NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees could beat the Cleveland Indians in the playoffs. The past few days, including Wednesday's 3-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays, Yankees manager Joe Girardi revealed the method he will attempt to use, if given the chance, to take out Cleveland.
It might be viewed as a new line of thinking, but really, it dates back at least to the start of the last Yankees’ dynasty. The Indians just borrowed the formula last fall, with an assist from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.
Cashman turned the Indians into the most fearsome team in the American League when he traded lights-out reliever Andrew Miller for a haul of young prospects 14 months ago. It worked out for the Indians, who deployed Miller as if he were a lefty version of the mid-1990s Mariano Rivera. The Indians used Miller in multiple innings per game as a nearly unstoppable bullpen weapon and fell just short of a World Series title.
It's now a year later, and in the next month, the Yankees could be the team that ruins the Tribe's dream season by using the old Rivera formula. True, it's 21 straight wins and counting for Cleveland -- an American League record -- but once October begins, everyone is 0-0.
The Yankees will make the playoffs, most likely as a wild-card team. If they take care of the Minnesota Twins next week in the Bronx, the Yanks will likely make it inevitable that they'll have home-field advantage in the wild-card game.
The wild-card contest is like a Game 7 -- anything can happen. But if the Yankees make it to an AL Division Series against the Indians, they have two standouts to handle the Rivera/Miller role.
With days off after every two games, Girardi will turn to David Robertson and the emerging Chad Green for multiple innings in the middle of games, so they can hand the ball to Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman late. In essence, even if the Yankees have to use ace Luis Severino to get past the wild-card game, they'd have a chance against the Indians because, though the Yanks would be weaker to start games, they could go mano a mano in the middle and late innings. The days off allow the relievers to be used often.
The Yankees-Rays series is a perfect example of how Girardi will go about his postseason business. The Yankees won two of the three games, and in each, Robertson and Green served as the bridge to the end of the game.
On Monday, Girardi lifted CC Sabathia after 4 1/3 innings and went to Robertson, who is being paid $12 million this season for his past work as a closer, in the fifth inning. Robertson fired a clean 2 2/3 innings to record the win, allowing one hit and striking out four. He will be half of the Yankees’ version of Miller time.
It's interesting that Robertson has the role because the Yankees chose Miller over Robertson in the winter of 2014-15. In large part, the Yankees signed Miller rather than re-sign Robertson because they gained a first-round pick by letting Robertson go and didn’t lose one with Miller.
The Yankees acquired Green from the Tigers in a trade for Justin Wilson a winter later. Green has turned into arguably the Yankees’ best reliever. He was lights-out again Wednesday, entering for the peeved Jaime Garcia, who was one out away from qualifying for a win in the fifth inning.
Girardi didn’t care about that; he wants the team to win, so he gave the ball to Green.
"There is time for that, but I don't think September when you are four games out is the time for that,” Girardi said when asked how much he weighs a starter’s desire for a winning decision. “I think early in the season, I probably would have left him in. In June, I probably would've left him in. In July, I probably would've left him in. But you start to get to this point in the season, and you have to make some personal sacrifices for the team."
Green faced five batters and retired them all. Next, Girardi gave the ball to Tommy Kahnle, another piece in the pen, and then Betances. Betances was shaky for two outs, so Girardi asked Chapman to record a four-out save. Although a little uneven, Chapman got it done for his 200th career save.
This is the hand Girardi will play in October. As it stands now, if the Yankees are able to get through the wild-card game, they would face the Indians. No one here is predicting that the Yankees will beat Cleveland, but with Green and Robertson coming in during the middle innings each game, they have more than a puncher’s chance.