The time has come for the AL East champion New York Yankees to square off against the AL Central champion Cleveland Guardians. This is a matchup we’ve become accustomed to over the past few years, with the Yankees taking the first two of a three-game series back in the 2020 ALDS. Cleveland is running the hot hand after an exhilarating sweep over the Tampa Bay Rays, which saw an Oscar Gonzalez walk-off homer in the 15th inning of Game 2.
New York dominated the season series, winning five of six and outscoring the Guardians 38-14 in those contests. The Yankees have power, but Cleveland has the arms to shut down almost any lineup in the entire sport. There’s also a little bad blood here.
Superstar Aaron Judge turned the Bronx Bombers into a one-man wrecking crew during the month of September, and Cleveland has become one of America’s sweethearts over the past week. Can the underdog Guardians somehow upset the 99-win Yankees? Let’s take a look into this series.
The Yankees will send out Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes Jr. and Luis Severino to start the series. Cleveland will run with Cal Quantrill, Shane Bieber, and Triston McKenzie. Both trios are incredibly solid, but it’s difficult to pick the Yankees here. The three Guardians’ starters have dominated in 2022, and the pair of Bieber and McKenzie repeated their success in the Wild Card round.
The former Cy Young winner, Bieber, shut down the Rays offense in Game 1 of the previous series. He went 7.2 innings, allowing just one run over three hits with eight punchouts. It was truly a vintage performance from the Cleveland ace. His running mate, McKenzie, wasn’t too bad either. The right-hander went six innings without allowing a single run and allowing just four baserunners.
Despite what his advanced numbers say, when Cal Quantrill pitches, the Guardians win baseball games. Cal’s ERA of 3.38 is lower than Yankees’ ace Gerrit Cole is. He’s a winner, just ask Peter Appel. Cleveland’s rotation will be tasked with handling a potent Yankees offense, but they are more than capable of shutting them down.
The Yankees rotation is no slouch either. The $324 million man, Gerrit Cole, will make his first postseason start tonight at Yankee Stadium. Cole had quite the interesting season, with his 3.50 ERA being the highest in recent times, but he was able to break Ron Guidry’s single season strikeout record, finishing with 257 K’s.
Nestor Cortes Jr. has surely been the Yankees true ace in 2022. Leading all New York starters in fWAR (3.6), he pitched to the tune of a 2.44 ERA in his 158 innings. He’s been magnificent for this Yankees team. Luis Severino is fresh off the IL but looked incredible in his final regular season start. He tossed seven innings of no-hit ball and was taken out of the game shortly after. Severino has been the playoff ace in the past, but now slots in as the three in this rotation. The Yankees are well equipped to face an offense that ranked just 13th in wRC+ over the final month (101).
Both bullpens in this series are among the top in the entire sport. As a group, the Guardians held a 3.05 ERA, good for fifth-best in MLB. The Yankees we’re just a tick down at a 2.97 ERA, the third-lowest in the league. New York has endured a multitude of ‘pen injuries over the past few weeks, but it seems like Cleveland is ready to go.
The Guardians bullpen is led by Emmanuel Clase, who has a serious case to be the best closer in the entire game. Clase led the group with a staggering 1.36 ERA, dominant throughout the entire season. Other arms like James Karinchak, Nick Sandlin, Sam Hentges, and Trevor Stephan all sport under 2 ERA’s. This is a dominant group that truly showed what they’re capable of in the last round of the playoffs, tossing ten scoreless innings as a bullpen against Tampa Bay.
The Yankees will be without Aroldis Chapman, Scott Effross, Michael King, and Zach Britton, but this is still a decent set of arms. Clay Holmes looked like the best reliever on the planet before the All-Star break. Jonathan Loaisiga has returned to his elite 2021 form. Lou Trivino has been excellent since the trade from the Oakland A’s. Lucas Luetge has been a solid long-reliever in a multitude of situations. And Wandy Peralta has saved the Yankees numerous times this season.
Starters Domingo German and Jameson Taillon will be placed in the bullpen instead of getting a nod in the starting rotations.
While the Yankees ‘pen does include some impressive names, we have to give the edge to the Guardians in this department. A healthy Yankees bullpen would most likely dominate this matchup, but that isn’t the case this time around.
The identity of the New York Yankees has forever been to dominate the offensive side of the game. With this matchup in particular, that’s exactly how it is. The Yankees are now the second-best offense remaining in the playoffs with a 115 team wRC+ during the regular season. The Guardians offense was relatively disappointing, with just the 16th-best team wRC+ at 99. Advantage Yankees.
New York is led by slugger Aaron Judge, who just broke the American League home run record and had one of the most prolific offensive seasons we have ever seen. First baseman Anthony Rizzo smacked 32 home runs this season, tying his career-high.
Despite an insane amount of injuries, Giancarlo Stanton was still able to mash over 30 home runs this season. Second baseman Gleyber Torres saw a complete resurgence during the month of September, slashing .319/.388/.571 with 23 RBI’s. Rookie Oswaldo Cabrera posted a 135 wRC+ in September. And now this team gets back Matt Carpenter, who recorded the best 100 plate appearances of any player this season. This offense is loaded.
However, don’t count out Cleveland. Jose Ramirez is the premier hitter in this lineup as usual, lifting his team to a Game 1 win with a two-run homer. Andres Gimenez started the All-Star game at second base and has kept up his incredible production in a breakout year. Steven Kwan looks like a surefire Rookie of the Year candidate, posting 4.4 fWAR for the team. Josh Naylor and Oscar Gonzalez both posted wRC+ totals over 115 for the season, and Amed Rosario was an above league average hitter.
At the end of the day, the offensive juggernaut that is the Yankees ultimately hosts a better lineup than Cleveland’s. But with such dominant pitching in this series, it’s anybody’s ballgame.
Who Wins This Series?
To recap; Cleveland has the better rotation and bullpen, while the Yankees have the better lineup. This series will be gritty and pitcher-dominant. For the Guardians to be able to win this series, they need to string together timely hits and churn out runs so their pitching can do the majority of the work. For the Yankees, they need to score runs, early and often off the Cleveland starters. Both teams have the ability to win this series. But unfortunately, there can only be one winner.
This one might go the distance, but my prediction is the Yankees win in four to five games. New York’s pitching staff has the ability to keep the Cleveland bats at bay, and if the offense produces like we’ve seen them do previously, they should come out on top. The Guardians will be scrappy and give Yankees’ pitchers a tough time, but I personally see the Yankees advancing to the ALCS after this series.