The Cleveland Indians have not lost three games in a row since July 30-Aug. 1, though it had been almost seven weeks between back-to-back setbacks before they dropped Games 3 and 4 of the American League Division Series. The AL's top seed will try to avoid a first-round knockout when the Indians host the surging New York Yankees in a decisive Game 5 of the ALDS on Wednesday.
The Yankees, who will start veteran lefty CC Sabathia on Wednesday opposite Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, are playing their third must-win game already in the playoffs after winning the wild-card game and staring down a 2-0 deficit in the ALDS, and are confident in their ability to handle the pressure. "I've seen them step up a lot during the course of the season, but obviously, you know, when you're in the playoffs, I think it's important to learn how to win those games and I think you play -- you see players mature pretty quickly in these type of games," New York manager Joe Girardi told reporters. "So moving forward, I think it's important. Obviously, Wednesday's a really big game and let's see what happens." The Indians won 33 of their final 37 regular-season games but have arguably been the lesser team in this series - beginning with a Game 2 win that required the them to overcome a five-run deficit - and struggles at the top of the lineup from Francisco Lindor (1-for-14, five strikeouts) and Jose Ramirez (2-for-17, seven strikeouts) are part of the problem. "In one game, what we ultimately care about is when it's over, we're one run better than them, however we do it," Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters in reference to Lindor and Ramirez. "But it makes it easier when the guys up top are setting the tone for it."
TV: 8:08 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
PITCHING MACHUP: Yankees LH CC Sabathia (0-0, 3.38 ERA) vs. Indians RH Corey Kluber (0-0, 20.25)
Girardi was heavily criticized for several decisions in Game 2's 13-inning loss, but the main gripe was his decision to yank Sabathia after 77 pitches and 5 1/3 innings. The 37-year-old retired 12 of the last 13 batters he faced and left with a five-run lead before watching the bullpen and Girardi let him down. Sabathia is 9-5 with a 4.47 ERA in 20 career postseason appearances and has had his struggles against Ramirez (4-for-8, two RBIs) and Lindor (5-for-9).
Kluber suffered through his worst start of the season in Game 2, serving up six runs on seven hits - two homers - in 2 2/3 innings but was let off the hook when Cleveland stormed back for the win. Kluber started Game 7 of the World Series for the Indians last October, and his team has plenty of confidence in the Cy Young candidate. "It's hard to imagine giving it to somebody better," Francona told reporters of starting Kluber. "We tried to set up for a five-game series with plans, contingency plans, and pretty much everything is -- there's been a lot of things happen, and we go to Game 5, we're at home, and we have Kluber. It will be -- we're looking forward to it."
1. AL home run leader and Yankees RF Aaron Judge is 1-for-15 with 12 strikeouts in the series and is still looking for his first homer.
2. Indians DH Edwin Encarnacion (ankle) sat out the last two games and will have his availability re-evaluated prior to Game 5.
3. Cleveland committed four errors that led to six unearned runs in Game 4's 7-3 loss.
PREDICTION: Indians 3, Yankees 2