When word of a potential Yankees-Guardians Game 5 rainout, albeit unlikely, leaked Monday afternoon, the immediate New York reaction was dread at the possibility of Cleveland ace Shane Bieber being let into this series.
Somehow, the immediate Cleveland reaction was rambling, spitting accusations of conspiracy benefitting the Yankees. It was difficult to follow what those people were thinking, especially since the extra day would allow Bieber to get a shot on three days’ rest after the earlier Game 2 rainout had theoretically ejected him from the rest of the series.
Apparently, Guardians manager Terry Francona is in on the conspiracy. Before Game 5 on Monday, he pledged to start Aaron Civale in the game, no matter what, while holding Bieber back for either a strange relief outing or Game 1 of the ALCS in Houston.
Then, late at night, all official game previews turned Civale’s name to “TBD,” just as the Yankees were inserting Nestor Cortes on short rest, which had been their initial plan before the rains came last Thursday.
And, on Tuesday morning, against the odds, Civale was back, stamped in as the official Game 5 starter. Cleveland will go to the bullpen early and often. Civale has a 2.98 ERA his first time through the order, then regresses after that. Cleveland trusts their man. Simple as that. It could absolutely work.
But if the Yankees don’t hit Civale, a pitcher they’ve had myriad regular-season success against (10.00 ERA in two starts this year), it might top the list of their biggest postseason failures of the era.
Yankees facing Aaron Civale, not Shane Bieber, to start Game 5
It’s absolutely possible they don’t do any damage whatsoever. Cleveland could plausibly get Civale through three innings, then cover the rest of the game with Sam Hentges, Trevor Stephan, James Karinchak and Emmanuel Clase. But that doesn’t make it any less of a risk, nor does it make it any less embarrassing for the Yankees if they come up empty.
For hours, Cleveland fans online melted down about the Yankees getting an advantage they could easily neuter by starting their All-Star ace. Now, the Yankees really do have that advantage. It’s on them not to squander it.
Bieber hasn’t appeared on short rest before; after all, it’s a postseason-only phenomenon, really. There’s no way to know how his body would react. Cortes hasn’t done it, either, and his splits are tough to parse:
- Brilliant on four days’ rest: 47.1 innings, 24 hits, 16 walks (that’s not great), 58 Ks, 1.90 ERA
- A bit more standard with an extra fifth day: 84.1 innings, 65 hits, 17 walks, 80 Ks, 3.20 ERA
- Dominant with any more rest than that (though it didn’t hold up in Game 2…): 1.01 ERA in five regular-season starts this year
Based on the tiniest possible sample size, it would be reasonable to expect Cortes to struggle with his control a bit more than normal, but still be able to execute, especially combined with his history of day game success (6-0, 1.82 ERA in 12 regular season starts this year).
Based on fear factor alone, it would’ve been reasonable for Cleveland to oppose him with Bieber, too. It’s up to the Yankees to determine whether this move is a gift, or whether they were cursed from the start.