With game three of the ALDS set to begin this afternoon, the Indians may be staring their last game of 2018 in the face.
After a lifeless regular season with the division in hand from Opening Day, no one wants the Indians’ postseason to end like this, in the first round for the second consecutive season.
They’ve dropped the first two games of the series mostly thanks to an offense that mustered just six hits and struck out 24 times. Jose Ramirez did manage a weak ground out to net himself a run batted in the opening game, but the only real offensive spark has been Francisco Lindor’s home run to open the scoring in game two.
Other than that... crickets.
With left-hander Dallas Keuchel on the mound, manager Terry Francona has made some adjustments to his usual anti-lefty lineup, including yanking Yonder Alonso in favor of Yandy Diaz and putting Brandon Guyer in left field.
Guyer has historically been a lefty killer in his career, with a .274/.375/.448 slash (130 wRC+) against southpaws. He did the same thing early on in 2018 (including a 6-for-16 stint in July), but tapered off later into the year, going 4-for-30 against lefties with 10 strikeouts and no home runs in August and September. Still, even just the idea that he could suddenly go off and be Mike Trout against lefties for a single game is worth the “risk” of putting him over Melky Cabrera.
Yandy Diaz will get his first postseason action after slashing .312/.375/.422 for the Indians this season, good for a wRC+ of 115 and a 9.2 percent walk rate. Yandy has actually hit better against right-handed pitchers (131 wRC+) than lefties (91 wRC+) this season in small sample sizes, but he’s blistered the ball all over the field no matter who is pitching.
It’s just a matter of getting anything past the ground four feet in front of him.
According to Baseball Savant, Diaz has hit the ball hard 44.4 percent of the time with an average exit velocity of 92.1 (25th in the league), but he’s barreled the ball (i.e. hit it at an optimal launch angle with optimal velocity) just 3.3 percent of the time. It’s sort of an odd matchup to pit him against Dallas Keuchel, who has made a name for himself with sky high ground ball rates, but at least he’s only induced ground balls 53.7 percent of the time season, so maybe Yandy can find a way to elevate on off of him.
As for the pitching staff heading into this pivotal game — and beyond if such a thing exists — Francona sounds confident in his starting pitchers, including Bauer who has already pitched in every game this series. The plan appears to be to have Bauer start tomorrow if he doesn’t pitch this afternoon. If Bauer does pitch, Tito will turn the ball over to rookie Shane Bieber, and that doesn’t seem to concern him one bit.
Francona's message to Shane Bieber ahead of Game 3: "He's the starter for tomorrow." Said there will be no hesitation from anyone involved if Cleveland does indeed had the ball to the rookie for a must-win game in October.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) October 8, 2018
Remember when reports came out that the Indians refused to budge on including Bieber in a trade for Bryce Harper? This is why. If he can perform and hold down a crucial game in a do-or-die playoff series and be around for another five-plus years, he’s tremendously important to the current and future of this team.
If you can pry your eyes away from a new The Bold and the Beautiful on CBS or reruns of The Cleveland Show on Comedy Central in this primetime slot, you can catch the previous two American League representatives in the World Series facing off today on TBS at 1:30 p.m.