CLEVELAND -- The plot has thickened in the American League Division Series presented by Doosan, and we go into Game 5 between the Yankees and Indians at Progressive Field eager to know the outcome.One of these teams is going to move on to face the Astros in the American League
CLEVELAND -- The plot has thickened in the American League Division Series presented by Doosan, and we go into Game 5 between the Yankees and Indians at Progressive Field eager to know the outcome.
One of these teams is going to move on to face the Astros in the American League Championship Series presented by Camping World. Will the Yankees become just the eighth team in 57 tries to storm back from a 2-0 hole and win the best-of-five Division Series, extending the misery of a Tribe team that coughed up the last three games of last year's World Series? Or will the Indians, with the help of the presumed favorite for the AL Cy Young Award, regroup from their Bronx bummer and get back to the ALCS stage?
:: ALDS schedule and coverage ::
With Corey Kluber set to oppose Carsten Sabathia in this series' final chapter, here are some key plot points.
1. Is the Klubot operational?
Reporters asked Kluber if he has identified the issue with his Game 2 start.
"Mmm hmm," he said.
They asked him if he's healthy.
"Mmm hmm," he said.
They asked again if his only issue was command.
"Mmm hmm," he said.
• Kluber throwing hitters for loop with curveball
They don't call this guy the Klubot for nothing, folks. And that's why it was so strange to see him surrender six runs on seven hits with two homers over just 2 2/3 innings in Game 2. But one thing we've learned about Kluber in his career is that he's extraordinary at putting these kinds of clunkers on the back burner. He has only had seven starts since 2014 in which he has allowed at least six earned runs, and, in the outings that immediately followed, he has posted a combined 1.68 ERA (10 earned runs over 53 2/3 innings).
Said Kluber: "I think it's just identifying when things go wrong and trying to address what you need to do to correct them and then going about using those four days -- or whatever it is -- to address them and try to get things back on track."
2. Can Sabathia stomp on Cleveland's heart?
Indians fans watched Sabathia grow from a 20-year-old rookie with inspiring raw stuff in 2001 to a bona fide AL Cy Young winner in '07. But Sabathia is the first to admit that, in his biggest October opportunity with the club in the fall of '07, he put too much pressure on himself. CC simply didn't have his "A" game in the Tribe's seven-game loss in the ALCS. The following year -- his free-agent walk year -- his early-season struggles were a major factor in the slow start that eventually led the Indians to trade him to the Brewers in July.
So as great as he was in his prime, Sabathia has a bit of a tortured legacy here. He was terrific in Game 2 of this ALDS, and, if he can come through with another pristine performance in a Yankee clincher, it would be quite the full-circle story.
"I've pitched here a lot," Sabathia said. "Played here parts of almost eight years. So I'm very familiar with the city, a lot of the fans. A lot of who I am as an adult, as a male, as an adult man, Cleveland kind of shaped that. Three of my kids were born here. I have a lot of history in the city. So it will be a lot of fun to be able to take the [ball] in Game 5 and hopefully get a win."
3. Will Aaron Judge be the executioner?
Judge had a historic rookie season and a huge homer in the AL Wild Card Game win over the Twins. But he had done absolutely nothing at the plate in this series until his two-run double off a Trevor Bauer fastball in Game 4. Generally, the Indians have succeeded against him with a breaking ball-heavy approach, and it has led to a 1-for-15 showing with 12 strikeouts and four walks.
So far, Judge's biggest moment in this series came with his glove (robbing Francisco Lindor of a home run in Game 3) and not his bat. Can that possibly remain the case?
4. Who will be the skipper scapegoat?
Every fall, it's the same. The leaves change colors, the air gets crisper and the pitchforks come out for postseason managers. That's happening all over the Major League landscape this October, but in this series, they could be particularly pointed. After all, while the Yankees have stormed back from a 2-0 deficit after Joe Girardi's famous flub, there would, in the event of a Game 5 loss, still be reason to say the non-challenge of the Lonnie Chisenhall hit-by-pitch in the sixth inning of Game 2 cost the Yanks this series.
Girardi got emotional in the wake of Game 4 when talking about how the mood had changed since the aftermath of Game 2.
"It's not just caring about myself," Girardi said. "It's caring about everyone else that is involved, and that is wrapped up in the Yankee baseball. You know, whether it's the fans, the front office, the owner, the players, the trainers, the support staff, the coaches, I really care. And, you know, we've gotten it back to 2-2, and we got a shot now."
Indians manager Terry Francona, meanwhile, has obviously earned the benefit of the doubt in his managerial career. But the curious decisions with regard to the pitching alignment (despite a supposed overload of starting options, the Indians used Bauer on short rest in Game 4) are sure to be major talking points in Northeast Ohio if the Indians don't get this done.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.