin Betances (12 pitches) and Tommy Kahnle (22 pitches) threw in Game 4, so Girardi will undoubtedly have a plan similar to the wild-card game: Chad Green up first, followed by David Robertson, maybe Jaime Garcia for a lefty matchup, Kahnle for an inning or so and then Aroldis Chapman for a couple innings to close it out.
With that in mind, it feels imperative for the Indians to get that early lead off Sabathia. The lineup is hurt by Encarnacion’s injury and the curious decision to play the no-hit Giovanny Urshela at third. Francona is playing Jason Kipnis out of position to get his bat in the lineup, but he hasn’t done much after having a bad regular season while battling injuries. The Indians desperately need Ramirez and Lindor to do something. Kluber bounces back with a good game, but we go extra innings. Yankees win 3-2 in 11 innings.
NLDS Game 4: Nationals at Cubs (Cubs lead 2-1)
Tanner Roark (13-11, 4.67) vs. Jake Arrieta (14-10, 3.53), 4:08 p.m. ET (TBS)
The stakes: The rainout gave Nationals manager Dusty Baker the option to start Stephen Strasburg in Game 4 on regular rest — except Strasburg threw a bullpen session earlier in the day in anticipation of starting on Thursday. This is your life, Nationals fans. So is this:
Margin of defeat for the Nationals’ past 9 postseason losses, going back to 2012 NLDS Game 5.
Nine losses by 12 total runs … oof. pic.twitter.com/bdZGwp6gdX
— Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB) October 10, 2017
So Roark will get the ball. While Strasburg-Gio Gonzalez would be a stronger pairing than Roark-Strasburg, you were going to have to win the non-Strasburg game anyway, and you can argue matching him up against Kyle Hendricks in a potential Game 5 gives the Nationals a better chance of winning that game than Gonzalez. You just have to get there. For that, Washington has to get the bats going. The Nationals have hit just .121/.200/.231 in the first three games.
If the Nationals win: They get to return home where they hit much better (OPS 83 points higher) with Strasburg starting on five days of rest. Including his Game 1 start, he has a 0.78 ERA in 11 starts since the All-Star break while holding batters to a .166 average.
If the Cubs win: They pour champagne all over each other and celebrate their fourth straight playoff series win.
One key stat to know: Arrieta’s season was all over the place, but he seemed to hit a groove, positing a 2.25 ERA in July and 1.21 ERA in August. But his strikeout months were April and May, and his lowest was July. His strand rate was terrible in the first half, much better in the second half. You could say this about any pitcher, but it’s about fastball command: Batters slugged .429 and .526 off his fastball in April and May, .263 and .293 in July and August. Arrieta also had a big platoon split as lefties had an OPS 228 points higher. Baker should consider starting Adam Lind in left field to get an extra lefty bat in there.
The matchup that matters most: Roark versus Cubs lefty power bats Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber. Roark has your typical five-pitch arsenal with a four-seamer, two-seamer, plus a slider, curve and changeup. He does, however, have a significant platoon split:
vs. LHP: .284/.362/.474
vs. RHP: .223/.277/.341
With that in mind, look for Cubs manager Joe Maddon to stack his lineup again with lefties, which probably means Jon Jay and Ben Zobrist at second base (or maybe he gives Ian Happ a start). Note the Cubs are carrying 14 position players, so that also gives Maddon more flexibility off the bench in case Baker brings in one of his lefty relievers.
The prediction: Arrieta is a bit of an unknown with his health, but this could be a game in which both managers have to go to the pens early. Maddon does have John Lackey in reserve. Look for a little more offense, but the Cubs use their home-field advantage to clinch the series with a 5-4 win. Yes, another one-run loss for the Nationals.