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How Guardians can Upset Yankees in ALDS

Image: Yahoo Sports

The Cleveland Guardians are the youngest team in baseball, have little to no playoff experience, and one of the lowest payrolls in the league at $68.1 million. The New York Yankees are one of Major League Baseball’s most storied franchises with 27 championships, $264.9 million payroll, and rich history filled with the best players to ever play the game. On first glance this series looks like David V Goliath, but I believe these teams match up well.

The Yankees have not played in almost two weeks after earning the American League’s No. 2 seed, which allowed them to have a bye during Wild Card weekend. The Guardians are coming off an emotional two-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays. This could mean that the Yankees are rusty, and the Guardians are riding momentum.

Yankee Stadium in the heart of the Bronx is no place for the weak or inexperienced. The Guardians have a lot of young guys who have never been in an environment like Yankee Stadium. Steven Kwan got a nice taste of the big apple during that wild series in April when the bleacher creatures taunted him after he ran into the wall attempting to catch a ball. Myles Straw quickly came to his defense by climbing the outfield wall. After the game, Straw said the Yankees had “the worst fanbase on the planet”. The boos Straw will hear on Tuesday night will be loud and hopefully it gives him some extra motivation.

The Guardians team that heads into the ALDS looks a lot different than it looked back in April when it began a seven-game losing streak. Oscar Gonzalez has replaced Oscar Mercado in right field, Kwan is the leadoff hitter, and Andres Gimenez is one of the best hitters in Major League Baseball. The Guardians need everybody to do their job in this series. They have to play the way they have played all season. They have to use what got them to this point by manufacturing runs. They can not get into a home run derby against the Yankees. If they do, they will lose.

The Guardians are known for putting pressure on the opposing defense, and the Yankees are a team that may be up to that test. The Yankees lead MLB in defensive runs saved on the season (DRS) with 129 while the Guardians are third with 77. Another good defensive metric used to quantify how many runs a team saved in the field is Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). Anything above 15 is considered gold glove caliber, and the Guardians are second in MLB in team UZR at 34.8 while the Yankees are fourth at 30.1. Both teams have elite defense. The Guardians cannot rely on the Yankees to make mistakes to score runs.

Another key detail I think works in the Guardians favor is the short porch in right. Yankee stadium is notoriously known as a “Mickey Mouse Stadium” due to the odd dimensions of the park. Down the right field line is 314 feet, the right field line is 318 feet, dead center is 408 feet, left center is 399 feet and right center is 385 feet. This benefits the Guardians in two ways:

  1. The left handed lineup the Guardians have. Steven Kwan, Jose Ramirez, Josh Naylor, Andres Gimenez and even Will Benson off the bench all have the potential to be able to get some balls over that short porch in right.

  2. Amed Rosario also possess the ability to go the other way to cause some damage in that right field corner.

The Guardians lineup can breathe a sigh of relief that besides Nestor Cortes, the Yankees starting rotation is all right handed. The Yankees also only have two lefties available in the bullpen after Aroldis Chapman was left off the ALDS roster for disciplinary reasons. The Guardians lineup should be able to feast off the Yankees right handed heavy pitching staff.

On the pitching side, the Guardians will have Cal Quantrill start Game 1 against Gerrit Cole. Quantrill has been susceptible to some hard hit fly ball outs on the season (36.1% of his batted ball outs have come via fly outs, but only 11% of balls hit to the outfield have gone for home runs). If Quantrill can work the deep part of Yankee Stadium (Left-center and dead center), that will allow Straw to use his speed and track most of the balls down. Quantrill also forces a healthy amount of outs on the ground at 42.1%.

Shane Bieber, who will be starting in Game 2 against the lefty Nestor Cortes, is the perfect pitcher for Yankee Stadium, getting 64.7% of his outs on the ground this season. Triston McKenzie, who finished T-15th in home runs allowed on the season with 25, will not have to worry about Yankee Stadium, as he will go in Game 3 at Progressive Field.

The Guardians are coming off a series against Tampa Bay where they only allowed one run on nine hits in 24 innings, which is good for a 0.38 Earned Run Average (ERA). This is after finishing the year with the best bullpen in baseball in the second half of the season, along with the Top 3 in their rotation all having ERA’s under 2.50 in their last 12 starts. The Yankees also finished Top 5 in all of baseball in team ERA and team FIP (Fielding independent pitching), which measures a pitcher’s performance taking away the performance of the defense. These defensive and pitching statistics tell me this could be a low scoring series. If the Guardians can limit the damage of the Yankees potent offense, this is a series the Guardians can absolutely win.

Offensively, these two teams could not be any different. The Yankees rely on power while the Guardians rely on plate discipline and putting the ball in play. The Yankees lead all of baseball in home runs while the Guardians are 29th. Almost more than half (50.8%) of the Yankees runs have come via the home run this season compared with only 31.8% of the Guardians runs coming off the long ball. The Guardians lead the lead in strikeout rate at only 18.2% while the Yankees strike out 22.5% of the time. The Guardians need to keep the Yankees in the ballpark and make them string hits together to score, which they struggle to do. Aaron Judge, Anthony Rizzo and Giancarlo Stanton will get some home runs, so it will be imperative for Cleveland’s pitching to limit the walks in order to limit the damage caused by any potential home runs.

I think it is imperative for Cleveland's bats to jump on Gerrit Cole early in Game 1. The Guards are riding a ton of momentum after an intense showdown with Tampa Bay. They need to ride into New York with their confidence high and frustrate the Yankees.

The hope is for Kwan and Rosario to get on base early for the power hitters in the middle to do damage. Gimenez also needs to get going, as he was horrendous in the Wild Card round (1-8 with six strikeouts). Jose Ramirez and Josh Naylor need to do star things and be the veteran presence to lead these young "kids" into such a hostile environment.

I believe the Guardians can, and will steal Game 1 while the Yankees are sleep walking. If the Guardians can guard the yard like they have so far, this series is there's for the taking. The Yankees are going to be in for a huge surprise when they see this team is much better than the Guardians team they faced both times earlier in the season.

The Guardians need to finish the job in Cleveland. I do not like their chances if we have to get back on that plane to New York for Game 5. I believe this season is too magical to end just yet.

Final prediction: Guardians in four.

Enjoy the ride, folks! Hopefully, we have a postseason to remember as the great Tom Hamilton would say!

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