The Cleveland Indians are just hours away from their biggest game of the season to date. On the verge of either advancement or elimination, manager Terry Francona has plenty on his plate even before the first pitch. He already knows that his ace, Corey Kluber, will be on the mound, but what’s he going to do with the lineup? Not only who is going to start at certain positions, but where will they hit in the order, too? WFNY’s Michael Bode did a great job of optimizing the Indians lineup against left-handed starters prior to the series, but some things have changed since then.
Outside if their incredible comeback to erase an 8-3 deficit to win Game 2, Cleveland’s offense has been somewhat nonexistent. While part of it is just that most of the hitters just went cold at the wrong time, blame can also be put on not only the players who are starting, but also where they are in the batting order as well.
In Game 4’s 7-3 loss in New York, just one of the Yankees’ seven runs was earned. Yes, you read correctly—New York had six unearned runs. Trevor Bauer wasn’t on his A-game on short rest and the bats were somewhat quiet, but the loss can solely be blamed on the defense.
With four errors and a couple other blunders defensively, Tito can decide to switch up the lineup for Game 5 because of how Game 4 played out.
Whether it’s for offensive or defensive reasons, here’s my optimal lineup for Game 5 against Sabathia:
- Francisco Lindor SS
He’s struggled mightily so far in the ALDS, but you have to trust that he will turn it around and hopefully that’ll happen in Game 5 now that he’ll be back at Progressive Field. He’s been your leadoff hitter for much of the second half of the season, you can’t abandon that now.
- Austin Jackson CF
One of the best hitters in the lineup against lefties, Jackson should not only start, but he should bat second and move Jason Kipnis down in the order. Although Tito may have a tough time doing so, having Jackson bat second behind Frankie gives the Indians the best possible top of the lineup against a lefty like CC The Yankees may go to their bullpen early, but Jackson is that veteran presence not only in the field, but in the lineup as well. Also, Francona seems to love having a lineup that goes righty, lefty, righty, lefty, etc., having Jackson behind Lindor allows him to do that.
- Jose Ramirez 3B
It’s been quite awhile since JRam has played at third, but he’s versatile and good enough to be able to make the switch to the corner seem seamless. Much like Frankie, Ramirez is also in quite a slump so far this series. Hopefully they both snap out of it in Game 5.
- Edwin Encarnacion DH
His sprained ankle looked quite painful, but after watching him run on Tuesday and given what Tito said in his press conference, all signs seem to point to Encarnacion being available for Game 5. Having him back in the lineup will not only give the Indians a right-handed power bat against Sabathia, but will also allow everyone else to move down in the order, taking the pressure off the rest of the lineup.
- Carlos Santana 1B
This is usually Jay Bruce’s spot, but given his struggles so far this postseason and with Santana not doing too bad, including his home run in Game 4, having Santana bat behind Edwin and moving Bruce to sixth seems ideal here.
- Jay Bruce RF
In the six-spot, Bruce not only lengthens the lineup, but gives the Indians one hcckuva six hitter. While he has struggled against lefties so far this postseason, the veteran has little pressure this far back in the order compared to when he was the cleanup hitter with Edwin on the bench.
- Yandy Diaz LF
After Gio Urshela had a line drive go off his leg, reporters noted that he was still sore on Tuesday. If that’s the case, and given his struggles at the plate, the Indians should put him on the disabled list. It will force Gio to miss the ALCS if the Indians advance, but bringing Diaz to the roster may be worth it. The Indians need a spark, Diaz may be just that and provides Cleveland with a much better bat than Urshela.
- Jason Kipnis 2B
Kip will likely still be in the lineup, but the Indians can’t afford to bat him second in the order, especially against a lefty. This also allows the bottom third of the order to be righty-lefty-rjghty.
- Yan Gomes or Roberto Perez C
In the nine-hole, anything the catchers do is just a bonus. We know how good they are defensively, so if they can produce on offense too, that would bring so much to the Indians.
With all this being said, I’m sure there are plenty of questions with my selections, changes, and order. Let’s take a look at some of the questions you may potentially have:
The Yankees will likely go to their bullpen sooner rather than later, do you really want Jackson in the two-spot given scenario?
I mean, why not? Even if they take Sabathia out in the third or fourth inning, that still gives Jackson one or two at-bats against a lefty. Given that he is one of the best hitters on the team against left handers, you need him to get as many at-bats as possible against them. Also, it still allows the Indians to have that lefty-righty-lefty order that Tito loves with two switch hitters surrounding Jackson.
Why isn’t Jason Kipnis in center, like he was the first four games of the series?
He wasn’t credited with an error, but the second baseman-turned center fielder showed his inexperience in center field in Game 4. He allowed Todd Frazier, who isn’t known for his speed, to score on a sacrifice fly to right-center field, a play that Frazier would have most likely not even ran on if it was another center fielder. He needed to do his throwing footwork prior to catching the ball, not take four steps after he caught it. Cleveland can ill afford to have any defensive blunders in Game 5. Taking Kipnis out of center field will decrease the chances of that happening.
With that said, Tito seems to love Kipnis, so he will most likely remain the lineup for Game 5, especially given his experience both in the postseason and in big time moments. Although he hasn’t played second base since returning from the disabled list, that seems to be where Kip is most relaxed. If you’re going to start him in Game 5, it should be either at second or have him be the designated hitter.
With a lefty starting, should the Indians take a chance on start Greg Allen in center?
While that would allow the Indians to have their best defensive center fielder in the game to start things off, if New York goes to the bullpen early, it takes away that pinch runner threat and defensive replacement that Allen could potentially be later in the game. Assuming that Game 5 will be very close, having a speedster on the bench late in the game could pay dividends.
How does the disabled list work? Can the Indians just call Diaz up to the active roster like that?
If Urshela is truly hurt, they can place him on the disabled list, but it will force him to miss the ALCS as well. Then again, with his struggles at the plate all season, Gio was on the roster purely for his defense, and that cost the Indians in Game 4. If he’s not even performing on defense, Cleveland needs to start someone in place of Gio that can hit, too. If there’s any questions about if he is 100 percent, Tito should just take the chance and put him on the disabled list. The Indians are struggling offensively, although Urshela is much better than Diaz in the field, the opposite can be said at the plate. Diaz should be called up and start if Gio is still nursing a bruised leg, especially with the Yankees starting a lefty.