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Yankees vs. Guardians: Breaking down each team’s pitching situation for decisive ALDS Game 5

There will be a winner-take-all Game 5 in the Division Series this year. The New York Yankees staved off elimination with a 4-2 win over the Cleveland Guardians on Sunday in ALDS Game 5. The series heads back to New York for the decisive Game 5 on Monday night. Loser goes home, winner moves on to face the Houston Astros in the best-of-seven ALCS.

“If you would have told me back in, I don’t know, March, we just signed up to play Game 5 in New York to go to the ALCS, I would have jogged to New York,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said after Game 4.

Because of the unusual postseason schedule this year as well as the Game 2 rainout, Game 5 will be the fourth game in four days for these two teams. Teams play four straight days all regular season long, but rarely in the postseason, when built-in off-days allow them to lean on their top relievers because they know rest is coming. This series will stress test each team’s pitching depth.

Game 1 starters Gerrit Cole and Cal Quantrill were able to pitch Game 4 on normal rest because of the ALDS schedule. Game 2 starters Nestor Cortes and Shane Bieber will be on only two days’ rest in Game 5, however. Three days’ rest? Sure. That happens all the time. A full start on two days’ rest just isn’t a thing that happens these days, so each clubs will turn to their No. 4 starters. (Cole, it should be noted, told manager Aaron Boone he was “available” for Monday’s Game 5 despite throwing 110 pitches on Sunday night.)

With all that mind, let’s take stock of each team’s pitching situation heading into Monday’s Game 5.

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Taillon and Civale were announced as the Game 5 starters prior to Game 4. Taillon has already pitched once this series, allowing all three batters he faced to reach base while taking the loss in the 10th inning of Game 2. That was his first career relief appearance. Civale has not yet pitched this series and he hasn’t pitched at all since Oct. 5. He’ll be coming off a very long layoff.

Here’s how each starter fared against the other team during the regular season:

Civil vs. Yankees

2

9

12

10

10

3

9

3

Taillon vs. Guardians

1

5

7

1

1

0

5

1

Civale had a disaster start against the Yankees on April 24 (six runs in three innings) and a more representative start on July 2 (four runs in six innings). Taillon faced Cleveland on April 22, so other than the three batters in Game 2, they haven’t seen him in a while.

On paper, the two starters are bad matchups for the other lineups. Civale has a 1.5 HR / 9 the last two seasons, one of the highest home run rates in baseball, and the Yankees of course sock a lot of dingers. Taillon’s 7.7 K / 9 this year was comfortably below the league average. The Guardians put the ball in play more than any other team. That plays right into Taillon’s style.

Each team will take what they can get from their starter, though it’s very likely Civale and Taillon will be on short leashes in Game 5. They may be working as openers more than full-fledged starters. One time through the lineup and out. That sort of thing. With the season on the line, each club will be hyperaware of matchups. Civale and Taillon won’t be overexposed.

Bullpen status: Advantage Guardians

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Cleveland’s bullpen is in much, much better shape heading into Game 5 than New York’s. The Guardians did not use setup man Trevor Stephan or James Karinchak, or closer Emmanuel Clase, in Games 3 and 4. All three will head into Game 5 with two days of rest, setting them up to go multiple innings apiece. Francona’s ideal pitching plan is likely Civale to Stephan to Karinchak to Clase.

The Yankees, on the other hand, have worked their key relievers very hard the last few days. In fact, they’ve only use five different relievers in the entire series (not counting Taillon in Game 2). Miguel Castro, Domingo Germán, and Lucas Luetge are on the ALDS roster but have not pitched in the series yet. Here are the pitch counts of New York’s top relievers this series:

In Games 2-4, Peralta became the first Yankees reliever to pitch three consecutive days this season. He said he feels good and can pitch in Game 5, though he rarely does a team use a pitcher four straight days. Peralta has faced Josh Naylor and Andrés Giménez, Cleveland’s top lefty power threats, in every game this series. If he’s unavailable, Naylor and Giménez duty may fall to Nestor Cortes.

Monday would be Cortes’ usual between-starts throw day following Friday’s start, so instead of throwing that bullpen session, he will be available to pitch in relief. That’s a fairly common tactic in the postseason, and Cortes has plenty of bullpen experience, so he’s done it before. No Peralta would leave the Yankees short a lefty reliever and Cortes would fill that void. He dominated lefties during the regular season and would be a good substitution matchup guy for Naylor and Giménez.

Holmes controversially did not pitch in a save situation in Game 3 and it might’ve cost the Yankees the game. Afterward, Boone said he was only going to use Holmes in an emergency because he’s coming off a recent shoulder injury, and they didn’t want to push him back-to-back days. That said, Boone said Holmes will be available in Game 5 despite pitching in Game 4.

“I would, yes,” Boone said Sunday about using Holmes in Games 4 and 5. “Tomorrow, yeah, in a win-or-go home, yeah.”

Loáisiga and Trivino should be good to go with no issues in Game 5. Peralta says he’s available despite pitching the last three days, and Holmes, who really knows? How does he bounce back on the second of back-to-back days so soon after this injury? Boone and the Yankees enter Game 5 with some questions about the availability and effectiveness of their top relievers. Francona and the Guardians are in much better shape. Stephan, Karinchak, and Clase are rested and ready to go.

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