The Indians won 102 games this season, including 22 in a row during one of the most epic runs in sports history. Their reward for winning the most games in the American League? A showdown with the red-hot Yankees in the AL Division Series presented by Doosan.Make no mistake: Despite
The Indians won 102 games this season, including 22 in a row during one of the most epic runs in sports history. Their reward for winning the most games in the American League? A showdown with the red-hot Yankees in the AL Division Series presented by Doosan.
Make no mistake: Despite the Yankees' status as an AL Wild Card entry into the postseason, New York is as good as any team out there -- including the Tribe.
The Yankees moved past the Twins in one of the strangest postseason games we've seen, getting 8 2/3 innings of one-run ball from their bullpen after Luis Severino faltered in the opening frame. For all the talk about the Indians' league-best bullpen, the Yankees proved they can go arm-for-arm with Cleveland as the innings tick by each night.
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"To get through the whole postseason, you have to do it a bunch of different ways," Chase Headley said after Tuesday's 8-4 win. "This is a great way to do it the first time, but you're not going to be successful using your bullpen for 8 2/3 innings for the entire postseason. Fortunately, we have the group that can do that, but our starters will do their job."
Those starters -- Carsten Sabathia, Sonny Gray, Masahiro Tanaka and Severino, who will surely get a chance to redeem himself following his AL Wild Card Game outing -- helped the Yankees post the second-best ERA in the AL this season behind only -- you guessed it -- the Indians.
The Yankees had nothing but praise for the defending AL champs after securing their spot in the ALDS, but as dominant as the Indians have been over the past couple months, Joe Girardi's club won't be lacking in confidence as it prepares to open the best-of-five series in Cleveland on Thursday night.
"They do everything right; their starters do a really good job, their bullpen does a really good job, their defense plays really well, they swing the bats, hit the ball out of the ballpark, they run the bases," Girardi said. "They're not going to beat themselves. But we feel really good about our team. We know how good they are, so we have to go play our best."
The Indians boast the best rotation ERA in the AL (3.52) to go with their MLB-leading 2.89 bullpen ERA, presenting quite a challenge for the Yankees.
Video: AL WC: Player Page for David Robertson on facing the Indians bullpen
But the Tribe staff will have its hands full with a New York offense that scored 858 runs, second only to the Astros in the Majors this season. The Yankees' plus-198 run differential edged Houston (plus-196) for the second-best mark in the game, bettering every other division winner besides the one they'll play this week (Cleveland's run differential was plus-254).
Since the two-Wild Card format was introduced in 2012, the winners of the Wild Card Game have gone on to win their Division Series five out of 10 times. Of those 10 teams that advanced beyond the initial win-or-go-home game, none had a run differential higher than 117 or scored 765 runs, with both of those distinctions belonging to the 2012 Cardinals.
Only one of the other nine Wild Card winners even had run differentials of 100 or more (the 2015 Astros were plus-111). The '16 Blue Jays were the only team that came within 100 runs of these Yankees for the season -- and they scored 99 fewer runs that year.
In other words, this isn't your older brother's Wild Card team.
The Yankees' entire staff posted a better ERA than three of the six division winners, while the bullpen bettered five of them, setting Major League records for strikeouts per nine innings and overall strikeout rates along the way.
The offense led the Majors with 241 home runs -- 52 of them coming from Aaron Judge in the most prolific rookie season we've witnessed. The Yankees' 51-30 record at home was tops in the AL, bringing a feeling back to the Bronx that Girardi compared Tuesday to a college football atmosphere.
Video: AL WC: Judge discusses home run, Wild Card Game win
And in case you've forgotten, they accomplished all of this in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
The bottom line is that as talented as the Indians are, the Yankees aren't going to be intimidated when they take the field in Cleveland on Thursday night.
"We know they're really good," Headley said. "They were a couple outs away from winning the World Series last year, and they're more or less just as good -- if not better -- this year. We're confident in us. We have a good feel. We have a good bunch of guys, and we feel we can play against anybody."
Mark Feinsand, executive reporter for MLB.com, has covered the Yankees and MLB since 2001 for the New York Daily News and MLB.com.