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.