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1998 Playoffs

Yankees vs. Indians

Sports Illustrated baseball writer Mark Bechtel breaks down the American League Championship Series

Posted: Tue October 6, 1998

Season series: Yankees, 6-4

Skinny: Cleveland knocked the Yanks out in the first round last year, so all the talk in New York is of revenge. On paper, this looks like a Bronx Bombing waiting to happen. But regular-season numbers can be deceiving. Last year the Indians showed they have the ability to sleepwalk through the season and wake up in October. Expect their bats to be alive, and if their pitching holds up, there's a very good chance they will make this series interesting.

Offense: The Yankees did not hit well against Texas's so-so pitching in the Division Series. They scored just nine runs, and it seemed as if Shane Spencer knocked them all in. The Indians, on the other hand, clubbed the Red Sox. They didn't mess around with the little stuff: Of Cleveland's 25 hits against Boston, seven were singles, 11 were doubles and seven were homers. Normally, relying on the longball is dangerous. But against New York's pitching, the Indians can't reasonably expect to string together a lot of rallies. So the fact that they are getting timely extra-base hits is a good sign. Edge: Indians

Starting pitching: In three games, the Yankees gave up one run against Texas, one of the AL's top-hitting teams. The Indians got clutch performances against Boston from a couple of question marks—Charles Nagy and Bartolo Colon. They'll need more of the same, and a huge outing from Jaret Wright, whom the Red Sox bombed in Game 1, to have a chance. New York will have the better starter in every game. Edge: Yankees

Bullpen: When it's on, Cleveland's pen is great. Paul Shuey has excellent stuff and Paul Assenmacher is murder on lefties. But all of the setup guys, even the two Pauls, have been inconsistent. Stopper Mike Jackson (40 saves) is solid. New York's relief crew held the Rangers scoreless. The big question: What will happen when Mariano Rivera (36 saves) takes the hill trying to hold a one-run lead? Will his failure to hold the lead in the decisive game against the Tribe last year creep into his head? The bullpens could decide the series. Edge: Yankees

Defense: New York is solid around the horn. The Indians are a bit flashier, with Omar Vizquel making amazing plays look routine at short. Watch David Justice. After DHing most of the year, he played a great left field in two games at Fenway, diving around and throwing the ball like a 25-year-old. Edge: Even

Bench: Losing Darryl Strawberry (he'll be replaced by Ricky Ledee) could hurt New York. Cleveland's bench is balanced and strong. But frankly, neither bench will be much of a factor in the series. Edge: Even

Strategy: Joe Torre is as solid as they come. He likes to let his guys play, but he isn't afraid to make a move. Neither is Mike Hargrove. If either man is going to be second-guessed in this series, chances are it will be over bullpen usage.

Weaknesses: The Yankees don't appear to have one. The Indians' starting pitching is sketchy. Outside of that, the Tribe is every bit as talented as New York.

Key matchup: Indians starters Wright and Colon vs. the Yankees hitters. New York's lineup is full of patient hitters. Wright and Colon are both hard-throwing youngsters. If the Yanks are disciplined and make the kids throw a lot of pitches, they'll be able to get to the Indians' pen early, which means they'll have a crack at the likes of Doug Jones, Jim Poole and Steve Reed—not the most imposing group. But if Wright and Colon can stick around long enough to turn things directly over to Assenmacher and Shuey in the eighth, the Tribe will be in good shape.

The Yankees will win if: They play like they have all year. But New York can't hit like it did against Texas. The Yankees murder bad pitching. The Indians, on the other hand, hit good pitching well, so the Yanks can't expect to hold them to one run in the series.

Cleveland will win if: Wright returns to his 1997 postseason form and the bullpen holds up. An Indians win would not surprise me.

Prediction: Yankees in six.

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