NEW YORK – Yankees fans have historically been obsessed with the Boston Red Sox and for good reason – this is a gripping blood feud that that’s lasted for almost a century. But the ticket buyers in the Bronx got a wake-up call during this week’s showdown with the Cleveland Indians, specifically when Corey Kluber out-pitched Luis Severino. The message couldn’t have been clearer.
For all the mental energy devoted to the Red Sox, it’s the Indians who pose the biggest threat to American League opponents. And yes, that sentiment also applies to the Houston Astros, who were crowned in early summer as the AL team most likely to end up in the World Series against the Dodgers. But thanks to their pitching, the Indians have been the better club since Aug. 1 and show no signs of regression.
That’s specifically bad news for the Yankees, who saw their best pitcher, Severino, get out-pitched by Kluber on Monday. The same goes for the Red Sox, whose own Terminator, Chris Sale, has given up 13 runs in his last eight innings against Cleveland.
There are plenty of reasons why the Indians are on a roll, picking up where they left off from last year. But outsiders focus on two key assets: Kluber, who’s in the running for the Cy Young Award, and Terry Francona, who just might win Manager of the Year.
As one major league executive puts it, Francona’s low-key manner of getting the most out of players without pushing to hard makes him everything a club would want in a manager.
Francona hardly needs an introduction in New York, as his Red Sox became the only team to engineer a post-season comeback from 3-0 playoff deficit in 2004. Francona’s .648 winning percentage (66-41) is by far the best in the two-plus decades of the wild card playoff era.
And last year he almost became the only the fifth manager in the game’s history to win a World Series with multiple teams, joining Bucky Harris (1924 Senators, 1947 Yankees), Bill McKechnie (1925 Pirates, 1940 Reds), Sparky Anderson (1975-76 Reds, 1984 Tigers) and Tony La Russa (1989 A’s, 2006 and 2011 Cardinals).
Francona took the Cubs all the way to Game 7 of the Fall Classic, and even then a champion wasn’t decided until…