After a topsy turvy regular season, the Major League Baseball playoffs are finally here! This year, we will see the largest playoff field in MLB history, as sixteen teams will be playing postseason baseball, with all of them hoping to take home the World Series title.

The way the seeding for the playoffs worked this season was much different than in year’s past, and that has given us some killer first-round matchups in both leagues. This week, we here at TheSportsGeek are going to be bringing you lots of playoff predictions, breakdowns, and game betting picks on every game and series. In this article, we are going to take a look at five reasons why the Cleveland Indians are going to beat the New York Yankees in their first-round wild card series. Let’s get started!

Momentum

Playing well as you hit the playoffs is important in every sport, but in Major League Baseball, it is critical. We saw last year when the Washington Nationals were a mediocre at best regular-season team that got hot late in the season and rode that hot streak all the way to a World Series title. And out of all of the teams in the playoffs this season, no team reminds me more of the 2019 Washington Nationals, than the 2020 Cleveland Indians.

The Indians had an up and down regular season, but in the final two weeks of play, they got healthy and started playing very high-quality baseball. The Indian’s strong finish wasn’t enough to catch the Minnesota Twins for the American League Central Division title, but they did manage to leapfrog the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees for the four seed and now get to host all three games of this series with New York.

The Indians hit October having won nine out of their last eleven games, including sweeping a four-game series against the White Sox, that was the difference between being the four seed and hosting the first round series, and being the seven seed, and having to play in Oakland, against the American League West Division champion Athletics.

For New York, the Yankees finally started to get healthy in September, and they reeled off ten straight wins, several times scoring double-digit runs. It looked like New York was going to be the team we all thought they would be coming into the postseason, and nobody wanted to play them. But that red-hot run turned ice cold in the regular season’s final week of play, as the Yankees stumbled to the finish line.

The Yankees lost six out of their last eight games and had the Baltimore Orioles not found a way to knock off the Toronto Blue Jays in the final game of the year, the Yankees would have fallen all of the way to the eighth seed. The Yankees have gotten destroyed by the Tampa Bay Rays this season, and having to play them in the first round would have been a tall order, to say the least.

When you take a closer look at how the Yankees lost all of those games at the end of the year, it is hard not to be concerned. Of those six losses, five of them came by double-digits. The got blown completely out by five or more runs four times and gave up ten or more runs in a game three times. And this wasn’t like the Yankees were coasting into the postseason, they knew they had to win, and they couldn’t find a way to get the job done.

Starting Pitching

The Cleveland Indians pitching staff as a whole has been elite all season long. But the starting pitching has been particularly good, and in the postseason, whichever team gets the best of the starting pitching matchup tends to win more often than not. The Indians have a clear and major advantage over New York in this series when it comes to the starters.

The Indians had the lowest team ERA in the American League this year at just 3.29. They had the most strikeouts as well with 621. But the one stat that really sticks out to me and puts the Indians in a class of their own, is quality starts.

The Indians had a whopping 37 quality starts this season, far more than any other team in the game. The next closest team was the Chicago Cubs with 30, and in the American League, the Seattle Mariners were second behind Cleveland with just 25. No team was able to count on their starter to go out and give them a solid outing than the Cleveland Indians were this year, and it really helped drive a lot of their success.

For New York, their rotation is full of question marks. Game one starter Gerrit Cole is a beast, and after really struggling in the middle of the season, he finished his year out pitching really well. But after Cole, the Yankees are using Masahiro Tanaka, and in game three, the Bronx Bombers have yet to name a starter, as they really just don’t have any great options with James Paxton out with an injury.

New York will have to pick from the trio of veteran JA Happ, rookie Deivi Garcia, and former blue-chip prospect, Jordan Montgomery to start game three. None of those guys are overly appealing, and when you look at who Cleveland is going to start in game three, Zach Plesac, a guy with an ERA of just 2.28, the Indians are going to be prohibitive favorites on the mound in the deciding game of the series.

Bullpen

We just talked about how great the Cleveland starters have been this year, but the bullpen has been outstanding as well. The Indians 20 saves on the season are second to only the Tampa Bay Rays in Major League Baseball. Cleveland closer Brad Hand led the Major Leagues with 16 saves this year and posted a stellar 2.05 ERA with 29 Ks in just 22 innings pitched.

Having a dominant closer that can slam the door shut in the ninth is key in the postseason but having middle relief arms and seventh and eighth inning guys is big too, and Cleveland has all those boxes checked. James Karinchak led the team in appearance with 27 and was outrageously good. Karinchak posted a 2.67 ERA and struck out an absurd 53 hitters in 27 innings.

