If the Yankees are going to get to their first ALCS since 2019, they will need to beat Cleveland and manager Terry Francona to do it after the Guardians beat the Rays, 1-0, in 15 innings on Saturday to sweep their wild-card series. .
Although the Yankees have routinely taken care of Cleveland in the postseason over the years, this Cleveland team might be different — and not just because of its name.
Most recently, the Yankees beat the Guardians — then the Indians — in the 2020 wild-card round, winning both games in the best-of-three series.
They won in five games in the 2017 ALDS against Cleveland, which was the first postseason meeting between the franchises since the Yankees lost to Cleveland in four games in the 2007 ALDS, when Joba Chamberlain was done in by midges.
This time, they will face a Guardians team that was tied with the Twins for the lead in the AL Central on Sept. 4, but ended up winning the division by 11 games by finishing the regular season on a 24-6 tear.
Cleveland features a lineup that includes Jose Ramirez, who would have been an AL MVP candidate if not for the historic seasons put up by Aaron Judge and the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani.
Ramirez went just 2-for-18 with a double and seven strikeouts against the Yankees this season.
They’ve also got a pair of former Mets up the middle of the infield, with Andres Gimenez playing well at second base and Amed Rosario having settled in at shortstop.
And the youngest team in the game has 25-year-old Steven Kwan in left field. Kwan would have been an AL Rookie of the Year possibility if not for the presence of Seattle’s Julio Rodriguez and Baltimore’s Adley Rutschman.
Shane Bieber is the ace of Cleveland’s staff, but Triston McKenzie and Emmanuel Clase might be more dangerous to the Yankees’ hopes.
McKenzie, brilliant in Game 2 against the Rays, also dominated the Yankees with seven innings of scoreless, one-hit ball in a win on July 3 at the Stadium.
And Clase followed up a terrific 2021 season by becoming one of the most dominant closers in the game this year.
The Yankees, though, have had at least some success against the right-hander Clase, who blew a save in The Bronx on April 23 and walked two batters in a scoreless inning to save McKenzie’s July 3 win in Cleveland.
That game was the Yankees’ only loss to Cleveland in five meetings this season, and the Yankees swept the three games at the Stadium.