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Indians’ regular season stars didn’t show up in the postseason

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The Indians, the defending American League champions, won 102 games in the regular season but will not advance any further in the playoffs. They suffered a 5-2 loss to the Yankees on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the ALDS.

There’s plenty for the Indians to be proud about, but their early exit from the playoffs can’t be categorized as anything but a disappointment. Their failure has a lot to do with their regular season stars not showing up when it mattered most.

Ace Corey Kluber, who is in line for the AL Cy Young Award, couldn’t finish the third inning in his Game 2 start against the Yankees. He yielded six runs on seven hits and a walk with four strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings. In Wednesday’s start, he went just 3 2/3 innings, surrendering three runs on three hits and two walks with six strikeouts. For those keeping score at home, that’s a 12.80 ERA.

Infielder Jose Ramirez, who will get some AL MVP votes, went 2-for-20 with two singles and two walks in the ALDS. He had a .957 OPS and mashed 91 extra-base hits during the regular season.

Shortstop Francisco Lindor, arguably the face of the franchise, was 2-for-18. Of course, one of his hits was that huge grand slam that spurred the Indians’ Game 2 comeback. But his team needed him to do something in the other four games.

The three stars weren’t alone. Outfielder Michael Brantley was 1-for-11. Austin Jackson went 3-for-14. Edwin Encarnacion, though battling an ankle injury suffered during Game 2, was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in Game 5. Jason Kipnis went 0-for-4 in Game 5 and 4-for-22 in total in the series.

Obviously, the Yankees’ pitching deserves a ton of credit for holding that kind of talent at bay. But anyone on the Indians will tell you that they didn’t get the job done, and that’s why their season ended earlier than they anticipated.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.