Oliver Perez had an EERA of 2.00, Cal Quantrill has been basically unhittable since being brought over from the San Diego Padres in the Mike Clevinger deal, with an ERA of 1.63, and Nick Wittgren has been the Indians second most used reliever, with 25 appearances and has a 3.42 ERA.

The Yankees were expected to have one of the best bullpens in the game this year, but they have been all over the place. Their save rate is just 58%, which puts them in the bottom third of the league, and only the Houston Astros and Chicago White Sox have a lower save percentage amongst AL playoff teams.

Zach Britton has been strong and has served as the closer for much of the season, and Aroldis Chapman is healthy heading into the playoffs and pitched well down the stretch after struggling early. But after those two guys, the Yankees don’t really have anyone else that they can count on pitching out of the bullpen. Adam Ottavino had an ERA of under two runs last year in 73 appearances, but his year, he has been getting hammered, with an ERA approaching six runs.

Johnathan Holder and Nick Nelson both have ERAs of nearly five runs, and if the starters can’t get deep into games in this series, things are not going to end well for New York. Chapman has shown that he can get you more than one inning as the closer, and don’t be shocked if New York turns Britton into the seventh inning guy to replace the struggling Ottavino, and call on Chapman for multi-inning saves in the eight and the ninth.

Jose Ramirez

The Cleveland Indians aren’t a team that is going to score too many runs. They have had more than their fair share of issues at the plate and finished 24th in MLB in runs scored this year, tied with the Kansas City Royals with 248.

The 248 runs is by far the fewest of any American League playoff team, with the Minnesota Twins the next closest playoff team to Cleveland, with 269 runs scored. Cleveland is tied for 27th place in home runs, ahead of only the dreadfully bad Arizona Diamondbacks and the St. Louis Cardinals, who didn’t even play a full 60 game regular season.

That makes what Jose Ramirez has been able to do this year that much more important for Cleveland. Ramirez did not have a great month of August, and the Indians struggled to score runs and win games. But in September, when the Indians really needed him to, Ramirez stepped up in a major way.

Ramirez hit a sizzling hot .366 in September and slugged .841 with an on-base percentage of .453. He smashed 10 homers in the month and finished with 17 on the year, good for the fourth-most in all of baseball. He had 12 multi-hit games this month and drove in 24 RBI in just 23 games. Ramirez finished with the highest wins above replacement amongst all American League players in 2020, with a 3.2 WAR and was first in runs scored and third in RBI. He is absolutely on the shortlist for the AL MVP Award.

Ramirez put a cap on what has been a great season and a remarkable September, when he blasted a three-run walk-off home run against the Chicago White Sox that clinched the Indians spot in the postseason. Ramirez has always had a flair for the dramatic, and you absolutely don’t want to see him in the batter’s box with the game on the line late.

Shane Bieber

We already talked about the Cleveland starting rotation as a whole, and they have been great. But what Shane Bieber has been able to do this season deserves its own mention. Shane Bieber won the American League pitching triple crown as he led the league in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. He also led the AL in WAR for pitchers (3.2), K/9 rate (14.2), and was second in innings pitched (77.1), trailing only Rangers starter Lance Lynn.

Bieber is a lock to take home the AL Cy Young Award, and he is currently one of the betting favorites to take home the league MVP Award as well. Cleveland has won ten out of his twelve starts, and he has pitched into the sixth inning or later in ten of them. The lowest strikeout total he has had in a start this year has been eight, and he has racked up double-digit Ks in a game eight times.

What makes Bieber so important in this series is that he has to match up with Yankees starter Gerrit Cole in game one. Cole is an absolute monster on the mound and has had a lot of recent postseason success. In a three-game series, winning game one is going to be huge, and with Bieber on the mound, it is hard not to like the Indians chances of taking game one, and then finishing out the series with the win and advancing.

Wrap Up

No series in the American League wild-card round is poised to be more competitive than the one between the Indians and the Yankees. But I am going to be honest here, I am shocked to see the Yankees as favorites. I like Cleveland in game one with Bieber on the mound, game two is a toss-up with Tanaka against Carlos Carrasco, and game three has to lean heavily towards Cleveland, with Zach Plesac likely matching up with rookie Deivi Garcia or journeyman JA Happ.

The play in this series is to back the Indians in game one, and Cleveland to win the series at +110. In playoff baseball, you are always going to want to back the team with the best pitching, and the Indians have a huge advantage on the mound. Thanks for reading and make sure that you stay tuned to TheSportsGeek throughout the entire MLB playoffs, where we bring you all the sharp betting advice that you need to make money betting on postseason baseball!