The weekend four-game series between the New York Yankees (59-51) and Cleveland Indians (59-50) could wind up being a preview of a match up in October. The series split demonstrated both teams were capable contenders who could meet back up in either the ALDS or ALCS. Despite the Tribe pitching limiting the Yankee bats in the first three games, the team from the Bronx was able to win the third game with some outstanding defense late in the game. Both teams wound up winning and losing a game each through their defensive efforts. In fact, both teams also made roster decisions with an obvious emphasis on fielding on Sunday. These teams with veteran managers understand that every team with World Series aspirations need to tighten up the gloves as the final push towards the postseason comes near.
Thursday: New York Yankees 1, Cleveland Indians 5
The details of the starting pitcher Corey Kluber blowing out the Yankee candle with a complete-game, one-run effort were detailed here. An important note during the game was that trade deadline acquisition Sonny Gray was almost matching Kluber pitch-for-pitch except that the Yankee defense let him down. Three errors in the first inning led to two runs, which was all Kluber needed.
Friday: New York Yankees 2, Cleveland Indians 7
Poor Austin Jackson. He did not even have a full week to revel in his outstanding catch over the bullpen wall in Boston before Giovanny Urshela submitted his bid for the Indians defensive play of the year (if not all of MLB). Both were great plays. Both directly took away runs. But, in a normal year, Jackson would have no true competition for the best fielding play. Instead, Urshela at least makes it an argument when he ranged to his right to snag a tough, slow hopper before firing a bullet into the only throwing lane possible for Roberto Perez to receive it and make the clean tag on Ronald Torreyes at home plate. Kudos also to Perez for being in the correct positioning as fans who saw Yan Gomes twice get caught too far back on home in recent weeks can attest.
Urshela was not even done in this game. He made a diving stop, this time to his left, as Francisco Lindor dove in the outfield grass behind him expecting the ball to dribble through. He was somehow able to get enough on his throw to beat out Matt Holliday. These types of efforts are what help starter Trevor Bauer (7 IP, 1 ER, 7 H, 2 BB, 7 SO) bring his ERA (5.00) down closer to what his FIP (3.89) says it should be.1
Saturday: New York Yankees 2, Cleveland Indians 1
Both teams looked the part of contenders on Saturday. Danny Salazar (7.0 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 12 SO) looked like the Salazar of old as he dominated the Yankee hitters and made several of them look foolish as the bottom fell out of his pitches, yet the bats remained on an upper plane. When he wasn’t striking out batters, the defense had his back such as when Lindor and Jose Ramirez made a difficult double play look easy.
The Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery was just as impressive though he only went five innings as the team attempted to limit his wear in anticipation of an extended season. And, the team wound up helping the bullpen out a great deal through the innings. First, in the sixth inning, David Robertson allowed what appeared to be back-to-back hits to start except Jacoby Ellsbury decided he wouldn’t let that happen.
In the ninth inning, catcher Austin Romine showed his value to the club by blocking and stopping several pitches from closer Aroldis Chapman that would have hit the backstop had regular starter Gary Sanchez been in the game. Michael Brantley still led off with a single, but it would be the end of the rally for the Indians. Brett Gardner used every single inch of his vertical leap to just nip a Jose Ramirez line drive at the wall in left field before Ronald Torreyes would range out into right field to snare a blooper off the bat of Edwin Encarnacion. Carlos Santana did have one batted ball that just missed putting a scare into the Yankees, which no defender could have touched. But, the great defensive plays proved to be enough to close out the game when it fell foul.
Sunday: New York Yankees 8, Cleveland Indians 1
Both teams made moves with defense at the forefront. The Yankees benched All-Star catcher Gary Sanchez despite being a day game after a night game giving the backup two starts in a row. Those stops on crazy Chapman pitches must have been in mind. Sanchez had let lesser wildness scoot by him in the first two games of the series.
The Indians then activated second baseman Jason Kipnis, but Urshela remained with the team. Despite not being able to play everyday with Kipnis back, the defensive prowess was rewarded with an extended stay. Kipnis was 2-for-16 in his rehabilitation starts and 0-for-4 with three strikeouts2 on Sunday after struggling all year with a slash of .229/.288/.395. The Indians are far better defensively without Kipnis in the lineup, so he better get his bat going soon if he doesn’t want to hear the whispers for Gio to turn into shouts.
In the field though, the game turned on Abraham Almonte being Abraham Almonte. He takes poor routes and misses catches with a high catch expectancy. The eyes and the numbers agree he has been brutal in the field. Sunday he appeared more worried about bumping into the wall than securing the catch though he wouldn’t have had to worry about either had he taken a better route to the spot. His bat has been nice (though 0-for-3 in this game), but the Tribe cannot afford these types of mental miscues in October.
The “triple” for Jacoby Ellsbury had a 11% hit probability according to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian as it destroyed what should have been a fine pitching line for starter Carlos Carrasco with three runs scoring (and a fourth on the next batter).