Expanding the playoffs was one of the many changes Major League Baseball made ahead of the 2020 season. Instead of five playoff teams per league, this year there will be eight. With more playoff teams, comes more playoff games. The first round will feature a best-of-three series with all three games taking place at the higher seed’s home field (that is, if they don’t go to a playoff bubble.)
A best-of-three series obviously means that any team’s season can end after just two playoff games, no matter how good they were in the regular season. Part of me thinks Yankee fans shouldn’t be scared of that. The Yankees are the best team in the American League. They should be able to take two-out-of-three from any team they face. However, there’s one team that really scares me in a three-game series: the Cleveland Indians.
On the surface, the Indians might not look like a threat. Their lineup is below average, currently ranked 23rd in runs scored and dead last in batting average. Despite the lack of offensive production, they’re still 10-8 because of their starting pitching. And that’s exactly what scares me.
Simply put, Bieber has been the best pitcher in baseball so far this season. In four starts, he’s 3-0 with a 1.63 ERA, 43 strikeouts, and a 0.76 WHIP. He’s likely Gerrit Cole’s main competition for the AL Cy Young award, and it’s not hard to see why. Bieber is absolutely filthy.
The Yankees actually knocked Bieber around in Cleveland last year, tagging him for five runs. Bieber is on another level in 2020 though. If the Yanks end up matching up with the Tribe in October, Bieber will be waiting for them Game 1.
Clevinger just got caught violating Covid protocol, so he isn’t currently with the team. While he might not be the best decision maker, he’s a damn good pitcher. Although he isn’t off to as hot of a start as Bieber, Clevinger still boasts a 3.24 ERA this year. He struck out 169 batters in just 21 starts in 2019. Clevinger has also been dominant against the Yanks, striking out ten Bombers in two out of his three matchups with them in 2018 & 2019.
Any team facing Bieber & Clevinger in a best-of-three could easily see their season end. If there is a Game 3, the Indians have plenty of options there too. Zach Plesac, who also got caught violating protocol, has surrendered just three earned runs this season. Carlos Carrasco, the veteran of the staff, is off to a fast start as well with a 2.50 ERA through three starts. And Aaron Civale may be the best #5 starter in baseball. Not to mention, any of those guys who aren’t starting Game 3 will be available out of the bullpen all series.
There’s a lot of baseball to be played before the playoffs, and we can basically guarantee the Yankees have a spot in October. However, it’s in their best interest to get as high of a seed as possible. A three-game set is dangerous no matter who you play. Throw in some of the best starting pitchers in baseball, and the Yankees would immediately face a major roadblock on the road to #28.