Guardians shift focus to Game 5 showdown in the Bronx

October 17th, 2022

CLEVELAND -- The Guardians weren’t supposed to be here.

While the team never doubted its capabilities this season, it’s reminding itself now that a trip to Game 5 of the American League Division Series would’ve sounded like a dream just months ago. The Guardians had a chance to lock up a spot in the ALCS on Sunday night. Instead, Cal Quantrill was handed his first loss at Progressive Field since getting traded to Cleveland in 2020 as the Guardians fell, 4-2, to the Yankees in Game 4.

Now each team’s fate is dependent on Monday’s Game 5 at Yankee Stadium.

“If you would have told me back in, I don't know, March we just signed up to play Game 5 in New York, to go to the ALCS, I would have jogged to New York,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “I'm excited.”

5 keys to Game 5 between Guardians, Yankees

The hope for the Guardians was to end this series at home on Sunday, but the club got off to a slow start, as the Yankees jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Aside from a bloop RBI single from José Ramírez (before a baserunning blunder that ended the chance of a rally) and a solo homer from Josh Naylor, the offense couldn’t fight its way back into the game.

“We'll put it behind us when we leave the locker room,” Guardians Game 4 starter Cal Quantrill said. “Get on a plane and be ready to rumble tomorrow. I have confidence in the guys. Wish I could have done my part today, but they're going to pick me up tomorrow.” 

The Guardians have played as if their backs have been against the wall since the beginning of the year. MLB’s youngest roster has been used to taking on the underdog role -- the only thing this club has experience with heading into this winner-take-all scenario.

Entering the season, the Guardians were given just a 7.3% chance to make the ALDS, according to FanGraphs. Those odds dipped to 3% when it came to winning the series. And according to Baseball Savant, Cleveland had under a 10% chance of clinching a spot in the ALCS for the majority of the season, with the odds dropping as low at 1.4%.

Francona has said countless times this season that just because his group hasn’t done something before, given their collective inexperience, it doesn’t mean they can’t find success. And with a future Hall of Fame skipper leading the way, this young roster is still in a decent position to clinch its first spot in the ALCS since 2016.

“We all realize that a lot of people didn't think we could be here. We are here,” Quantrill said. “We don't want it to end yet. We all recognize that there's no promises that you ever get to come back. Leave it all out on the field, that's what we did here today and we're going to do it again tomorrow.”

In the history of best-of-five postseason series, teams trailing 2-1 that won Game 4 to stay alive went on to also win Game 5 in 26 of 47 instances (55%). However, in all winner-take-all postseason games, true home teams (excluding neutral-site games) have gone only 61-63 (.492), including 0-1 this year (Mets vs. Padres in Game 3 of the NL Wild Card Series).

The Guardians haven’t had as strong of a reputation in these scenarios.

Cleveland has lost seven straight winner-take-all games, which is the second longest such streak in postseason history, trailing the A’s nine straight from 2000-19. The club won its first winner-take-all matchup in Game 5 of the 1997 ALDS against the Yankees, but it has dropped each one since.

If there’s anything working in the Guardians’ favor to break this streak, it’s the fact that their bullpen is well rested. Although the team will need to lean on Game 5 starter Aaron Civale, who hasn’t pitched in nearly two weeks, Cleveland has been able to give its best relievers -- Trevor Stephan, James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase -- two consecutive nights off in preparation for the win-or-go-home matchup on Monday.

“Honestly, Game 5s, Game 7s, elimination games, they’re probably the best thing in sports,” Stephan said. “Honestly, I’m looking forward to going to New York. I feel like we’ve been in this position before, backs against the wall. We’ll come out ready.”

The Guardians know the odds were stacked against them to even reach the postseason, but the club isn’t ready to end this unexpected run just yet.

“It feels like it was meant to be,” Guardians catcher Austin Hedges said. “I feel like it’s our time to go into New York and make a statement there.”