Everything comes up Tito in Game 1.
It’s time for everyone to concede Tito Francona knows what he’s doing. The criticism seemed reasonable. Starting Trevor Bauer in Game 1 at home against the Yankees with the likely Cy Young winner Corey Kluber ready to go reeked of tinkering. Just leave well enough alone. But Tito, knowing the Yankees look like spring training Pedro Cerrano when it comes to hitting the hook, sent out Bauer and his 12-to-6 breaking ball to fire the first salvo in the 2017 ALDS in favor of the Indians.
Bauer took the stage and dominated with 5 1/3 no-hit innings and eight strikeouts over 6 2/3. Opponents have been hitting .134 against Bauer’s curveball in 2017, and Bauer stuck to his strength holding the Yankees hitters to just one hit. His 77 game score was well above his regular season average 0f 52. Even during his strong second half, his game scores fluctuated in the mid-to-high 60s. Francona pressed the button and Bauer responded.
Jason Kipnis disappointed at the plate, going 0-for-4. Kipnis was twice as bad as anyone else in the lineup, contributing negative -.086 in win probability added (WPA). His second spot in the lineup is questionable right now. But with the rest of the lineup settled, Francona slotting him behind Francisco Lindor makes the most sense despite the lack of production. It’ll be interesting to see what Francona does in Game 2 with the lefty C.C. Sabathia going for the Yankees.
The Indians lineup overall didn’t have a particularly strong night aside from Jay Bruce. The Indians are 33-8 since Bruce arrived from New York. Only Carlos Santana, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Jose Ramirez contributed positive WPA in addition to Bruce.
Game 2 appears solidly in favor of the Tribe according to 538 projections. Game 3 also leans slightly in favor of the Indians with Game 4 looking like a Yankees win. Heading to New York tied 1-1 might make Tito’s plan look foolish, but the riskiest part of his plan delivered on Thursday night.