What to watch for in Yankees-Guardians Game 5: Bullpens, stars and weather
After almost eight months of baseball, 254 homers, 99 regular-season wins and two more in the playoffs, the Yankees’ season comes down to Game 5 on Monday night in The Bronx. Oh yeah, same goes for Cleveland, minus all the gaudy numbers. On paper, this series seemed like a mismatch, but it hasn’t been. And with neither team possessing a decided advantage on the mound Monday night, let’s take a quick look at five things to watch for when the first pitch is thrown at 7:07 p.m.
Battle of the bullpens
It’s doubtful Aaron Boone or Terry Francona would have chosen Jameson Taillon or Aaron Civale to start a do-or-die game had you asked them before the series. But thanks to baseball’s new playoff format, and a rainout, here we are. If either team can get four innings out of its starter, they will take it and run to their bullpens. That’s where the Guardians would seem to have the advantage, having given up just two earned runs in 15 ⅓ innings in relief in the ALDS. The Yankees, on the other hand, have surrendered five earned runs in 12 ⅔ out of the pen, and there are major questions about who will be called upon in Game 5. What’s Clay Holmes’ readiness after Boone previously avoided using him on back-to-back days? Is Wandy Peralta available after pitching in the past three games? How might Nestor Cortes fare in a relief appearance behind Taillon, and how does another usual starter, Domingo German, factor into the mix?
That Harrison Bader and Oswaldo Cabrera have helped the Yankees put runs on the board has been a tremendous boon to the Yankees. The same can be said on the Cleveland side about Oscar Gonzalez, Steven Kwan and Will Brennan. But there’s a reason the Yankees and Guardians have gotten this far, and it’s due to their stars, who have yet to make major imprints on this series. Aaron Judge has two hits in 16 at-bats, though one of the hits was a two-run homer in Game 3. Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez has scratched out a .412 batting average, but is homer-less and has only one RBI. It’s time to carry their clubs over the finish line.
Mother Nature can be fickle
We’ve been checking multiple weather apps all day, and the forecast is a mixed one. Rain is likely. Will first pitch be pushed back? Will it be enough to stop the game and force Boone and Francona to worry about bringing back a pitcher after sitting out a rain delay? Francona has already been a victim of a weather delay when his Cleveland team lost momentum in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series because of a late shower. Tonight could be a test of strategic gambles based on the forecast as much as who’s at the plate.
Who can get separation?
With as tight as this series has been played (15 total runs for the Yankees, 13 for the Guardians), no team has been able to play with much comfort in any inning. Cleveland may have a dink-and-dunk offense, but they don’t have seven walkoff wins for no reason. As we all saw Saturday night, once the hit train gets started, it’s hard to slow down before two or three runs are on the board. And though the Yankees’ .241 team batting average is nothing to crow about, they are one swing away from putting three runs on the board with most of the hitters in their lineup, making for high anxiety for anyone on the Guardians’ mound. After four close games, we wouldn’t expect a laugher for the do-or-die Game 5.
Who’s going to play with the most urgency?
Yes, Cleveland’s offense is broth-thin, but they try to make up for some of that by playing with a sometimes reckless abandon. Sometimes, that leads to Ramirez ending up on third base after a bloop hit to left field late in Game 2; other times, that finds Ramirez getting thrown out at first base after an almost carbon-copy hit to left field on Sunday night. With so much power and experience, the Yankees haven’t always played with the same urgency. Take Game 4, when Gleyber Torres was thrown out on a long-developing double play after he didn’t exactly bust his tail getting out of the batter’s box. Or Anthony Rizzo getting caught by Cal Quantrill when he tried to sneak a steal before the pitch had been delivered. The Yankees have advantages all over the lineup, but in a sudden-death situation, you can’t wait for those advantages to present themselves. Both teams need to play like there is no tomorrow, because there isn’t.