Associated Press

The Yankees and Indians cross paths once again

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One upon a time, there was a 12-year stretch when the New York Yankees won the American League pennant ten times. The team that interrupted that run in both 1948 and 1954: the Cleveland Indians.

Another time, much later, there was a seven year stretch when the Yankees went to the playoffs in seven straight years, winning the pennant five times. The team that won it the other two times: the Cleveland Indians, who won it in 1995 and 1997.

Which is not to say that the Yankees and Indians are rivals, as such. The Yankees have been good far too often and the Indians bad far too often for that to be the case. But they have certainly trod over the same ground at roughly the same time on a number of occasions in baseball history, making for some fun historical connections (and that’s without even mentioning the midge game back in 2007). As such, it’s appropriate for these old American League teams to meet up in the playoffs once again. Not as rivals — if they ever were actual rivals, today’s unbalanced schedules preclude that from being the case now — but as fellow contenders, once again bumping in to one another while on the same path.

This time it feels more like those 1990s encounters, as the Indians are the stronger team, fresh off of an AL pennant while the Yankees are on the rise. They’ve met a few times this year, of course, with the teams splitting four games in Cleveland and the Indians sweeping a three-game series in the Bronx in August. The Indians won 11 more games than the Yankees overall this year. But even if the Indians seem to have an edge, there are similarities between the clubs that seem poised to make this series a great one.

The most obvious similarity: the shutdown bullpens. Each of these clubs boast dominant relievers, with Andrew Miller and Cody Allen anchoring the Tribe’s corps, backed by Danny Salazar and Mike Clevinger. The Yankees have already showed off the depth of their pen in their reliever-heavy Wild Card win, with Chad Green and David Robertson going long and Aroldis Chapman going short. Dellin Betances is down there as well, with a fresh arm, giving Joe Girardi all manner of options if his starters falter. Which, given how things have gone so far in the postseason, is more likely than not.

On offense, there is no more powerful team than the Yankees. They led all of baseball with 241 homers, 52 of which came off the bat of Aaron Judge. Only one club scored more runs than the Bombers did. No team was stingier in allowing homers than the Indians, however, with a league-low 163 hit against them. Indeed, Cleveland featured the best pitching staff in the entire game, allowing a major league-low 3.48 runs per contest. Corey Kluber, who the Yankees will face in Game 2 and, if necessary, a Game 5, is the favorite to win the Cy Young Award.

The oddsmakers have the Indians as favorites to win the World Series, but this is a far more even matchup than the odds and the records suggest. The Indians were dominant late in the year, with an AL-record winning streak stretching from late August and through most of September, but New York played .605 ball in the second half themselves, winning 20 of 28 in the month of September. As they showed on Tuesday night, you can’t keep them down, even if you jump on them early.

Two franchises with a lot of history between them face off in the ALDS starting tonight. All signs point to an historically good series.

Neal Huntington thinks players should be allowed to re-enter games after concussion testing

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Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered many concussions throughout his 12-year career, was hit on the back of the helmet on a Joc Pederson backswing Saturday against the Dodgers. Through Cervelli remained in the game initially, he took himself out of the game shortly thereafter and went on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday.

Perhaps inspired by Saturday’s event, Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested that players should be allowed to re-enter games once they have passed concussion tests, the Associated Press reports. Huntington said, “Any player that had an obvious concussion risk incident should be allowed to be removed from the game, taken off the field, taken into the locker room, assessed by a doctor, assessed by a trainer, go through an extended period of time and then re-enter the game. Because right now, all of this has to happen on the field.”

Huntington added, “The player has to feel pressure as he’s standing there with 30,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 eyes on him. He has to feel pressure to make a decision whether (he’s) in or (he’s) out of this game. He knows if he takes himself out and he’s the catcher, there’s only one other catcher, and the game becomes a fiasco if that other catcher gets hurt.”

Huntington, who has been forward-thinking on a number of other issues, has it wrong here. The concussion protocols were created because players frequently hid or under-reported their injuries in order to remain in the game. Especially for younger or otherwise less-proven players, there is pressure to have to constantly perform in order to keep one’s job. Furthermore, there is an overarching sentiment across sports that taking time off due to injury makes one weak. Similarly, playing while injured is seen as tough and masculine. Creating protocols that take the decision-making out of players’ hands keeps them from making decisions that aren’t in their own best interests. Removing them would bring back that pressure for players to hide or minimize their ailments. If anything, MLB’s concussion protocols should become more stringent, not more relaxed.

The powers that be with Major League Baseball have no doubt followed the concussion scandal surrounding the National Football League. In January, the NFL settled for over $1 billion with retired players dealing with traumatic brain injuries, including dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, the league refused to acknowledge the link between playing football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia and has many negative effects, such as increasing the risk of suicide. Since baseball isn’t often a contact sport, MLB doesn’t have to worry about brain injuries to this degree, but it still needs to take preventative measures in order to avoid billion-dollar lawsuits as well as avoiding P.R. damage. In December 2012, former major league outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide. Freel, who claimed to have suffered as many as 10 concussions, suffered from CTE. MLB players can suffer brain injuries just like football players.

Huntington seems to be worried about not having enough rostered catchers in the event one or two catchers get injured. That is really an issue of roster management. Carrying only two catchers on the roster is a calculated risk, often justified. Huntington can ensure his team never has to be put in the position of not having a catcher in an emergency by rostering a third catcher. Rosters are expanding to 26 players next year, by the way.