The journey through the National League has drawn to a close, and now the Cleveland Indians get back to playing their league-mates. From Houston they come to the Big Apple to face the New York Yankees, and boy do they have their work cut out for them.
The Yankees lead the powerful AL East by 2 ½ games and just recently came off an 10-game winning streak. They can do everything you want a team to do: defend, hit for power, get on base, and pitch. They’re the Yankees, what more do you want? It’s always funny to look at the payroll disparity between the Yanks and their opponent, and in this case that number is $119,531,989—or, a bit more than the payroll of the Miami Marlins. The Indians now trail the White Sox by half a game, and need to get off the slump they’ve been in. Coming into New York they’re facing a buzz saw, so we’ll see what they’re made of.
Perhaps the most awesome statistic the Yankees have produced this year (and there is a ton of them) is they score 52 percent of their runs via the home run, once again making “Bronx Bombers” as apt a nickname as there is anywhere. Curtis Granderson has 21, Robinson Cano has 16 and both Mark Texieira and Alex Rodriguez have hit 12. They’ve hit 112 in all to lead the league, compared to the Indians’ 60. They’re also tied for third in the AL in walks and they just do a better job than Cleveland at getting the guys home. This is a chance for the Indians to learn what kind of team they really are, whether they can compete with the big dogs.
Even with all the legendary star power and Hall of Fame material, the mantle of offensive leader for the Yanks has passed to Robinson Cano. With apologies to a scrappy former MVP in Boston, Cano is the best second baseman in the league, maybe in baseball. That show he put on at last season’s home run derby showed us his power, and the smoothness with which he plays defense has improved from just flash to being able to make those routine plays, once an issue for him. He has one of the prettiest swings in baseball, and uses it to hit for a fine average. Tim McCarver has said it time and again, Cano is going to win a batting title some time in his future—even if Tim is behind the times, he has an excellent point. Cano hits it hard to all fields with regularity, and is a perennial MVP candidate at this point in his career. He’s a joy to watch, even in those pinstripes.
It’s not just Cano that makes this offense click. Even if Alex Rodriguez isn’t the all-everything superman he once was, he is still fourth in homers all-time, he has a great glove for his age, and can still get it done. He can give the Yankees 28 homers and a .375 OBP without a doubt, something pretty much any team would die for. On the Yankees of course, this is underachieving, but that’s the world you play in when you put on that nameless uniform.
That lineup, from Derek Jeter’s resurgent season (109 OPS+ after two seasons below 100) to Granderson’s power and speed combo to the dangers of Cano, Rodriguez and Texieira, even down to Nick Swisher (117 OPS+ and 11 homers) batting seventh or eighth, there’s no sleeping on this team. Even coming off the bench, a still-valuable Eric Chavez can give some pop and Eduardo Nunez has a major league bat, though that glove of his could use some stitching.-Perhaps the only hole is Russell Martin at catcher, batting below the Mendoza line with eight homers, and he’s having trouble catching thieves, only 10 of 38 gunned down this year. Should the Indians get some baserunners (and we have to assume they will) this could be something the men who pull the levers look to.
Then there’s the bullpen. There was a time when the Yankees could play eight inning games, but the season-ending injury to Mariano Rivera was not just a robbery from baseball fans everywhere by cruel fate—it threw everything into flux for how Joe Girardi manages games. Luckily, they signed Rafael Soriano to a bloated deal before last season and he’s stepped in and taken over as the closer they need him to be. He’s pitched 26 ⅓ innings this season and allowed five earned runs, compared to 39 ⅓ frames and 18 earned runs last year. Perhaps he is just more comfortable in the closers’ role—it’s one of those things in baseball that makes no sense statistically, but seems to work out.
The continued dominance of David Robertson (17 ⅓ innings, 29 strikeouts) makes everything easier. Robertson and Rivera represent a great job of bullpen building by GM Brian Cashman has resulted in a group of guys who hold a 2.70 ERA. Lefty specialist Boone Logan is sure to get some time against the Indians, he’s struck out 35 in 26 ⅓ innings with 10 walks and eight earned runs. So too Clay Rapada, the Yanks other lefty, 21 ⅓ innings and seven earned runs. He does walk a lot of guys (11 already) so maybe there’s something there.
The Indians’ Bullpen Mafia isn’t a slouch by any means either. Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez make a formidable one-two punch, and despite his struggles recently Nick Hagadone is proving that Victor Martinez trade was a robbery—95 mph with movement and a decent slider when he feels like throwing it, once he gets his location fixed he is going to be yet another weapon for Manny Acta. Though the starters of both clubs are fine pitchers, this could well be decided by whose bullpen breaks first.
As for the Indians’ offense, it pretty much didn’t show in Houston. The Tribe was outscored 15-4 by one of the worst offenses in the game. Shin-Soo Choo is still killing it up top, with a 1.383 OPS the last week, and Asdrubal Cabrera’s last two weeks have been great (four homers and a 1.054 OPS last 48 plate appearances). But two men can’t carry an offense, unless they’re Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. Carlos Santana can’t find any power, Jason Kipnis needs to figure out how to solve what the other team is doing because he’s mired in a slump again (.593 OPS with one extra base hit the last 41 plate appearances). Plain and simple, they need to be better. Perhaps the friendly offensive confines of Yankee Stadium will help with that, or maybe not facing so many left-handed starters will help with that.
Speaking of which…