CLEVELAND — With their season on the line, the Cleveland Indians will host the New York Yankees in Game 2 of the American League Wild Card Series at Progressive Field on Wednesday night.
What follows are three keys to the Indians beating the Yankees and avoiding elimination in the best-of-three series.
Counting on Cookie
In what proved to be a 12-3 loss in Game 1 on Tuesday, Cleveland never seemed to have much of a chance. That's because the pitcher they were counting on most, American League Cy Young frontrunner Shane Bieber, turned in his worst performance of the year, allowing seven runs in 4.2 innings, including a two-run home run to Aaron Judge on just the fourth pitch of the game.
Following Bieber's poor showing, the Indians were forced to use four different relievers -- a less than ideal circumstance in the first game of a best-of-three series. Facing elimination, Cleveland will have all hands on deck on Wednesday night. But it's tough to imagine the Indians forcing a winner-take-all Game 3 to be played on Thursday without Carlos Carrasco turning in a strong start on Wednesday.
Wake up the bats
While it spent all of Tuesday night playing from behind, the Indians offense didn't do much to inspire optimism in Game 1. With Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Franmil Reyes each going 0-for-4, Josh Naylor served as the lone bright spot in Cleveland's lineup, going 4-for-4 with a home run and two doubles in his postseason debut.
If the Indians are going to keep pace with the Yankees, whose lineup includes the likes of Judge, DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton, Cleveland is going to need a better all-around offensive effort on Wednesday night. In order to do so, the Indians' batters will have to get to right-hander Masahiro Tanaka early and often, with the New York starter entering Wednesday's game with a career postseason ERA of 1.76.
Make me famous
Speaking to reporters on Monday, Lindor was asked what advice he'd give his younger teammates about playing in the postseason.
“Enjoy the ride, boys,” Lindor said. “They’re trying to be famous, this is the time to do it. This is the time to be famous.”
While the 4-time All-Star's answer came with his signature smile, there was some truth to what he was saying; if Cleveland is going to make a run, it's going to need to do so on the back of star-making performances, whether they come from already established veterans or younger up-and-comers.
It's going to be hard for the Indians to make stars, however, if they get eliminated in two games. In other words, if the Indians are going to become famous, it's going to have to start with extending the Wild Card Series on Wednesday night.