Perhaps the intrigue and commotion surrounding Manny Machado’s supposed interest in the Yankees is too great to temporarily place on the back burner. But if it isn’t, then Thursday night’s pitching matchup in Cleveland deserves some attention.
Not only are Luis Severino and Corey Kluber front-runners for American League Cy Young honors, but the two aces are also in line to start the All-Star Game on Tuesday at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.
And what better way for manager A.J. Hinch — whose Houston Astros played at home on Thursday afternoon — to determine which pitcher gets the ball than by tuning in to the first of four games between the Yankees and Indians at Progressive Field?
“I’m looking forward to Sevy. I don’t know about Kluber,” Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone kiddingly told the YES Network on Wednesday.
Severino and Kluber should consider their matchup as an audition for that esteemed role in the Midsummer Classic, if they hadn’t already.
Entering Thursday, Severino leads the majors with 14 wins in 19 starts this season. The 24-year-old’s 2.12 ERA is ranked third-best in the American League (Astros’ Justin Verlander in first at 2.05, Rays’ Blake Snell in second at 2.09), and according to ESPN Stats & Info, a win for Severino against Cleveland would make him just the second pitcher in franchise history to have 15 wins before the All-Star break (Whitey Ford went 16-2 before the break in 1961).
As for Kluber, his numbers have also been exceptional. In 19 starts this year (12-4 overall, 7-1 at home), he’s ranked second in the majors with a 0.88 WHIP, and while the AL has a handful of pitchers with sub-3.00 ERA’s, Kluber’s mark (2.49) shouldn’t hurt his odds at winning consecutive Cy Young awards by any means.
These numbers convey dominance and prowess — it’s indisputable.
And what makes this pitchers’ duel so engrossing is that both Severino and Kluber will have to face potent lineups — lineups that seldom reveal weakness or vulnerability.
Although the Yankees (60-31) had to settle for two wins in four tries against the ill-fated Orioles in Baltimore this week, their ability to produce runs didn’t disappear. With 10 home runs in the last seven days, the Yankees lead the majors with a record 154 dingers as a team. The all-time mark for home runs hit in one season (264) was set by the 1997 Mariners, and New York is well on pace to surpass that number (274 projected). Along with their knack to hit the long ball, the Yankees have .332 team on-base percentage, which is ranked third-best in the AL.
The Indians (50-41) have also demonstrated why the AL Central division crown is all but theirs. In 91 games, they’ve scored 468 runs (fourth-best in MLB), and infield stars Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor have combined for 52 home runs. According to MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince, Cleveland’s dynamic tandem is on pace for 90-plus extra-base hits apiece, and the only teammates to ever have 90-plus extra-base hits in the same season were Hall-of-Famers Babe Ruth (97) and Lou Gehrig (117) with the Yankees back in 1927. That’s a lot to digest.
As much as a scoreless tie heading into the 8th or 9th inning seems rousing, chances are that one group of hitters maintains its torrid pace against Severino or Kluber. However, great pitching seems to always vanquish great hitting, so late-inning drama may ensue after all, who knows.
“Honestly our guys, I feel like they have been really competitive against the best, and I think that’s a good trait that our guys have,” Boone told YES. “I think they relish the challenge of facing the best and certainly when you’re facing Kluber, that’s the case. So, hopefully we can go out and scratch a few runs for Sevy.”
Regardless of Thursday’s outcome, Progressive Field should have a playoff atmosphere. The Yankees are visiting Cleveland for the first time since last October’s thrilling ALDS, in which New York got the best of Kluber twice and knocked off an Indians team that won an AL-high 102 regular season games. The two teams met in the Bronx this May, and the Yankees won all three games.
Cleveland will surely be returning to the postseason this year, and in some fashion, the Yankees will be there too, either as AL East champions or the top wild card team.
Plenty of baseball separates the two teams from playoff stakes, but this upcoming Severino-Kluber matchup should be a preview of what lies ahead this fall.
“[Severino’s] been everything you want an ace to be,” Boone told WFAN Radio on Thursday. “He’s delivered in the biggest games against the best competition, matching up against another team’s ace. The few times where he hasn’t been on top of his game, he’s still managed to keep us in games and usually always gets through the middle innings anyway.
“He’s a great teammate. He’s a guy that wants to be counted on, that wants the ball in every big spot. And it’s been a special first half for him as he continues to evolve as one of the best pitchers in the sport.”