The New York Yankees need to get one win in Cleveland to maintain a puncher’s chance in the American League Division Series. They whiffed on the first opportunity — and best opportunity — Thursday night. As the empty at-bats against Trevor Bauer compounded, sensible hope was extinguished.
It’s against the unwritten baseball rules to cue the fat lady prematurely. But let’s be blunt here in regards to the Yankees’ quest for a 28th World Series. They are more likely to get swept than emerge triumphant with another trophy for the crowded case.
Indians manager Terry Francona cracked the door open just a bit by going with his gut and starting Bauer in Game 1 over Corey Kluber. Bauer, he of the 4.36 career ERA, enjoyed his best season as a pro this year. He is not, however, in the discussion for the most unhittable hurler in the game like his teammate Kluber.
Francona’s gamble gave the Yankees a better chance to win Game 1 and seize momentum. Joe Girardi’s club did not capitalize. They did not push that ajar door open even more. Instead, they went hitless for 5 1/3 innings and scoreless for nine.
Bauer exited after 6 2/3 innings of work in which he struck out eight and allowed only three baserunners. Again, this was the guy who was supposed to be relatively vulnerable. The Yankees finished with three hits and 14 strikeouts. Aaron Judge donned the golden sombrero while Didi Gregorius, Greg Bird, Todd Frazier, and Aaron Hicks each fanned twice.
One of the concerns about the Yankees’ offense is that it’s too reliant on the long ball. This all-or-nothing existence can be problematic in the postseason. Thursday night it was a lot of nothing.
Now the lineup must turn it around against Kluber, the favorite for AL Cy Young. All he’s done this year is go 18-4 with league-leading 2.25 ERA and 0.869 WHIP. He also led the AL in shutouts, complete games, ERA+, HR/9, and BB/9. Kluber was 4-1 with a 1.83 ERA and 1.049 WHIP during the playoffs last year and there won’t be any nerves on his end.
CC Sabathia gets the ball for New York in Game 2. The veteran lefty has been reliable and a facsimile of his old self but is simply not the shutdown guy he once was. If he doesn’t have one more magic outing in that arm, it will be an early departure for the Yankees and all their young talent.
It’s getting late early for the Bronx Bombers. Getting to Bauer was their best hope and they left hopeless. Falling behind 2-0 would seal the fate. The pending Carlos Carrasco-Masahiro Tanaka matchup in Game 3 skews Cleveland’s way. And Kluber would loom in any Game 5.
The Yankees are in deep trouble and in great peril. A three-game sweep became the most likely outcome as Bauer posted zero after zero. Overreaction? Maybe a slight one. But Yankees fans should have take a healthy dose of reality into tonight’s game.
It may already be too late.