There’s no way around it – the Cleveland Indians have their backs against the wall far earlier than anticipated. The team, which wrapped up a 102-60 season that had everyone tabbing it as a World Series favorite, takes the field tonight in Game 5 of the ALDS facing a potential elimination.
Looking at the pitching matchup, you could easily say the Tribe has the edge going into tonight. The team is pinning its hopes to advance on Corey Kluber, who more than likely has another Cy Young coming his way at season’s end.
At the same time, his brief appearance in this series left a lot to be desired. It’s certainly caused a lot of anxiety within the fan base as we near first pitch.
However, for better or worse, how tonight’s game plays out hinges solely on what Cleveland gets from its ace.
Again, it certainly doesn’t sound like a bad situation to be in. Having one of the league’s best pitchers on the mound to determine whether or not you advance? It’s tough to believe the Indians would have it any other way.
Of course, there’d be less nerves about the setup had Kluber not struggled mightily in Game 2 of this series.
Cleveland’s star pitcher showed a startling inability to find the strike zone last Friday, and the New York Yankees feasted on his rare ineffectiveness. By the time Kluber left the game, only 2.2 innings had passed and six runs were on the board for the opponent.
To be fair, he has an entire season’s worth of highlights he can use to convince everyone this was merely a blip on the radar. Kluber was one of the best starters in the majors this year, so the odds favor Game 2 just being an off day.
At least, it better be. Should Kluber once again look shaky out of the gate, the effects it could have on his team could be disastrous.
For one, any bit of confidence the Yankees can get early in the game could be detrimental to Cleveland’s hopes. This is a team which has just rallied off two straight wins against the popular pick to win it all, so early runs will have everyone in the opposing dugout feeling as though the game is theirs to lose.
Secondly, don’t count out what kind of impact a struggling Kluber would have on his teammates.
The Indians hitters are already coming off two straight games which featured plenty of paltry at-bats. The team was clearly pressing in Games 3 and 4, generating only three runs in two nights while striking out at what seemed like an every-other-appearance pace.
Should the players be placed in an early hole during a win-or-go-home game, you better believe the anxious at-bats will return.
Finally, a shaky few innings from Kluber could wipe out one of the key advantages the Indians have in this game – the home crowd.
It’s very easy to feel confident in who’s taking the mound for the home team tonight. Fans will be anxious to see another token Kluber gem.
If, however, it’s a repeat of Game 2, it’s very likely going to take a lot of energy out of the stands. Once the home crowd is removed from the equation, life will be even easier for New York.
Sure, Cleveland showed a stunning ability to overcome a bad start from its ace last Friday. While said comeback was incredible, it will also be incredibly tough to duplicate. As fun as the Indians had that night, smart money says they’re not interested in trying to do it again in Game 5.
Of course, it won’t only take a solid start from Kluber to get Cleveland over the hump. Yes, the offense needs to wake up. No, the defense can’t afford another putrid showing like the one it put forth in Game 4.
Still, Kluber is the true make or break player in this situation. Should he show off another Cy Young-worthy start, it’ll no doubt energize his teammates and the fans to a point where a victory can be achieved. If he instead has another dud like last week’s, it might be too much for the Indians to overcome this time around.